Passion and market research drive two successful female entrepreneurs

The key to entrepreneurial success is melding innovation and market niches - easy to say but difficult to deliver. Particularly, the data consistently shows, for women who are under-represented in the ranks of successful entrepreneurs.

It’s a challenge Austrade’s workshops for Women in Global Business Network(WIGB) seek to address, showcasing successful emerging businesses, especially those that have overcome particular hurdles to reach offshore markets.

The latest Austrade workshop was held at ANZ’s 833 Collins St headquarters and featured two women with fascinating business stories.

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Sabine Joseph, 38, came to live in Papua New Guinea with her family 30 years ago from India. “It’s an incredibly complex country with over 700 different languages and tribes, most of which live in remote areas,” she says. And one she is devoted to.

However her chosen home has severe issues. A resources boom is delivering both immense opportunity and new challenges. Particularly for women. Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop recently told the 28th Australia Papua New Guinea Business Forum and Trade Expo in Brisbane there was great hope and renewed enthusiasm for doing business across the Coral Sea.

But Bishop also questioned the progress PNG had made on two important UN Millennium Development Goals, maternal health and infant mortality. Violence against women is a huge concern and PNG sits at 156 on the UN Human Development Index.

Joseph is CEO of export business, SA-BEAN International, and brings an in-depth knowledge of the people, the main language and the culture of PNG to her business. She also has an intense sense of corporate social responsibility something she maintains is essential in developing her company’s brand of Kenta Arabica Coffee to export to premium coffee markets around the world.

“Sustainable development and increasing gender equality within communities is a big focus for my work in Papua New Guinea together with local companies who I work with,” she says.  “Focus on empowering women into higher levels of influence within business and community is a priority for Papua New Guinea.”

Encouragingly, she sees a higher level of support from banking sectors to allow women to have access to micro-financing options especially in the agricultural sector.

Papua New Guinea’s  boom phase for resource extraction has quickly lead to increased export levels to worldwide markets but although the agricultural sector has been the traditional mainstay of economic growth, from Joseph’s perspective it has now taken a backseat due to increased focus and demand from the mining sector. 

“My main focus is to attract investment into agriculture in particular coffee in Papua New Guinea,” she says.  “We currently manage over 150 coffee farmers and are looking to double our database of farmers in the next year.

“We assist farmers with agricultural advice and other extension services in their communities.  Farmers hold shares in the company and receive a percentage of profits from coffee export,” she says. (SA-BEAN International currently exports coffee to Germany, California and small parts to Australia.)

“We have already built a Health Clinic in the Kenta Village in the Highlands and want to improve local infrastructure in the communities such as schools, roads and other services which allow farmers and their communities a better standard of living.”

Remarkably, the coffee business is relatively new to her. Joseph was a secondary school teacher in remote parts of Australia for the past 13 years. She decided to make the switch to business 18 months ago to continue her deep connection with PNG and completed several short courses where she learnt about shipping and export logistics.

Her company’s strategic partnership with Rainforest Alliance, an international organisation that promotes sustainable communities through agriculture and ensures standards for biodiversity, provides the social responsibility arm to her business ensuring that while doing business in PNG Joseph is also genuinely giving back to the communities.

“We have started to introduce solar panels to the farmers and eventually I would love to be involved and see the building of a fully sustainable coffee facility in Papua New Guinea in the near future,” she says.

“But I’ve learnt that doing business in PNG takes a lot of time and the most important thing is to build the relationship with your customers, you really need to earn their trust and that takes time, I’m lucky because I have contacts on the ground, I know the culture and I speak the main language.  In saying this…I know that it is an ever evolving journey and I feel thankful for being able to do business in such a beautiful part of the world, with amazing people and a cause that is close to my heart.”

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or another delegate to the WIGB workshop, Ruth Gallace, 32, CEO of boutique fruit winery and cider house, Rebello Wines, the cultural challenge is the all too familiar gender one. She is building her business in a traditionally male dominated sector, alcoholic beverages.

Gallace is based at the magnificent Gallace family strawberry farm at Sunny Ridge, near Red Hill on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula. Those strawberries are used to produce wines, the first of which was a strawberry Moscato (Strawbellini) launched eight years ago.

A 2013 finalist in the Women in Business awards for the Business Owners and Managers Association, (BOMA), Gallace is the first to admit that it hasn’t always been easy operating in such a traditionally male industry.

“It’s a great industry to be in, it’s increasingly common place to find women successfully working in very senior positions, in the liquor industry internationally. I find solace in this and it helps me strive to do the best I can in what is a rapidly changing, fast paced space,” she says. 

Ruth and her husband Matt Gallace were relative youngsters in their early 20s when they decided to buy the fruit wine making part of the business from Matt’s Mum and Dad, Mick and Anne Gallace, to develop it themselves. They combined Ruth’s marketing knowledge with Matt’s passion and understanding of the agricultural side of the business, that was 10 years ago and now their products are in every major chain in Australia and beginning to make inroads into the Asian markets.

“We initially saw an opportunity for a premium quality sparkling fruit wine, made with real fruit because there was simply nothing like it on the market and yet there was a defined audience of discerning educated consumers who were yearning for a quality sweet wine.  Our strawberry Moscato, Strawbellini, was created with this person in mind - and it hit the mark,” Gallace says.

“We now have our products in all the major chains and who can predict where it will go, I mean I look at the success of a company like the Swedish cider maker, Rekorderlig, who have become a world-wide hit and I think who could have predicted that?”

Importantly, Gallace understands the value of seeking expert advice. Recent research commissioned by EFIC (the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation) found a lack of adequate market knowledge and failure to seek expert advice was the major reason for failure with Small to Medium sized Australian Companies (SMEs) engaged in Overseas Direct Investment (ODI).

 “My job is to really get to know the customers and what I’ve noticed over the last 4 years is that the Asian customers are really actively educating themselves about what’s what, they want products that are authentic, 100 per cent real fruit, they love anything organic and are starting to shy away from un-necessary additives in products – particularly in Japan – they are very mindful of the quality of the product,” Gallace says.

 “We’ve really benefited from using consultants and mentors – at the moment we’re working with a company called Acumen International who help us with strategic advice. It’s so important to have a clear vision of where you want to be in 5 years’ time and to surround yourself with great people to help you get there. I am so excited about the potential of this business; there are so many exciting products in the pipeline that I can’t wait to see in the market.”

*Austrade (Australian Trade Commission) provides information, advice and services to help Australian companies grow their businesses in international markets.

*EFIC (Export Finance and Insurance Company) recently commissioned research by East and Partners to look at reasons why Australian Companies involved in ODI (overseas direct investment) succeed or fail.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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