This week Vivid Minds Vivid Futures interviews Rechelle Leahy, founder of RegionalCollab and tech startup iDecide. Rechelle’s work is focused on rural, regional and remote business development and she has a passionate interest in women’s leadership and eliminating barriers to business entry for RRR founders.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am the founder of a business based in Armidale called RegionalCollab and tech startup, iDecide. I spent 25 years in Canberra working in Government where I did all the ‘sexy’ stuff: risk, governance, and policy. I spent several years on the Migration Review Tribunal and at the Department of Finance and Administration. I started to develop a real interest in social policy and social benefit and was lucky to work on the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA).
Since then, I’ve bought and sold a country pub, lost my husband to cancer, worked in local government and the education sector, and become passionate about representing the voice of supporting rural, regional and remote (RRR) women in business. I’m on the board of several organisations including the National Rural Women’s Coalition (NRWC).
What does RegionalCollab do?
RegionalCollab was born out of experiences I had running a large employment trial. In completing that project, I realised that there are a lot of people with fantastic business ideas and projects who are based in RRR Australia, and they weren’t sure how to get started. I wanted a business where I could be flexible in the type of work I do and find projects I’m passionate about. So, the purpose of RegionalCollab is to create programs and projects that support the development of RRR Australia, with a focus on women in business and leadership.
When did you start your business?
RegionalCollab started towards the end of 2019. After finishing the work on the Regional Employment Trials, I decided that I wanted to continue doing that type of work. It started with helping identify and access grant funding for small not-for-profit and social benefit businesses and has morphed from there. Clients are drawn from all over Australia and include federal and state government agencies, local councils, corporates, small business and social enterprises.
What have been some of your challenges in starting a business?
Who knew what was going to happen in 2020? No one saw COVID coming and the impact that had on the way we needed to do business to stay feasible. All those crazy Zoom meetings, all day every day, to keep things moving forward.
What do you like most about running your own business?
I think I love the flexibility. I love that capacity to decide what programs and projects I want to work on, so I can contribute to things I am genuinely passionate about. I want to help solve the barriers to entry that RRR women have in starting a business or getting entrepreneurial education and support.
What advice would you give a business just starting?
You need to let go and put a team of really skilled people around you to help make things happen. iDecide is an example of that. I’m not a tech person but it is a tech platform that underpins the business model. I’ve been working on the idea for the past 12 months, but it gathered momentum once I learnt how to build an agile team. I’m tapping into start-up and tech expertise remotely, which I cannot find elsewhere, and then using world-class expertise here in Armidale to support that. It’s about being able to let go of that control, learning how to manage an agile team and work remotely to make things happen.
What inspires you?
I am passionate about women in leadership, in business and the untapped economic potential of RRR Australia. In my advocacy work through NRWC, I tell politicians who live in the city that the world they inhabit is just the verandah and that the real powerhouse of this country (the paddock), is RRR Australia. There are so many incredibly talented people here who just need a bit of support and access to expertise. It’s time the government started listening and funding programs and infrastructure to help develop the potential of a sustainable RRR business ecosystem.
What is your secret for success?
I think there are three secrets for success in any business. The first is resilience – never giving up and not taking ‘no’ for an answer. Even if you have an amazing idea, you need to accept that sometimes the answer you’ll get is ‘no’. But that doesn’t mean you stop or give up. You don’t take it personally, you get on with opening other doors, finding the right fit and someone who will understand the value of your vision and say ‘yes’. Secondly, finding great mentors to work with and learning to listen. We all tend to talk too much and not listen enough. And lastly, having a great crew around you, both personally and supporting you with your business idea and brand.
What’s next for you?
As far as RegionalCollab is concerned, we’re working on how to create an entrepreneurial incubator networking environment without having to do in-person travel, to remove the entry barrier for RRR women. I’m excited about the next stage for iDecide, with the website launch just around the corner and release of the first version of the product so people can start testing.