In honour of Female Entrepreneurship Week, we wanted to shine a spotlight on three extraordinary women who passed through the halls of St Hilda’s and emerged as trailblazing entrepreneurs. These remarkable women have translated their academic experiences into thriving ventures and now stand as exemplars of resilience, innovation, and success in the entrepreneurial landscape.
Bec Johnson (2000)
Founder – WA Type 1 Diabetes Family Centre
Bec is currently the full-time Director of Nous Group. Still, she is also known and celebrated for founding a first-of-its-kind, the Type 1 Diabetes Family Centre, for people with type 1 diabetes, developing a model of care that combines practical, psychosocial and peer support alongside clinical care in the community to change the health trajectories of people with a complex autoimmune condition.
Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2001, aged 17 years old, Bec is passionate about helping people with diabetes and is a member of the board. She believes that there are no limits on life with type 1 diabetes, and she has swum solo across the 19.7 kilometres Rottnest Channel three times, sailed across the Atlantic and become a scuba diver guide to prove it.
The centre builds ‘online communities’ that humanise healthcare and empower health consumers, including a community for people with chronic diseases recognised as one of the top online communities in the world.
The group also spearheaded campaigns to ensure access to sports, education and workplace opportunities for people with diabetes.
Before joining Nous, Bec was the Chief Executive at the Type 1 Diabetes Family Centre, a non-profit health centre she co-founded after her own type 1 diabetes diagnosis (2001) to build individuals’ capacity and confidence to self-manage the condition. She began her career working in policy and advocacy for the Cancer Council of Western Australia and later worked with the Australian Red Cross in Fiji to reduce risks to human health related to climate change.
Bec holds a Master of Public Health with Merit from the University of Sydney, a Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Arts with Distinction from the University of Western Australia, a Diploma of Business (Governance) from the Institute of Community Directors, Australia, and attended executive education at Stanford University Graduate School of Business on a scholarship.
She is a Fellow of the Institute of Community Directors Australia, an Associate Fellow of the Australasian College of Health Services Management, and a Fellow of the Facebook Community Leadership Program. Bec won two Business News ’40 Under 40′ awards in 2020 for her work supporting the type 1 diabetes community.
Bec enjoys sharing time with her family, listening to history podcasts and hitting the beach with her dogs. She loves travel, mountain biking and training for her next swim to Rottnest Island.
Fleta Solomon AICD BSc MBA (1995)
Managing Director of Little Green Pharma
Fleta has over 20 years of experience in corporate and consumer health markets. Over ten years ago, Fleta established, grew and sold one of Australia’s largest providers of workplace health services. She has since been involved in several start-ups, including a water treatment technology business and a digital health engagement company based in Singapore. Fleta is an Australian Institute of Company Directors (GAICD) graduate and holds a Bachelor of Science degree and MBA from the University of Western Australia.
Fleta has recently stepped down as the Chief Operating Officer of Little Green Pharma (LGP). However, she remains on the board of the company she founded in a part-time role focusing on external communications, market positioning, branding and environmental and social governance.
Little Green Pharma helps patients transform their lives by growing and processing an affordable, natural alternative to commercial pharmaceutical drugs by providing approved, prescriptive medicinal cannabis.
From small steps as Australia’s first producer of cannabis medicine in 2017 with just one small grow room, the company worked hard to perfect the process to provide a quality natural alternative.
Six years later, Little Green Pharma is now the leading brand in Australia, and they are expanding into Europe, the first company to export Australian cannabis medicines to Europe. LGP has also taken on a huge cultivation and manufacturing facility in Denmark (northern Europe), which is now one of the largest medicinal cannabis manufacturing sites in the world.
Jo Horgan (AM) (1985)
Founder and Co-CEO of Mecca Brands
The EY Entrepreneur of The Year 2018 Australia Award Winner
Jo Horgan, a former L’Oréal executive, challenged industry giants by opening her own cosmetics store, Mecca, in 1997. Despite initial struggles and a warning from their accountant, Mecca is now a retail powerhouse with a turnover exceeding $570 million. Jo attributes their success to perseverance, stating that Mecca’s growth in the last five years surpassed that of the first 20 years combined.
Coming from a family with a background in fashion and manufacturing, Jo initially studied English literature, guided by her parents’ belief in education and pursuing one’s passions. Mecca allocates 4% of its turnover to education and staff engagement, showcasing Jo’s commitment to learning.
Operating as a private company has been crucial to Mecca’s success, allowing a singular focus on the customer. Jo emphasises the freedom of decision-making that comes with being private, contrasting it with the responsibilities and distractions of publicly listed businesses.
During the pandemic, Mecca’s agility as a private company enabled a quick pivot in response to challenges. Jo emphasises their entrepreneurial mindset, staying “young, scrappy, and hungry,” and the belief that anything is possible.
Jo’s partnership with her husband, Peter Wetenhall, who joined Mecca in 2005 as co-Chief Executive, has been instrumental. She echoes Sheryl Sandberg’s advice on choosing a supportive partner who enhances one’s capabilities. Peter’s early commitment, guaranteeing a bank loan with his future salary, reflects their shared dedication to Mecca’s success.
Acknowledging her privilege, Jo highlights the scarcity of capital for women-owned businesses, with less than 3% of venture capital funds going to such enterprises. She advocates for addressing gender inequality to facilitate greater workforce participation for women entrepreneurs.
Reflecting on Mecca’s beginnings, Jo recounts losing the first day’s takings but chooses optimism, calling herself a “natural optimist.” She describes a conscious decision to focus on the positive aspects and adopt a “Sunshine Sally” mentality despite challenges.
Jo Horgan’s journey with Mecca underscores the importance of perseverance, a supportive partnership, and optimism in building a successful business. Mecca’s growth, commitment to education, and adaptability during crises exemplify the qualities that have propelled it to retail prominence.