Chantelle Rodrigues reports on the stories of two young, female entrepreneurs breaking the stereotypes of their male dominated industries.
As the applause began to crescendo in the Dubai auditorium, she stood with her team, surprised, before the crowd, ‘utterly nervous’ and ‘ready to have a mini heart attack.’ She was buzzing with an overwhelming wave of excitement and surprise with the announcement her team had won the Hult Prize Competition. Before this she was the co-founder of one company. Now, a co-founder of two.
This is Elisa Lillicrap. A female entrepreneur. A 19-year-old business woman.
Back in Sydney, in her a commercial kitchen, a young woman crafted together another one of her confectionary creations. Her desserts often tricked her customers by the way they looked and tasted. No one would guess what they were made from until she told them. No one would guess that her desserts were all vegan.
This is 24-year-old Jessica Barkhan. Once an Olympic weightlifter and now the owner of a growing dessert business.
Young women today, are increasing going against the barriers that have existed in industries where their male counterparts have, statistically speaking, continued to dominate.
Women have been stereotypes as the ‘weaker sex’ in the face of leadership and the workplace, with gender inequality continuing to preside.
According to the 2017-2018 data from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, 25.8% of directorships and 30.5% of key management personnel, were held by women with men holding the remaining majority.
As much as people think that women are ‘disadvantaged,’ the stories of Jessica Barkhan and Elisa Lillicrap show that this didn’t stop them from becoming young, female entrepreneurs before the age of 25.
“I would actually say that for any such, insert quotation marks, ‘disadvantages’, it depends how you view it,” Elisa said.
“As a female, you’ll often find yourself walking into events or rooms jam packed with males… it gives you attention for being different, whether for good or bad.”
“I’d utilise that attention and exposure so that it does, in fact, become advantageous.”
Elisa is the co-founder of inXplore and now, Chance.io, having gotten the taste of the business world at the age of fifteen.
She started inXplore, which is an online platform that connects travellers with ‘local destination-based travel professionals,’ at the age of 17 with her co-founder.
“I don’t want to be the tourist, so to speak, I wanted to be the traveller that goes off the beaten path,” she said was her initial thought process to starting this business.
“The whole idea (of inXplore) is to create a more authentic and localised experiences.”
“Its not like a typical online booking engine.”
The company has a base of travel professionals across 28 countries around the world, working with over 400 agents.
Elisa’s second business, Chance.io, came about through this year’s Hult Prize competition where her and her team had flown to the regional finals in Dubai and placed first in the world, securing them a position out of 45 teams in the accelerator in London next.
The win was a ‘milestone’ to Elisa and her team as Australia had never ranked first before.
“When we got called out, it was a really big surprise, seeing there were some seriously incredible pitches that day, but as a team we felt proud of each other.”
Chance.io is a two-sided smart platform using Artificial Intelligence technology and gamification to help youth develop their soft skills in the face of youth unemployment.
It involves students undertaking multiple challenges, each endorsed by a company, getting them to go out and meet other students and solve them.
If Elisa’s team were to finish in the top five after the accelerator round, they would be heading to the United Nations headquarters in New York where they would pitch to win $1 million in funding.
Yet, throughout it all, Elisa’s story has personally witnessed negative barriers given her young age and gender stereotypes, as well as the ‘typical’ challenges a start-up founder experiences.
Elisa said that she had been laughed at, both in front and behind her face, often feeling ‘intimidated’ and had faced ‘unintentional stereotypes and biases’ which are ‘the hardest thing to deal with.’
“You come across the typical comments and condescending attitude of people, thinking, ‘oh that’s cute. Here’s a pat on the shoulder,’” she said.
“You’re also constantly re-proving to people that you’re just as determined and capable and dedicated to those around you.”
“Ultimately, it’s not something to bring you down or prevent you from getting to where you need to be. At the end of the day, the success of any start-up founder is not attributed to your gender at all.”
Though Elisa experienced discrimination and stereotypes for being a young female in her field, Jessica Barkhan didn’t, as oppose to the contrary assumption.
Jessica has been a part of a male dominated industry since she was 18 as she was an Olympic weight lifter.
“It was definitely one of the biggest life changing experiences of my life,” she said.
She said that she felt ‘very advantaged’ and never experienced gender discrimination.
Now, the 24-year-old is the founder of the company Sweet Naked.
Sweet naked is a dessert business that hand makes and sells raw vegan treats. Jessica’s products are currently stocked in nine different cafes across Sydney including Surry Hills and Newtown.
As her ‘whole life was health, nutrition and fitness,’ she dropped out of university when she was 20 to attend the Matthew Kenney Culinary in Venice California where she learned how to make Michelin star raw, vegan food.
Initially, her company started out as an Instagram for her custom cakes and selling her cakes at market stalls. In 6-7 months, she started attracting wholesale customers.
“When I taste numerous vegan products like most people, I only ever really like or go back to one. So, I thought maybe I could be that one for someone else,” she said as people ‘really enjoy’ her cakes.
It was her move into a commercial kitchen, in 2018, that took a ‘massive step’ for the company forward.
Last year, her two-year-old company made a profit of $50,000.
“Just having a good quality product that people want to buy again. They actually go back and want more,” she said is what has made the company successful.
Though, Jessica hasn’t experienced gender inequality or felt disadvantaged in both her fields, her story appears to show that the ‘industry is shifting for the better,’ as Elisa said.
Both these girls’ stories are examples that show that being a woman and being young, in male dominated fields, doesn’t need to be the limitation or disadvantage.
“You just have to shrug it off and prove to them that you can still get there and still push through,” Elisa said.
“It’s about being willing to go out of your comfort zone.”