ANU Spaces – Zoe Piper

7 April 2015

Meet the Crawford School of Public Policy's PhD candidate Zoe Piper. Zoe was recently nominated as a finalist for the NAB Women's Agenda Leadership Awards as Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year.

Zoe, can you tell us what you are up to at ANU at the moment?

I'm completing a PhD in Public Policy at the Crawford School. My research is focused on cross-sector collaboration, looking at how industry, academia and government interact with each other. I've just completed my first year (part-time) so I have a long way to go, but it is a really interesting area.

What is your favourite spot on campus?

Ivy Café at the Crawford School.

Why do you like it?

In summer it is great to be able to sit outside and look out across the lake. In winter, coffee by the fireplace is perfect. Plus you'll always run into someone interesting to chat to while you're there.

If you were free for an afternoon, what would you do?

At this point, I'd probably use it to get caught up on a long list of reading I'm slowly working my way through.

You recently attended the NAB Women's Agenda Leadership Awards as a finalist in the Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year category. What did it mean for you to be recognised in this way, particularly in the area of women and leadership?

My nomination for the award was based on my role as a co-founder and director of Ecolour, an Australian based manufacturer of premium quality, non-toxic paint. Our products are carbon neutral, cost competitive with the major brands, and available in any colour from any colour chart. We have a factory/store in Byron Bay, a trade store in Melbourne, stockists in QLD, and we also deliver Australia wide. Because we are toxin free (and don't have that nasty paint smell) there is no need to vacate adjoining spaces during application. You can also reoccupy the room straight away without needing to let it air out. It was excellent to get some recognition for what Ecolour has achieved to date, and of course let more people know that non-toxic paint is a viable option.

It's a very exciting time for Ecolour (the Green Building Council has just decided to award extra innovation points for developments that use our paint) and the awards felt very timely. There were some really impressive women on the list so it was great to be included as a finalist and have the opportunity to network and learn more about each other's journeys (some of which are also covered via the 100 Stories Project -  I think any initiative that highlights the achievements of women can play an important role in promoting equality.

Can you tell us a little about the journey you've gone on to help set up Delmata, Allaran and Ecolour?

I've had a fairly diverse career, starting out in IT, then private equity, procurement, manufacturing security risk management, and business productivity. I've worked full time since the day I left high school (and have managed to fit in a fair bit of full time study around that!). I always knew that I wanted to be involved in a range of different things, and having my own businesses was always going to be part of that. Delmata is the company I started to invest in different assets (including real estate and business opportunities), Allaran is my consulting business, and Ecolour is the paint manufacturing business I cofounded back in 2009. I knew nothing about paint when I started, but I recognised that there had to be great opportunities for a superior product that could be offered at the same price as the established major brands. It's great to be a part of a company that is actively helping to clean up indoor air quality and make a difference to peoples' health. We are just now getting to an exciting point in the business where the growing demand is enabling us to significantly expand nationally and internationally. 

What are your plans for the future?

I hope to keep doing more of the same, but on a bigger scale. We are just in the process of securing additional capital investment for Ecolour to support our expansion plans. I also want to continue to operate at the intersection between industry, academia and government, helping to facilitate connections and productive collaborations. I really enjoy helping businesses to grow so consulting will always be part of what I do. At the moment I'm providing advice to the International Research Centre for Healthy Ageing and Longevity (IRCHAL) on a fantastic project they have underway that is aiming to put Australia at the forefront of evidenced based wellness (and generate inbound medical tourism for the country). Moving forward I'd like to secure directorships, and find additional businesses to invest into. I also hope the future brings more speaking and publishing opportunities as I prepare to share my research findings over the coming years.

And lastly, what advice do you have for young women out there who are considering their career options either during University or post-study?

The key advice I would offer is to never doubt yourself. Your experience and skills are probably more valuable than you realise. For those still at university I'd also say don't wait until you graduate to build your connections and experience in business/government. Take every opportunity you can to develop practical experience along the way, and get engaged in as many different extracurricular activities as possible. The University offers plenty of opportunities for this, but it is also worth looking at the value that organisations like the Australian Institute of Management (AIM) can provide through networking and professional development. AIM has also recently launched a new mentoring program that would be particularly beneficial for young women to get involved with.