The path less travelled: Female founders following their business dreams in Brisbane

Walking away from a successful corporate career might seem like a risky move, but for Brisbane business owners Terese Mudgway and Jo Mason, staying ensconced in the safety of a secure job just wasn’t the path they were destined to take. 

Terese and Jo are members of an unfortunately exclusive club of female founders in Australia. 

In fact, only 22 percent of Australian-registered startups are all-women led, a number that has risen by just three percent in the last 20 years.

This is despite the fact that a study by BCG and MassChallenge found that female-led businesses generated 12 percent higher revenues annually with an average of a third less capital than male-led startups, while research by Bain & Company, Google and AWE Foundation found that female-led startups are more adaptable and solution-focused. 

For Terese Mudgway, starting her eponymous kinesiology and coaching business meant jumping ship from a successful marketing career while she was seemingly at the top of her game.

“I started my career in corporate marketing and communications,” she says. “I had some amazing jobs and I was very lucky to do some amazing things throughout my career. My career really catapulted at an early age.

“I worked overseas and went back to New Zealand, and then moved to Australia where I was working in house for some big brands. 

“I always felt like something was missing. I can remember it so clearly, sitting at the boardroom table one day in a meeting about a design element on packaging. I was the marketing director and I remember sitting there thinking, ‘Really, is this what my life is about?’” 

Terese’s moment of clarity led her down the path to starting her own business. 

“I was at my chiropractor, where we were talking about kinesiology, and that’s when I had the inspiration to study it,” she says. “I enrolled in a diploma of kinesiology and that was it. 

“I worked and studied for the next four years, graduated and never looked back after starting my own business 20 years ago.” 

Terese says there are three key channels to her business – kinesiology and executive  coaching; a kinesiology college; and integrated wellbeing programs and workshops for organisations. 

“The work I do in the corporate sector focuses on integrated wellbeing programs. We work with organisations, delivering bespoke programs to empower people in raising their performance, productivity, happiness and overall wellbeing in the workplace.” she says. 

Therese Mudgeway
Jo Mason speaking at the Brisbane Business Hub

For Jo Mason, the development of WorkHaven was born from her first-hand experience of a career that was devastated by domestic and family violence. 

“Six years ago I was a marketing director and I really loved my job,” she says. “Things were going well at work but not at home. There was an incident one Sunday night and the police were called.

“I realised I was living with domestic violence (DV). I left my situation and turned to my employer for support, but there was nothing in place. They didn’t understand DV. As a result, four weeks after I left my DV situation, I left my job and my career fell off a cliff face. 

“It took me two years to rebuild, but had my workplace been able to offer me the right support, then that wouldn’t have happened.” 

Through her journey to rebuild her life, Jo met her WorkHaven co-founder David Wilson, who was working as a recruiter. 

“David and I realised there was an opportunity to deliver effective support for workplaces to address domestic and family violence in a holistic, tailored manner. It took three years to create the WorkHaven model we use today. 

“WorkHaven supports workplaces to take a meaningful approach to family and domestic violence. We work with organisations in a bespoke way, because we know that no two workplaces are the same.

“There are several ways Workhaven does this – awareness, education, supporting businesses to make committed policies to address domestic violence, and supporting people to rebuild their lives afterwards.”

Through the ups-and-downs of starting their own businesses, both Jo and Terese have learned valuable lessons.

Jo says she has come to accept that there will be tough days, but you must find ways to rise above them. 

“My motto is to be brave and back yourself with the belief you can do it,” she says. 

“Be prepared for some tough days, celebrate successes and make sure you have the right people around you.”  

For Terese, linking purpose with practice has been a formula for success. She says the ‘why’ of what you’re doing should be at the core of everything you do. 

“Money becomes a side product of purpose and meaning,” she says. “Going out to earn money for money’s sake is driven by a fear mechanism. You need to do the numbers and understand how much you need to support yourself, of course, but you also need to understand why you’re really doing what you’re doing, because purpose and meaning are critical when you’re setting up your own business.”

Both Jo and Terese say that it’s important for founders to build a like-minded support network around them. To that end, both women have become active members of the Brisbane Business Hub community. 

A joint initiative of Brisbane City Council and Brisbane Economic Development Agency, the Hub provides a centrally located space in the CBD for businesses to come together and connect, with in-person events, workshops and one-on-one mentoring on offer, as well as co-working spaces, a library of relevant and inspiring resources, and access to free online courses. 

Terese points to the free mentoring sessions offered by the Brisbane Business Hub as a valuable service for businesses who are looking to understand their strengths and weaknesses and solidify their purpose.

“My advice for people wanting to transition into their own business is to know yourself first and get a coach,” she says. “A coach will give you a framework and a mirror. We need to identify our blind spots by having someone hold us to account.”  

Terese, who moved from Sydney to Brisbane four years ago, has found the Hub to be a rock of support in building business relationships.

“After I moved, I didn’t have a network or contacts, but the moment I connected with the Hub, everything pivoted for me,” she says. 

For her part, Jo says the Brisbane Business Hub has been instrumental in connecting her with organisations that WorkHaven can work with.

“The Brisbane Business Hub has been amazing in supporting my business,” she says. “For instance, I recently participated in an incredible workshop about branding and storytelling at the Hub. But they’ve also connected us with potential clients, and they’ve always been there as a sounding board. They’ve really listened to the needs of WorkHaven.

“I always feel so welcome when I come to the Hub, and the reality is that we wouldn’t have enjoyed the success we have seen in our first year without the Hub.”

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Brisbane Business Hub

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