Posted on January 27 2016
Today's awesome Wednesday Woman is Annie Parker, co-founder of Telstra's digital startup accelerator, muru-D, in Sydney, and Chairwoman of Code Club Australia. Previously, Annie headed up Operations across Europe for Telefónica's accelerator programme - Wayra.
Newnham: What were like as a kid?
Parker: We grew up on a small farm so I spent a lot of time as a kid feeding and mucking out the animals, playing outdoors creating assault courses and dens, I’ve never been afraid of a bit of mud of having to create my own fun.
I was also a bit of an adventurer – when I was 7 years old I badgered my parents to let me go on a horse riding holiday, I remember showing them the advert which clearly said it was for age 12 and upwards so mum and dad told me I couldn’t go. What they didn’t know was I had already phoned the owners of the farm and convinced them that I was old enough and they’d already agreed to take me... My parents stood no chance.
Newnham: When did you first get involved in startups and what first interested you about the world of tech entrepreneurship?
Parker: Honestly, getting involved in the startup ecosystem was total serendipity. I’d been working in the Consumer Marketing team for O2 for years and got to the point where I felt unfulfilled in the role – but I had no idea what I wanted to do next.
I was lucky enough to go on a training course with the Oxford Leadership Academy which was all about getting under the skin of what kind of leader you are and what motivates you. One of the simple exercises they gave us was to plot our major life events out on a chart, time on the horizontal axis and happiness on the vertical. Simply plot out all those major events and see whether they made you happy or not.
It sounds really simple, but it came as a bit of a surprise to learn that all my happiest moments were grounded in helping others – not just about me achieving personal success. I knew my career, at the time, didn’t remotely hit those criteria so I quit my job without knowing what was coming next and, by doing so, I freed up my time to look at totally new opportunities.
A few weeks later, I got a call from an O2 colleague Simon Devonshire who was setting up a new startup programme in Europe for Telefónica (O2’s then parent company) called Wayra.
He asked me to join the team just for a few weeks to help launch the London office which I did, and 18 months later I was the Head of Operations for Wayra Europe and felt totally at home. I love the startup community, so giving, so full of passion and people who want to change the world – it’s hugely inspiring and I’ve never looked back.
Newnham: Having worked for Wayra in the UK - what prompted your move to Australia and what do you do over there now?
Parker: Yet more serendipity!
One of the mentors in the London programme asked if I could give a tour around the office to a friend of his travelling from overseas – I of course said yes as you never know where international connections might come in handy to us or the startups we invest in. After giving the tour I asked where he came from and learnt that he was a senior executive at Telstra – Australia’s largest Telco operator and that Telstra wanted to launch a startup programme and they needed someone to lead it – I jumped at the chance.
Just under 3 months later I moved to Sydney.
We launched the accelerator programme in October 2013, the first accelerator launched in Sydney shortly after, then we added our sister programme in Singapore in April 2015 and a trial accelerator programme up in Brisbane at the end of last year. I’m so proud of what we’ve built in such a short space of time, I’m hugely grateful to my Wayra family – without that startup education I would never have been able to help Telstra launch a programme.
Newnham: What are you most excited about achieving in 2016?
Parker: This year we’ll invest in our 50th startup through the muru-D programme – not bad going considering the programme isn’t even 3 years old yet. I’m particularly excited about the next intake in muru-D Sydney as this is the first time we’ve reached having 50% of the teams having a female CEO or Founder, I’m excited to see how they will reshape the perception that tech startups are just for men.
I’m Chairwoman of a non-profit which helps to inspire primary school kids to learn how to code. Last year we helped to teach over 10,000 kids through 350 after school kids clubs, a great start but nowhere near enough. There are nearly 10,000 primary schools across Australia and I’d love to get a code club in every school. Some of the stories that come out of this initiative really do give me goosebumps as it’s making a massive difference – check out this story of how coding is helping this young autistic boy in rural Australia to connect to his classmates, and I can’t wait to see what other stories come out of the programme.
Also, I turn 40 this year – so I’m doing something new every month until my birthday in October. So far I’ve taken a tango lesson (I’m terrible at it), set up my own , to share more of my stories and hopefully help more entrepreneurs (it’ll be launching soon so watch this space) and launched a hackathon called Techfugees Australia to connect the startup community with refugees coming into the country and help solve some of their problems.
Other plans for the rest of the year include doing more volunteer work, fulfilling a dream to swim with whale sharks, and have the mother of all birthday parties with family and friends.
Overall, I’m excited to keep learning, to keep doing new things and to keep doing whatever I can to make my little patch of the world a better place.
Newnham: We love your Do Lectures talk on PayItForward - can you tell us more?
Parker: It’s a really simple concept and one that’s been around for some time (allegedly the concept started in Ancient Greece).
Help, by definition is very hard to repay immediately, so instead of trying to pay that person back, you try to find someone you can pay it forward to instead.
The other way of looking at it is this – we’re each experts in something whether it be a physical skill, a business methodology or a connection in our personal networks who we can introduce someone to so wouldn’t it be great if we each shared that expertise with each other without expecting an instant return?
My experience is that by openly sharing and helping people whenever they ask for it that this comes back to me ten-fold over time.
It’s also how the startup ecosystem works, we share knowledge of what works and what doesn’t to those following us so they can learn from our mistakes – everyone needs help and nurturing, and we can all do our bit. And you’ll be surprised how addictive it is!
Newnham: If you could go back to the beginning of your career, what advice, if any, would you offer a younger Annie?
Parker: Life is WAY too short to put up with doing a job you hate.
My first ever job out of uni was working for a consulting firm that just made me miserable. I’d heard somewhere that employers want to see commitment and that they wouldn’t look favourably on someone who quit less than two years into their first job – so I stuck it out and suffered that job till my two years was up.
If I could turn back the clock, I’d tell that twenty-odd year old woman to trust her gut instinct, quit and go do something – anything - that made her happy.
Annie on Twitter