Mission Accomplished. Female Founders Mission UK
20 December 2017
Mission accomplished: River City Labs’ chief executive Peta Ellis on female entrepreneurship in Australia and London
Startup Catalyst mission leaders are ultimately responsible for facilitating life-changing experiences abroad usually within a thriving global startup hotspot.
I wasn’t sure how this post-mission debrief post was going to evolve, but here goes. Somewhere high in the sky between Heathrow and Dubai on my way home I watched Sex and the City, the movie — something I’ve watched more than 10 times, just like the entire series. It reminded me of the power of friendships and ‘the sisterhood’ and only then did the Catalyst trip take on a whole new meaning.
The inaugural Female Founders Mission travelled to London in November and the entire experience was designed to fundamentally transform the thinking of Aussie founders with the aim to shift the dial, encourage rapid personal growth and fast-track global expansion.
We certainly shifted the dial, changed our thinking and stirred up a bucketload of emotion. Oops….
This summary is intended to highlight and promote the thriving startup scene in London that inspired 11 entrepreneurs to think bigger, step up, push harder and expand globally.
We did the co-working hub tourist route; absorbing the enormity of big name spaces like WeWork, Rocket Space , Camden Labs , Campus London, Virgin Startup. We even dropped into Facebook London for a tour and visited the very beautiful Blooming Founders which is designed entirely for women complete with beauty room and a crèche. Yes, you can get your nails done, kids babysat while sipping herbal tea and pushing out some work all whilst sitting on pretty chairs with sparkly cushions.
Support and specialist facilities for entrepreneurs to thrive in the UK is ever present on an epic scale. Every corner of London is bursting with startup activity, it’s energising in one moment and depressing in the next as it highlights how far we have to go in Oz.
The precinct Here East is a smack in the face of innovation at scale. It is the rejuvenated Olympic Park and home to the vast expanse of Plexal and its £11 million furniture fitout — yes 11 big ones just on furniture. I was there in June and it was empty after the launch event and less than six months on, it’s near full with startup companies, corporates and innovation arms of multinationals like Ford. It’s like a secret underground world not dissimilar to a casino where once you enter you may never come out. Inside Plexal-land all awareness of time of day or week fade into the evergreen living walls and artistic light installations, it’s is the Westfield of Co-working. So. Much. Space. So. Much. Money.
Space aside, it’s really important that I talk about just how well the UK government hustles for Aussie founders to move to the UK and set up business. The way they have perfectly packaged programs and offerings to attract, assist and retain businesses from afar to come across the UK border and stay.
They do it so well — every agency, government body and representative of the UK Government are professionals with an air of Bond-like stealth. The Brits are suave, sophisticated and can open doors like nobody’s business.
Armed with slick pitch decks, clear mission statements, government and councils and the Mayor are all on the same page and collectively and coherently repeat their nation’s credo; ‘London Is Open’, ‘London is Business’, ‘Sport is Great’, ‘Business is Great’. Everyone works together keeping their eye on the prize: investible founders. They’re polite, efficient and extremely well networked, knowing exactly their place in the vast European web of business networks and know their value and sell it well.
There are investors, agencies, packages, support and networks to dive deep into.
So, is London the answer?
We asked an honest Aussie mate..
“All you (founders) need to do is buy a plane ticket to get yourself over here and then, grow some really big balls”, as eloquently explained by the amazing Leanne Kemp.
We spent an irreplaceable hour with Leanne in a candid chat of her journey from days as an accountant living on acreage in Samford to now, a globally dominant business leader of Everledger, headquartered in London. She generously divulged her entire journey into business including the heartbreak of bad investors, a marriage breakdown, gender bias and how she learnt early that she could not wait for anyone, to back herself first and always, if she ever expected anyone else to do the same.
She has a fascinating story, if you ever get a chance to hear her speak make it happen.
Our gaggle of Aussie women traipsed the city in the freezing cold, we were up early and home late every single day clocking up almost 20,000 steps each day. The program is designed to push everyone to their limits emotionally and physically without actually being a physical challenge.
We walked, talked, stayed up late, we drank, we ate, we laughed and rapidly became close.
It was comforting to find out that the UK scene is no better off than us in terms of representation. Each program we visited had limited numbers of women members and a smaller percentage of women in spaces. Campus London was an exception, with 40% members female-led by the amazing Sarah Drinkwater. The industry imbalance is global. London’s population is so much bigger, their ecosystem more developed and evolved, yet we are all in the same place with underrepresentation of female entrepreneurs.
All week our entire cohort went through massive personal transformations, not with their business, but with themselves. I visited in June with another group and we did not have the same discussions, the deep dives into peoples lives, the tears, the epiphanies. It’s the sisterhood effect.
The magic of the trip
At Startup Catalyst, we also engineer downtime on the trips enabling participants to debrief and download with each other.
Why? It’s where the reprogramming happens. If we are to play on the world stage as founders, as entrepreneurs we need to step up, be the best, push harder and play to win. People aren’t out there to be nice to you for the sake of it, they will help and open doors for those who help themselves and prove they are the best ones to back.
It was a huge week — it always surprises me how much goes into these trips. On average it takes over 1000 emails per mission, and that’s even before anyone steps one foot on the plane. Then there is the on-ground logistics, daily commutes, meetings, coordination for meetings, follow-ups and facilitation during the meetings, introducing the group over and over again and they also pitch what they do multiple times a day.
Although tiring at times, it is energising watching everyone evolve over the week and completely fascinating to see the loops they take to get there. Different moments, meetings and parts of the day trigger and shift people differently.
As a facilitator, I need to be there, be present, to be aware who is going through what at certain times and be there to catch them and support them through the process of realising who they are, what they are doing, and why they are there.
There is no mistake that the right people were on the trip at the right time for them.
The magic of the trip was 100% the cohort. We came together on the Sunday as strangers, and by Tuesday some had found a close friend and shared some dark secret or uncovered the thing holding them back. We trust our tribe and back each other.
Female entrepreneurs are different and I did not realise why until it smacked me in the face 11 times that week. The way women talk to each other, they way we share personal stories, the way we call each other on things. The way we react when one cries (because we do cry and that’s okay) — the other automatically supports in whatever format that works in that moment, be it a chat, a hug or some tough love.
We have emotions, we get nervous, we feel uncomfortable and not worthy but we also feel strong, we are determined, smart and can step up like anyone else, and we will do it more often with a tribe by our side.
When you have your support crew anything is possible. We even coined a new term “The Bitch Pitch”. It’s our elevator pitch with a twist: when you completely own what you do, talk yourself up and your collective experience as a founder, be memorable and own the moment.
The #SCFemFounders crew arrived as founders of companies, leaders of regions, spaces and communities and left as evolved women who confidently know who they are, what they do, how to sell it to be globally relevant and how to have an impact back home. We are now change agents, everyone got the permission slip (that they didn’t need) to go home and create the Catalyst ripple effect.
As Leanne Kemp said: “to survive this you need to back yourself and play the game with conviction and stand up to the big boys”.
We are doing great things here in Australia and in Queensland particularly. We need more people to come online with this way of thinking to understand where our future is heading. We need more second, third, fourth-time founders to keep cycling back through the ecosystem so we shorten the loops of learning, get smarter and become better at executing. We need to keep going and stop questioning our commitment and investment into this sector — it’s not a new industry it’s actually our future.
A huge shout out to our on-ground mission logistics guru and Siri personified Eleanor Carey for being the best and most entertaining mission copilot ever. Watch this woman … she’s about to go an do some even more amazing things!
Massive over sized claps go to the ever-supportive Queensland Government, Advance Queensland, Trade Investment Queensland and the UK Department of International Trade for backing these missions and supporting Startup Catalyst enabling us to create change and have and impact.