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Know your purpose: female founders on how they made it

·5-min read
Cathie Reid, founder of Icon Group and Epic Pharmacy Group.

Whether you’re starting up or scaling up, running a business can be thrilling – and gruelling. Two female founders share their top tips on finding purpose and keeping the wheels turning when things get tough.

It takes a pretty thick skin to make it in business, whoever you are. Being a female entrepreneur can bring added challenges, which founders Narelle Anderson and Cathie Reid know firsthand.

When Narelle started in the waste and recycling industry, she was one of the very few women in leadership. 

She says she’s copped her fair share of gendered and derogatory comments throughout the years. In the early days, people even clocked her as a secretary rather than the boss.

“There were labels,” she says “[People have told me:] it’s not possible that you’re so successful.”

Today, she’s head of leading recycling tech company Envirobank, which she founded in 2007. Narelle is a proud Aboriginal woman and one of Envirobank’s key missions is ensuring Aboriginal communities have equal access to services. Running a purpose-led business has helped her succeed.

Fellow female founder Cathie Reid has also built a business with social impact. Starting out as a pharmacist, she has now co-founded and successfully scaled two healthcare businesses: Epic Pharmacy Group and Icon Group, Australia’s largest provider of private cancer care.

“The thing that gets me out of bed in the morning,” Cathie says, “is the opportunity to build not only a great business but a business that can do a lot of good.”

Despite their successes, being a woman in business can still be tough. As part of the Wise Words With series from the Dell Women Entrepreneur Network (DWEN), Cathie and Narelle shared their top tips to fellow women entrepreneurs who want to build businesses that can last for the long haul.

Filter unhelpful criticism

Cathie has learnt to ignore unhelpful opinions – but she didn’t always think like this.

 “One of the things I would tell my 20-year-old self is to apply a big filter to criticism,” she says.

Listening to valid advice from trusted people is one thing, but she says you shouldn't take hurtful words to heart.

“If it’s just someone sitting in the cheap seats taking potshots, they haven’t earned the right to criticise you. You can just brush that away,” she says. 

In her time in business, Narelle has faced bias because of her Aboriginality as well as her gender. But she hasn’t been fazed.

“The theme for my whole life has been doing things that people say I can’t do,” she says. “That’s a message to other women in business: if you believe you can, you can.”

Commit to lifelong learning

Cathie says the most successful entrepreneurs are the ones that recognise they don’t always have the answers – and aren’t afraid to seek guidance and new knowledge. 

“The business world and the world in general is changing so much. If you’re not constantly curious and wanting to advance your skills and knowledge, you risk getting run out of date,” she says.

“A commitment to curiosity and continuing to push the boundaries is a key component to being successful.” 

As members of the DWEN community, Narelle and Cathie have access to resources that provide practical tips for women in business as well as the latest technology and funding resources, which can help rapidly speed up the business learning process. 

Narelle says, even to this day, she finds these kinds of resources really valuable. 

“Something that DWEN does really well is providing resources for women founders to go and seek out the information they need,” she says. “It doesn’t matter what stage of the business you’re in – every day is a new adventure.”

Hear more from Narelle and Cathie and other Aussie women entrepreneurs.

Dig into your purpose

Both women run businesses that do social good. Envirobank, which incentivises people to recycle, was the first company in Australia to introduce reverse vending machine technology to collect containers. It now has collection sites all over the country.

“And it’s not just about cleaning up the planet – it’s also about making a contribution to Aboriginal communities and making sure they have access to the sam services we have in the city." 

Cathie agrees that being clear on your purpose can help in the tough times. 

“When you’re experiencing the inevitable lows that come with being an entrepreneur and business owner, that’s when you have to really dig into your purpose to find that grit and resolve.”

Seek connection and community

Being the one steering the ship can be a lonely journey. Narelle says tapping into business networks has been vital for her and recommends it to other female entrepreneurs.

“Reach out to other women in business,” she says. “Ask them how they’ve done it.”

Being part of a global network like DWEN has helped Cathie expand her horizons: “DWEN opens doors globally, in a really lovely, connected and supportive way."

Narelle and Cathie agree that joining the global community of female founders has been invaluable for them, especially throughout the last year. They say having access to global networking sessions and events with fellow women entrepreneurs have been indispensable.

“Your need for support and encouragement has probably never been greater than in the pandemic,” Cathie says. “The power of DWEN is that community that's there for you on those really tough and really difficult days.”

Visit to hear more insights from founders like Narelle and Cathie, and find out how the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network can help you through your business journey.

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