It doesn't seem like a piece of cake to juggle motherhood and starting a business but for two female entrepreneurs, it was their vision to improve healthcare for Australian women that kept driving them forward.
The founders of start-up healthcare companies Pelvic Expert and Scrub IT are the most recent graduates of HCF Catalyst, Australia's first and largest corporate-led health tech accelerator and are available to share how they managed to build innovative businesses while supporting their families.
HCF Catalyst is a structured, 12-week program designed to build compelling business models and secure the traction, viability and investment needed for each business to succeed. It includes hands-on resources such as mentorship, funding, industry relationship-building, and strategic guidance.
HCF – Australia's largest not-for-profit health fund – launches round three of its Startup accelerator program, HCF Catalyst, designed to help entrepreneurs turn their health tech ideas into high impact businesses, that will change the provision of health services now and in the future.
Applications for HCF Catalyst are open from 24 October to 24 November 2017.
Startups, Scaleups and entrepreneurs can apply for HCF Catalyst via the website at: http://hcfcatalyst.slingshotters.com/
Question: What is the Catalyst program?
Sheena Jack: The HCF Catalyst Program is the largest corporate-backed program of its kind, recruiting startup and scaleup Australian businesses with innovative health and wellness ideas. The program offers them the opportunity to develop and accelerate their businesses to support the creation of positive disruption in the health care industry.
Question: Can you tell us about the tasks involved over the 12-week program?
Sheena Jack: As part of a cohort of other hard working startups, Catalyst participants immerse themselves in the 12-week program where they receive guidance from the best mentors across a range of industries and disciplines and exposure to the HCF leadership team, relevant investors, partners, sponsors and media. The cohort participates in several events during the program, including an intensive Demo Day where they have the opportunity to present their business model to potential investors. After the accelerator program is finished and each company has successfully completed the modules, built a solid team and product, and gained some customer traction, HCF Catalyst supplies the graduates with additional support to continue to build their business.
Question: Why did HCF begin the Catalyst program?
Sheena Jack: As Australia's largest not-for-profit health fund, HCF is committed to investing profits back into programs and initiatives that will improve the health outcomes of our members and all Australians. In Australia's healthcare industry, the importance of technology cannot be overstated. We need to find new ways to bring new solutions to the market as fast as possible. The Catalyst program is important in attracting the brightest minds and helps support ideas that can ultimately improve the quality, accessibility and effectiveness of health and medical solutions.
Question: Who would benefit most from the Catalyst program?
Sheena Jack: First and foremost the Catalyst program benefits Australians' health – patients receive better health outcomes thanks to health technology innovation, and all Australians can be supported by those technologies. We also see a huge benefit for HCF members that receive early access to the products and services of our graduates, and for the entire health industry, which receives new solutions that improve our patient's experiences – from better diagnosis, and surgical procedures to improved patient care.
Question: How does mentorship benefit a new entrepreneur?
Sheena Jack: For Catalyst participants, our mentors are fellow entrepreneurs that have truly been there and faced the same business challenges that many startups do. A great mentor can provide anything from fresh ideas that help participants achieve product or market fit, to an important connection in the industry. HCF Catalyst has a set of hands-on mentors that will provide the learning components of the program and a network of mentors that are specialists in each participant's niche.
Question: Why is it so important for you to support entrepreneurial women?
Sheena Jack: It is no secret there's a shortage of women in the technology sector, with the Tech Start Up Actions Plan pointing out that just 4% of Australian startup founders are women. But there is an increasing focus on addressing gender inequality across the board, and prioritising the innovation agenda.
HCF is committed to ensuring there is the opportunity to attract and support diversity particularly when it comes to innovation in health tech. Catalyst is a fantastic platform that is open to all and we're pleased to see that we have had a strong representation of women in the program. In 2017, nearly half of the program participants were women-led.
Question: Can you talk us through the recent developments in the health tech space?
Sheena Jack: The health industry has seen a number of incredible technology innovations in recent years, including many we are proud to see emerge from our own Catalyst program. In recent times, we have seen incredible innovations starting to reach the market. Nano technology, 3-D printing and machine learning are all areas where I think we will see great leaps in the future.
Question: Can you tell us about the success of past graduates of the Catalyst program?
Sheena Jack: In its first two years, HCF Catalyst has already fostered the success of multiple health technology businesses, with graduates from the program securing $8 million in funding so far, from HCF and other investors. HCF itself also continues to support Catalyst graduates by funding pilot trials that provide value to HCF members. A pilot with Curo Technologies is already underway, with plans for two additional pilots with innovators from round two, demonstrating the value of the corporate-led accelerator as a launch pad for entrepreneurs.
Question: What advice do you have for mothers who are juggle motherhood and starting a business?
Heba Shaheed: Take the leap and start your business. I started my business while I was pregnant, gave birth in the middle of the HCF Catalyst Accelerator, and have been going strong all year. Pregnancy, birth and motherhood do not have to be barriers to your success. I took my daughter with me to meetings, networking events, speaking engagements and even pitch competitions and demo days. The support I've been shown from the startup community and from HCF and Slingshot throughout this time has been amazing.
Having a strong support system is useful. Because The Pelvic Expert is a husband and wife team, we can take turns looking after our daughter. My mother-in-law, my sister and my postpartum doula have also been invaluable.
As I'm writing this (speaking to you), my daughter is sitting in my lap, and I believe we need to empower mothers to feel comfortable having their babies with them.
Having the freedom to work from home is a major bonus. This means I can work on The Pelvic Expert while my daughter keeps herself engaged on the playmat. So mums should definitely consider having a home office.
Outsource other tasks so that you can manage your time more effectively, e.g. get a cleaner, do online shopping. Most importantly plan your day, week, month and year - know which tasks need to be completed each day and allocate time to do them when the baby is asleep.
Interview by Brooke Hunter