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  • Michelle Forster with her app. (SBS Sandra Fulloon)Source: SBS Sandra Fulloon
Startup founder Michelle Forster knows only too well the challenge of working in a full-time job while raising a family. So she has come up with a new way to ease the juggle of work and child raising.
By
Sandra Fulloon

20 Apr - 4:09 PM 

“When I used to go into work each day, I would spend on average about 30 minutes every morning organizing my family before I even started my day job,” the 47-year-old, tells SBS Small Business Secrets.

“And then I thought ‘there has to be a better way’.”

The New Zealand-born entrepreneur has launched an app called myWhānau (derived from the Māori language and pronounced 'my far-noh'), which means ‘my extended family’. 

She traded a corporate career in marketing to start the business, which aims to help working parents better manage their time by automating tasks and meetings in one place. 

“With three kids, it’s overwhelming. I spend hours every week managing their schedule,” she says.

“And during COVID-19 lockdowns, parents were busier than ever, with schools tripling communication about the pandemic.”

 

Her automated family calendar assistant app is the first of its kind, and collates appointments and events avoiding the need to read every email and check every portal.

“If you forget their soccer gear or you miss your parent-teacher interview that's stressful.  So myWhānau is like a virtual personal assistant. The information is fed into the app for parents, so they can see it all at once. And both parents can see the same entries.”

Michelle first had the idea two years ago and gradually hired external experts to develop the myWhānau app, which costs $5 per week for the first child and $10 weekly for two to three children.

After its soft launch last year, more than 350 users subscribed and Michelle has already expanded to New Zealand with her sights set on USA.

 

“My mission is to reduce the number of hours that parents spend planning events and domestic tasks. Because until we do that, women won’t make progress,” she says.

Michelle migrated to Australia when she was 24 to pursue a marketing career. She later completed a Master of Business Administration (MBA) at Macquarie University and then worked in senior roles with large companies. 

She had been developing her new venture for two years at Fishburners, when the pandemic hit.  Like many working mothers she gave up a fulltime desk when coronavirus restrictions forced her children into home schooling.

“With three children at home aged 15, 14, and 12, I couldn’t continue working at an office full-time,” she says.

"Last year was like a handbrake for most founders. And in particular for female founders, because he need to juggle increases exponentially with the kids at home."

Through Fishburners, Michelle has pitched for venture capital funding but the first time was nerve wracking.

"The mic was shaking in my hand because I was so nervous," she said. "I have not [pitched for capital] before but the atmosphere was supportive, so it was exciting as well."

 

She hopes to raise $1.5 million to grow myWhānau as a subscription service and to offer it for free to schools.

However, during the pandemic venture capital became harder to get, especially for female founders with fledgling startups.

Australia registered 355,000 startups by the end of last year, with just 22 per cent all-women led and that’s risen by only three per cent in 20 years.

“We have certainly seen a lot of collateral damage within the startup community over this period,” Fishburners CEO Nicole O’Brien said.

“Women are always disproportionally impacted by any economic shock. So obviously, this one was no different.”

Fishburners has helped more than 3,000 people start a business since it was founded in Sydney in 2011. Its female founders grew to around 14 per cent in recent years. But in 2021, startups led by women have dwindled to fewer than 10 per cent.

Recognising those barriers and the impact of coronavirus, the federal government has announced funding to support female entrepreneurs "seeking early-stage capital and to overcome barriers needed to scale their startup businesses into domestic and global markets".

The Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources is also running a ‘Boosting Female Founders Initiative’. It offers grants of between $25,000 and $480,000 for female founded startups to expand into domestic and global markets.

The round 2 closing date is April 22.