Serial entrepreneur and Rare Birds Founder and CEO Jo Burston is celebrating twice this International Women’s Entrepreneurship Day as it also marks 5 years since she launched her profit-for-purpose business Inspiring Rare Birds. Today it is an active and connected community of more than 60,000 men and women on a mission to create, support and promote diverse and inclusive workplaces, where opportunities in entrepreneurship and leadership exist for everyone.
In the following Q&A, Jo reflects on the past 5 years and what still needs to be done for women entrepreneurs and emerging leaders to achieve true equality:
Q: The catalyst to launch Rare Birds was discovering that school girls thought an entrepreneur was ‘a man with a business’. What motivates you now, 5 years on?
The very same movie reel that plays endlessly in my mind. We have made a significant impact in Australia and the number of women, men, girls and boys inspired by this story continues with a ripple effect globally. We are positioned perfectly to scale our impact and this is the goal I have at heart.
Q: What has been the most inspiring moment in the journey?
Probably publishing my first book “Australia’s 50 Influential Women Entrepreneurs”. It was groundbreaking, maverick and so well overdue in Australia to create a lifelong lasting legacy of the stories, trials, tribulations and successes of these ordinary women that achieve extraordinary things. This book launched a movement. I am forever grateful to Lynn Kraus for her belief and support in allowing that to happen during her time at EY Sydney.
Q: What was the biggest surprise?
Receiving a phone call from the PM&C Office For Women in 2017 advising us we were invited to submit a grant application to enable 100 marginal demographic Australian women access to our world-class mentoring program as scholarships. This program changed lives and produced some outstanding results:
81% reported business growth
87.5% felt more confident about their business capability
94% said their business would grow further in the following 12 months
In 2020 we received another call from the PM&C Office For Women to create a mentoring program for marginal demographic women business owners and entrepreneurs affected by COVID-19. This piece of work is currently in play and it is so deeply exciting and gratifying to work with Minister Marise Payne and her cabinet on this important work.
Q: How have you noticed the opportunities for women in entrepreneurship evolve over the years?
Way too slowly!! There are still massive gaps in access to funding. This is largely due to the amount of men working in VC. Despite the evidence that women entrepreneurs outperform men over time, men are more likely to invest in male-led businesses. According to a BCG analysis of 2018 data from MassChallenge, a US-based global network of accelerators, investments in companies founded or cofounded by women averaged $935,000, which is less than half the average of $2.1 million invested in companies founded by male entrepreneurs. This disparity exists despite the fact that startups founded and cofounded by women actually performed better over time, generating 10% higher cumulative revenue over a five-year period.
Q: What do you think needs to be done to make things even better?
Ensure that all of the everyday events for women entrepreneurs are celebrated through the voices of role models, both men and women. Women also need greater access to money to grow their businesses. This means more education about what kind of money is available and how to go about tapping into it. Be that raising debt, capital, overdrafts, or credit. We will create far more education around this topic over the next few years.
Q: You must have had a lot of achievements in the past 5 years, what are your top 3 and why?
Publishing three books within 2 years: Australia’s 50 Influential Women Entrepreneurs, #IFSHECANICAN and Brilliant BusinessKids. Education and knowledge is power. By immortalising women entrepreneurs and their stories for generations to read, I could ensure wisdom, experience and knowledge is passed timelessly. These books have been read and shared by politicians, academics, corporate leaders, students, husbands, brothers and sisters.
Being the Oceana Ambassador for the UN recognised Global Women’s Entrepreneurship Day – This gave me an opportunity to to share the work of Rare Birds globally with men and women who wholeheartedly believe the value that women play economically.
Creating a legacy organisation that will and can continue long after I am not around and will affect the lives of people I may never meet. – Waking up with purpose is easy, having a global tribe of over 60,000 people in our corner everyday to affect change is an enormous responsibility and privilege. I lead this organisation with such pride and gratitude.
Q: How do you see Rare Birds in another 5 years’ time? What is your vision?
Easy! Global and powerful. A movement and voice that is recognisable and distinguishable for its impact and achievements for women entrepreneurs and leaders globally.
Q: What is the secret to creating a connected community?
Include everyone. No-one gets left behind. Leave your ego at the door and come inside. Everyone is welcome. The reason for being a part of a community of practice has to be clear and easy to act on for an individual. Our community knows why we exist and it is openly celebrated. People just “get it”. This is why we do not charge fees or memberships, there is no barrier to entry for anyone.
Q: How did you convince men to be a part of it?
We don’t. They choose to be a part. They want change as much as women do. Men want to be seen and heard as agents of change for women and we provide them with the perfect platform to be as involved as they would like to be. Many of our greatest male supporters have women in their lives that they promote, celebrate, cherish and want to see the best for. Women’s entrepreneurship and women’s leadership has a positive effect on everyone, not just women. Families, communities, company profits, our own GDP and the reduction of reliance on our social system all prosper when women hold their space economically and in leadership.
Q: What will we see next from Rare Birds?
Some very big partnerships are on the horizon. You will have to wait for these to be announced. I can also feel another book in me, so keep your eyes open for the call out for women to feature in that one! Lastly, from my heart to yours – Happy 2020 International Women’s Entrepreneurship Day!