What could a million women do? How Jo Burston is inspiring women in business

When Jo Burston was growing up, she had no exposure to entrepreneurship. She had never met any businesspeople and she was never told that she could start her own business one day.

When she was in school, she was asked: What job are you going to get when you grow up? She was never asked What job are you going to make?

“The script was always, what job will you get when you leave school? And of course I started my journey by following that script, but I soon realised that all I wanted to do was be a leader and start my own business,” Burston told Women’s Agenda.

“I backed myself, I believed in myself and six years later I had my own business.”

Burston is now a successful serial entrepreneur. She launched multi-million dollar company Job Capital in 2006 and now owns eight different businesses.

Despite her own success, Burston could see that few other women were entering entrepreneurship around her. She put this down, in part, to the fact that there were so few stories of successful women entrepreneurs for young women to be inspired by.

“Women so often think, ‘if I can see it, I can do it’, and women just weren’t seeing many other female entrepreneurs in the spotlight, so they didn’t think they could do it,” she said.

Burston decided to change that. Late last year, she launched her most recent venture: Inspiring Rare Birds, an initiative to encourage women to become entrepreneurs. Last week Jo launched its first book, titled Rare Birds: Australia’s 50 Influential Women Entrepreneurs.

The book tells the stories of women who successfully started their own businesses in order to inspire younger women and show them there are possibilities outside of the ‘what job are you going to get’ narrative.

Burston told Women’s Agenda that one of the catalysts for the project was when she began asking young girls about entrepreneurship and was shocked by how little information they had about this career path.

“I went around to schools and interviewed young girls and asked them what an entrepreneur is, and most of them didn’t really know. Some of them even answered: It’s a man,” she said.

“Those who knew what the word meant could only name male examples, like Mark Zuckerberg.”

“I was so shocked, I thought: This is our next generation, I want them to leave school asking, ‘what job can I make for myself?’”

Burston decided to create Inspiring Rare Birds’ new book to change that.

“The book is a collection of magnificent female entrepreneurs who have impacted everything around them. They have collectively employed over 11,000 people and raised, at a conservative estimate, between $30 and $40 million in working capital,” Burston explained.

“Women have a much bigger impact on the economic and social landscape than we hear about.”

Burston wants the book to beg the question: If 50 female entrepreneurs can achieve this much success, what could a million women do?

She wants the book to be read by girls who then announce to their parents: “I’m going to own my own company one day, and my company is going to change the world.”

The book is just one initiatives of the Inspiring Rare Birds project. Burston has also established infrastructure to help female entrepreneurs gain access to angel investors and venture capitalists, in order to assist women in securing funding for their projects.

“When I look at women entrepreneurs in Australia, I see they have trouble raising capital and they don’t know where to look or where to go, so we’ve created a Deal Room to help the entrepreneur get prepared,” Burston said.

“We’ve already got investors telling us they are ready for female entrepreneurs and I think this initiative is going to be very successful.”

Burston is also launching a mentoring program for women in business on the 12th of March.

“People often say that you need to send the elevator back down. Well, I want to send the elevator back down full of tools,” she said.

“So we are launching a mentoring program where the need of entrepreneurs is carefully matched with the expertise of mentors. We know that women entrepreneurs are great at investing in their business, but they are not good at investing in themselves, so we’ve launched this mentoring program to encourage them to do that.”

Burston’s aim for the business is to see one million more women become entrepreneurs by 2025.

Lucia Osborne-Crowley

Lucia Osborne-Crowley is a journalist and producer at Women's Agenda.

Twitter: @LuciaOC_

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