The organisers of a conference for entrepreneurial women called Run The World, held in Melbourne on 19 September, had one goal: to inspire and be inspired. They delivered, but not for the reasons you might think.
Samara Magazine sent me along to see what it was all about and I discovered a growing community of enterprising women who had seemingly not heard of the glass ceiling.
An 8am start on a Saturday didn’t deter over 500 women – and a handful of men – from attending. An energetic vibe filled the room and the predominantly under-45 audience seemed eager to converse with others who, like them, were at varying stages of their entrepreneurial journey.
Bespoke showbags were a nice touch. Cosmetics, quotebooks, notepads and gourmet treats spoke volumes about the level of thought that had gone into the event.
The brainchild of The League of Extraordinary Women, it was the fourth Run The World conference to be held in Melbourne, while a spin off event in Brisbane earlier this year proved so popular that both cities will now host the event annually.
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The biggest event of its kind for women in Australia.
As for other cities, there’s no word yet on that, but Ana Kosta, CEO and Founder of Soulmates Animal Society in Adelaide, didn’t let that stop her. She travelled to both the Melbourne and Brisbane events this year and said, “I’ll probably go to every single one going forward because I find when I get home my doubts disappear … I meet other people who’ve already done it, they’ve struggled, they’ve felt the same way I feel and have made it to the other side.”
The success of the event rested overwhelmingly on the shoulders of its nine keynote speakers, who didn’t disappoint. The line up included:
- Gillian Franklin | Founder and Managing Director, Heat Group
- Jane Kay | Founder and Director, Birdsnest
- Amanda Walker Koronczyk | Co-founder, Lord of the Fries
- Elizabeth Briedis | Co-founder and Designer, Spell Designs
- Daniel Flynn (in lieu of wife Justine who couldn’t attend) | Founders, Thankyou.
- Tammy May | Founder and Director, MyBudget and Samara Magazine Personal Finance columnist
- Eli Censor / Co-founder, KX Cycle and The Nutrition Bar
- Catherine van der Meulen | Founder and CEO, Think Business Services
- Pia Muehelenbeck | Founder, Slinkii Athletic
Hailing from industries as diverse as beauty, fashion, business advisory, e-commerce, finance, fast food and fitness, performances were strong across the board. There is a risk that audience numbers will dwindle over the course of long events like this one. To the credit of the presenters – and the organisers – it didn’t happen and it was standing room only right until the end.
Comedy and strong messaging kept audiences engaged.
There were plenty of comedic moments throughout the day, not least from MC Liz Atkinson-Volpe, whose quick British wit and conversational style made her a superb choice for the role.
The presenters too, used humour to good effect: “I’m a nervous country girl who hasn’t travelled much and sells frocks for a living”, opened a deadpan Jane Kay from fashion brand Birdsnest. The audience laughed and any nervousness she felt appeared to dissipate.
Lord of the Fries co-founder Amanda Walker Koronczyk, used comedy to paint entrepreneurial pictures for the audience – like the time she gave five dollars to a homeless man, then soon after saw him queuing to buy fries from her van. “Proof of the existence of instant karma”, she told us.
Many of the conference-goers I spoke to agreed that a key takeaway was hearing stories about failure. Every successful entrepreneur has experienced failure, sometimes many times over, and a repeated message was that it’s learning from mistakes that ultimately leads to success.
All the Run The World speakers spoke about adversity. By sharing not only their successes, but also their failures with the audience, it made their stories personal. For an audience largely in the concept or startup phases of running a business, there was much low hanging fruit to be plucked from their experiences.
Nikki Best, who plans to launch her own business in the future, said the stories of things going wrong helped her confidence. “So often you hear glorified success stories and you don’t realise the struggles that everyone goes through to get to the celebratory period. I’m someone who hasn’t started my business yet and am getting up the courage. Today is invaluable in the sense you’re learning the lessons everyone goes through, that they were at your stage once, and I think it just gets you inspired and gives you the energy you need to take the big step.”
Nyree Hibberd, Director at Koh Living, agreed. “The standout moment for me was actually seeing people who have come up against extraordinary odds, achieve extraordinary things.”
As they say, if you fail to plan then plan to fail – there was no chance of that at this event.
From a planning perspective, Managing Director of The League of Extraordinary Women, Chiquita Searle, said it took six months to organise the one-day event. All the presenters donated their time and the passion and energy they brought to the stage – and the openness of their answers during the Q&A afterwards – ensured it was a day that provided considerable value to many.
For all that was spoken, and for all the questions that were asked and thoughtfully answered, there remained one unspoken message: it was that all 500 women in the room believed they could build a career, be an entrepreneur, have children, travel the world and educate themselves – if they chose to do so.
It seems nobody had told these women that you can’t have it all.
This article was commissioned by Samara Magazine, one of Australia’s best online resources for women in business. Read it here.