Revealed theresa gattung’s new venture – nz herald data recovery group

New Zealand activators selected their five ventures from 106 applications in two rounds of online voting. The successful ventures — which must be at least 51 per cent female owned/led and have at least $50,000 revenue this year — run the gamut. ShearWarmth makes traditional blankets from wool that can be traced back to the King Country family farm. DermNet is an online clinical resource for the diagnosis of skin conditions. Dove River Peonies specialises in eczema-soothing products made from organically grown peony root extract. Memory Foundation is creating a network of brain fitness coaches aimed at assisting an ageing workforce to stay mentally agile. Pomegranate Kitchen is a cooking and catering social enterprise that employs former refugee women.

A representative from each venture takes the stage.

Mothers, daughters, sisters and life partners. All five have a business partner with a connection that goes far beyond business hours. All five now have money, bi-weekly coaching sessions, and an activator cohort they can tap into with monthly "asks". Earlier, the entire room closed their eyes and held hands while a midwife chanted a pre-colonial prayer in te reo Māori. After lunch, proceedings will begin with a big, long hug. You’re not smoking a cigar on the 19th now, Dorothy.

Gattung first heard about SheEO two years ago at a women’s conference in San Francisco. The former CEO, who once placed number 49 on a Forbes list of the world’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women, knew the model would resonate here. She invited Saunders to present at World Women NZ (Gattung’s charitable trust) and, at its conclusion, asked for expressions of interest in SheEO. Half the room put up a hand.

In the end, she didn’t quite make her target of 500 activators. Some 442 women had signed up by launch date — the per capita equivalent of 8000 women in North America. Registrations of interest for next year’s cohort of 500 opened last week and names are already coming in. Why do women need a new way of doing business?

"How else do we birth some of the new initiatives that actually can make a huge difference, if we don’t collectively activate the fact that women are half the world? Unless women stand up proudly in the economic space and the money space … you can have political equality but you’re not going to actually be in your full power if we abdicate the money stuff to men. If you go too long with only men doing a certain job then it starts to seem normal, it doesn’t matter what that role is."

Enter law firm Russell McVeagh. It’s the elephant in this female-empowered room; acknowledged as a "generous partner", it’s the company that recently launched an external review of historic incidents of sexual harassment from within its own ranks.

Gattung says senior partner Pip Greenwood and her team have given hours of pro bono assistance to SheEO, working through the tax and business structures and loan agreements that allow the model to operate in New Zealand. Other partners include Air New Zealand (airfares), Pead PR and Co of Women (people power) and Westpac (cold hard cash).

In a small break-out room, Lyn Neeson is introducing activators to ShearWarmth, the company she started with her daughter-in-law Monique, that takes traceable fleece from sheep on the family farm at the junction of the Ohura and Whanganui rivers, and turns it into traditional wool blankets.

The wool is scoured in Napier, spun in Wellington, woven in Auckland and comes back to Tokirima in 50kg rolls, where it’s cut into blankets. A former Trelise Cooper seamstress does the satin edging. The dream is a shop in Taumarunui with locally trained sewers, export markets, and a revitalised future for New Zealand wool.

At another break-out session, a heavily pregnant Emily Oakley is explaining DermNet, the world’s largest online photographic resource of skin diseases and conditions, initiated 20 years ago as a free service by her dermatologist mother. Future plans? An artificial intelligence application capable of rapidly filtering millions of images to aid medical diagnosis of the more than 2500 recorded human skin afflictions.

Has she thought about adding animals to the database? Have she approached PhD students working in facial recognition research? Are there copyright issues to be considered? Would an insurance company provide sponsorship? Where is the company based? The questions comes thick and fast. Activators write suggestions (and offers of help) on yellow Post-it notes.

Saunders confirms men can contribute if they want ("we’re happy to take your money!") but the nominated activator should be a woman. New Zealand’s inaugural cohort comes from across the country. It includes the big-name female business leaders, but also their mums and their employees. The sisterhood is strong, but it’s not all long hugs after the lunch break. What happens if a venture can’t repay its loan?

"Every quarter, they will fill out a health check and report back on 18 pieces of information and you can access all of that. One thing we haven’t quite figured out yet, is if a venture is really struggling and starting to have some challenges, how do you say that out loud without making them feel terrible? So, in Canada, quietly we’ve been watching. Where we can see there’s an issue, we have this piece in the credo that says, ‘We are here with our sleeves rolled up ready to help.’ So we’ve been doing that. By knowing the skillsets of people in the network and calling on them when help is needed."

It’s not just about the money. Throughout the day, women have been presenting "asks". They want their products stocked in the Koru lounge, they want an influencer to wear their eco-jewellery, they want feedback on the name of their new social enterprise, they want support for the launch of their new diversity programme — and all around this room, other women are raising their hands to help.

Once upon a time in British Columbia, there was a woman who invented a breathable alternative to plastic wrap. Everytime she applied for funding, she was stonewalled — she didn’t have a business degree, how could she complete with big supermarket brands? She had laid off all her staff when she found out she had been selected as a SheEO venture. Saunders remembers telling her she’d already done the hard part, because it was much easier to hire an operations manager than it was to hire an inventor.