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The YWCA celebrates the face of female entrepreneurship

By Verity Jonhson


It’s been a pretty grim news cycle recently with Covid-19 lurking behind every headline. Here the YWCA wanted to take the chance during Youth Week 2020 to take a break to celebrate some good news. Namely that however challenging things are right now, the face of future entrepreneurship in New Zealand still looks bright. 

This week the YWCA announced the Y25: 25 women, 25 years and under, doing incredible things. The list handpicked some of the most inspirational young women, including some truly exciting, dynamic forces in the start-up scene.

We took a moment to meet four of these trailblazers and learn, from nice-cream to science experiments, what our next generation of entrepreneurs are getting up to. 

All 25 women selected enter a year-long programme of support with the YWCA alongside partners, Kiwibank, Bell Gully, The Warehouse Group, Genesis Energy and AUT

Charlotte Nield, founder Wild & Whipped nice cream 

Wild and Whipped is a guilt free ice cream brand in every sense of the word. For a start, it’s not an ice cream but a nice cream, the popular vegan ice-cream alternative made largely from bananas. 
It was started in 2017 when then 21 year old Charlotte Nield was stuck at work and craving the snack. Unable to buy it on the shelves, she had her lightbulb moment, combining both her passion for health foods and cooking with blenders!

Since being launched at the end of 2018, it’s now stocked in cafes in both Auckland and Mangawhai, and Charlotte aims to have reached 20 stores nationwide within a year. 
But it’s not just the ingredients that are guilt free, there’s a focus on recycling and composting through every part of the business. Including the bananas themselves. “Bananas with spots often get tossed as they are ‘too ripe’ to be sold in stores,” says Charlotte, “but here we make use of banana seconds, giving them a purpose rather than wasting precious resources!” 

The biggest challenge has been eliminating all the plastics from their supply chain. “Many of our suppliers package their goods in plastic,” says Nield, “And while we are now able to bulk buy our nuts, seeds and dates in a double-walled paper bag, there are still many ingredients with plastic packaging that we cannot find alternatives for.” 

This is Charlotte’s big goal for the brand, alongside becoming a beacon of sustainability for the NZ food industry. Which includes not just being carbon neutral, she’s intent on the company becoming carbon positive. “This means the overall activity of Wild & Whipped will actually reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere!” she says. 

This, alongside brand expansion, is the big goal for the future. “In a year I want to have eliminated all plastic from the supply chain,”  says Charlotte, “We hope the positive changes that we are able to make in our small business inspire large corporations to follow suit!”

Jacinta Gulasekharam, Co Founder Dignity Social Enterprise & Positive Periods campaign

In 2016, Jacinta Gulasekharam co founded social enterprise Dignity alongside Miranda Hitchings on a simple premise: create accessibility for affordable and sustainable period products for all women in New Zealand. 

The two came together at Viclink Entrepreneurial Bootcamp, Jacinta’s passion for female entrepreneurship met Miranda’s desire for more meaningful corporate social responsibility, and Dignity was created.  
The business operates on a buy one give one model, using paying corporate subscriptions to fund stocking these items for free in schools and community groups.

“We have 20 corporate partners including Chapman Tripp, All Birds and Russell McVeagh providing Dignity to their employees,” explains Jacinta. “This in turn helps us to support over 130 schools, youth organisations and women’s support services to have free access to these products and remove the barrier of period poverty.” 

Jacinta has also gone on to spearhead the Positive Periods campaign, pushing to have free period products available in all schools for young women. “We want every young person to have a positive and dignified experience with their period, regardless of the decile of the school that they attend,” says Jacinta.

The campaign has gone on to gather considerable media traction, spurring the Prime Minister to publicly state that period poverty is a priority of hers following the campaign. 

That’s not to say that it’s been easy. “There were many times the pressure of leading a change and the criticism for what I was proposing was very overwhelming.” She admits there were many times she considered quitting. But she kept going by reminding herself who she was working for. “This is for the young students of New Zealand. They were my audience, purpose and reason.”

Dignity now helps 130 schools, youth organisations and women’s support services across New Zealand totalling over 27,000 people. Jacinta hopes within a year they’ll be able to grow to employ even more young people to have purposeful, sustainable work inside a social enterprise. “I would hope” she adds, “that the changes I’ve tried to make to the world would potentially inspire others to make change in their community too.”

Shalini Guleria, founder social enterprise ScienceBox & Breast Cancer Scientist

Since a young age Shalini Guleria had a passion for knowledge, when she was a kid, “I wanted to learn everything in the world!” Her passion for science took her into a Bachelors of Chemical and Biological Engineering then a Masters of Science at the University of Waikato. And it was during her Masters, researching the world’s first bioprinting breast cancer model that she designed and printed herself, that she launched ScienceBox.

“I think the moment of inspiration was when I heard a young girl say that science was too hard,” says Shalini Guleria, founder of the social enterprise ScienceBox, “and that you had to be super clever and it was mostly for boys!” Since then it’s been Shalini’s vision to empower all kids of all backgrounds and genders to enjoy the magic of science through her entrepreneurship. 

And since launching in late 2018, ScienceBox has grown to reach over 2000 Kiwi kids.

The program hosts school visits, holiday programme workshops, and a monthly ScienceBox club, teaching kids about science “crazy and awesome experiments.”

Shalini is also particularly passionate about doing this using only ordinary household items that everyone has access to. The model works off a split between the financially profitable segment, ScienceBox Club, which self funds the school visits to low decile schools.

ScienceBox also sponsors 20 percent of the places at his events for kids whose families otherwise couldn’t send them, with an almost exact 50/50 boy girl ratio. 

Apart from the eternal question facing all entrepreneurs, how do you turn a big idea into an actual reality, the biggest challenge for her so far is recognising that she can’t do it alone.

Alongside Sciencebox, “I was juggling a full time Master research project, in addition to part-time work as a tutor and roles in community and University on committees!” And so moving to create core support roles within the business, as well as a network of passionate volunteers, is what has ensured ScienceBox can continue to grow. And Shalini has big plans for its growth.

Her goal before she’s 30 is to be “leading breast cancer research in NZ, making an impact on STEM education and taking ScienceBox global!” 

Kelly Johnson, Her Energy

For 22 year old Kelly Johnson, the biggest challenge of starting Her Energy was that people didn’t believe her when she explained what her company did. “When I first say what I do people don’t always believe that it’s real!” she says, “they’re waiting for the catch!”It helps that there is no catch. 

Her Energy is an energy retailer with a big hearted twist. Customers sign up, pay their electricity bills as normal and the company then redistributes a significant portion of its profits to local women’s charities including The Aunties, Vinnies Hamilton, Cambridge Community House, and Loving Arms.

Since starting in November 2019, the company has grown to be able to supply Waipā, Auckland, and Wellington and will soon be in Christchurch.“It’s about taking a necessity and turning it into an opportunity to give back,” says Kelly. “It’s all about allowing people to support women’s initiatives at no extra cost or extra effort to themselves.

And also to take an industry that is very male dominated and provide more opportunities for women to advance!” Kelly has long been passionate about social enterprise since first coming up with a business idea at 16 to help plant trees.

But it wasn’t until she interned at the Hamilton based company that designs the tech Her Energy now uses that she had her idea to create an energy company that could give back. She had no prior business experience, but has been enjoying the trial by fire of entrepreneurship.

Aside from the challenge any start up faces, networking, marketing, brand awareness, it’s been establishing trust and strong community relationships that have been the biggest challenge.

“We want to be very community-focused and want to try to keep the customer process as personal as possible,” says Kelly, “So making sure we keep this as we scale is a big focus of mine! I think once trust and relationships are fostered, that’ll be our biggest roadblock out of the way.” 

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