What does it take to be a social entrepreneur?

Earlier this month, three of our initiatives were given the opportunity to share their entrepreneurial journey with students from Ducere Global Business School’s Masters of Business Administration (Innovation and Leadership) program.

Amanda Bartley, PwC’s national Corporate Responsibility director moderated the panel consisting of Michele Miller, founder of Robotics WPS, Nicole Brown, global CEO of Robogals and Justin Matthys, co-founder of Maths Pathway.

The panel discussed their biggest challenges and how being a part of the 21st Century Minds (21CM) Accelerator Program has enabled them to expand their networks and access the expert knowledge and diverse skill sets of their mentor teams.

We captured some of their responses for you to learn more about their experiences:

Why did you apply to be a part of 21st Century Minds?

Nicole Brown (NB): I saw this as a great opportunity to gain more professional knowledge. My team and I recognised we had gaps in our knowledge that we needed to fill. The program has provided us with a platform to develop our own skills and our mentor team has been so helpful, especially in the areas of impact assessment and partnership development

Justin Matthys (JM): To grow our network. All of the initiatives who are part of this program are solving a part of the problem in different ways. And when you’re running a start-up, your job description changes weekly! Having advice from people who are experts is incredibly beneficial. There are so many challenges that others have solved that we can learn from.

Michele Miller (MM): To access a supportive STEM community and gain invaluable advice. As a young business this program has helped me grow my knowledge and has given me the confidence that what I am doing is on the right track.

What are the biggest challenges you face as a social entrepreneur?

MM: Decision making. This is a huge daily challenge – who handles what, what gets prioritised? Each decision has a flow on effect.

JM: Everything is challenging! You’re always moving from one challenge to the next because once you’ve solved it, the next thing you work on becomes your new challenge. A big challenge however is the tension we face between impact and scale. Do we innovate to make things more consistent or do we focus on growing our organisation through marketing? Making decisions that impact our students knowing how how different the reality would be if we weren’t involved is always something we consider.

NB: As a global organisation, working across different time zones is one of our biggest difficulties. Especially when we’re all students! The differing schedules can be challenging. A key part of overcoming this is building an open and honest culture.

“For me, it is so important that my team understand our global goals and feel empowered to make decisions autonomously. This is something we are continuing to build on as we grow as an organisation.” Nicole Brown

How do you capitalise on the national conversation about ideas, science and innovation?

NB: We’ve been invited to parliamentary conversations and roundtables with other professionals within this space. At these events, we are often the only not-for-profit represented, however it is encouraging to be able to influence the national conversation. Being students, I believe we provide a different perspective to many conversations that may not necessarily be considered; therefore the national conversation provides a platform to share our generation’s ideas.

MM: We’re now able to have an impact on a wider audience. My relationship with PwC has helped with this, because now we’re gaining access to collective groups who make decisions, rather than one school at a time.

Our current education system is steeped in tradition. What barriers have you faced in trying to improve it?

JM: It is essential to engage all levels of leadership, all stakeholders – teachers, parents and students when trying to address change. It’s important to show you’re good at what you’re doing and making an impact. We’ve also had to help our stakeholders understand that what we’re offering is something they need instead of want.

“The best approach is to be honest! Let them know the destination is worth getting to.” Justin Matthys

MM: It is crucial to build strong relationships with schools. Simply selling a product is not going to work at all. Don’t underestimate the power of ‘word of mouth’. Be available for your clients – take calls right away and be proactive. Know the market you’re dealing with and the State Departments that manages it, because some departments are more proactive than others. And try to get in front of the right decision makers!

Kirstyn Chan is part of PwC Australia’s Corporate Responsibility team and is here to provide you with the latest news from the 21st Century Minds program. Follow her on Twitter @kirstyn_c for updates.

Initiatives gearing up for take off

On the 1st and 2nd of March our 20 initiatives, as well as our accelerator partners and industry collaborators, will be getting together for the first time in Sydney.  In the lead up we asked a few of our initiatives to share a bit about themselves and how they’re feeling about the year ahead.

What three words describe you best?

Optimist, Novocastrian, ESTJMarko Njavro, Apptedude

Learner, Ambitious, DedicatedBec Spink, code the future

“Committed, Open, PragmaticAmanda Caldwell, National Youth Science Forum

“Never gives up” Christian Williams, Make Maths Awesome

“Spirited, Resilient, Determined” Michele Miller, RoboticsWPS

What drives you to do what you do?

Penance for my previous life as a banker 🙂  But seriously, the desire to contribute to creating a true “level playing field” (with respect to disadvantaged socio-economic groups and gender) and to play a role in removing some of the obstacles to upward social mobility.” Marko Njavro, Apptedude

I’m an educator first and always. I live and breath education. I am always learning and am driven to help others (both children and adults) at every stage of their own learning. Every decision I make as part of our team is made with one foot in a classroom.” Bec Spink, code the future

Desire to make a difference, build something that has impact and value from Adelaide. Show the world the quality of Australian education!Jon Soong, Makers Empire

“I’m was lucky enough to live my childhood dream and it was an awesome feeling. I want as many kids as possible to have that same opportunity.” Christian Williams, Make Maths Awesome

There is a lot of pressure on young people to decide on their futures early, but the future is what we make of today. I want young people to be aware that there are career choices and options today, and tomorrow, and the next day, and being well informed about those choices is what will empower them.” Amanda Caldwell, National Youth Science Forum

“Witnessing the growth in confidence, engagement and pure delight in discovery learning which our students display, along with the continued positive support and feedback I receive from our client principals and teachers about our programs.” Michele Miller, RoboticsWPS

What excites you most about being part of the program?

Access to some of the brightest minds and influencers in Australian Education with the backing of one of the world’s leading consultancies. There is still so much left to learn and test and 21CM has enabled us to step out of our small, Sydney based network and has opened up a world of possibilities with respect to trusted advice, mentoring and networking.” Marko Njavro, Apptedude

Connecting with other like-minded people and changing preconceived ideas about coding education in Australian schools.” Bec Spink, code the future

Ability to connect with experts in the education field and meet people who have done this before!” Jon Soong, Makers Empire

The opportunity to increase the NYSF’s network of like-minded people from like-minded organisations, with guidance from people experienced in strategic planning.” Amanda Caldwell, National Youth Science Forum

“To be able to connect with like minded businesses with the same desire to facilitate change in school education programs through STEM, which have an amazing impact on student learning and outcomes.” Michele Miller, RoboticsWPS

“Having the opportunity to change the way we teach in Australia and make our education system the best in the world!” Christian Williams, Make Maths Awesome

Strap on your seatbelts 21CM, we’re getting ready for take off!