Scientist-turned-businesswoman says you have to know how long your runway is

Rotorua scientist-turned-entrepreneur Julia Charity led a panel discussion of seven prominent Kiwi businesswomen to launch a female entrepreneur week.

The week, which began on Monday, has been developed by Co. of Women, a membership-based learning and support organisation for female entrepreneurs.

The line-up presented stories from opposite ends of the entrepreneurial journey including Dr Charity and Australian-born fashion guru Amy Sznicer, who both shared their experiences of early-stage entrepreneurship.

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Other speakers included Birthcare founder Lee Mathias and co-founder and executive director of Nirvana Health Group, Ranjna Patel.

Co. of Women founder and chief executive Tara Lorigan said the week had been created to highlight the challenges faced by female entrepreneurs and to improve awareness of the diversity of success achieved by women.

"We created women entrepreneurs week as a vehicle for sharing about the diversity of female success -- to encourage, inspire and champion women working on their own."

Dr Charity, who previously worked for Scion as a scientist, changed paths to found homestay network Look After Me.

The business is a national online market place for guests to book accommodation with home owners who have unused space (self-contained units and spare rooms).

"New Zealand has a reputation for world-class hospitality. The warmth of our people is our greatest asset," said Dr Charity.

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Launched ahead of the Rugby World Cup in 2011, New Zealand's Homestay Network has been providing "pop-up" accommodation for major New Zealand events and have accommodation on 18 of New Zealand's 23 cycle trails.

"I've had a pretty typical entrepreneurial journey -- I've been burned out, ripped off and broke. But sometimes it's in the depth of hardships that the best learning is done."

Dr Charity recommended entrepreneurs "keep an eye on the dash" -- encouraging early stage business owners to develop systems to track and measure performance as well "learn to cat-nap", saying that entrepreneurship was gruelling at times.

Dr Charity's company Look After Me also supported the filming of Chinese reality TV show, Daddy, where are we Going? Jointly funded by Air New Zealand and Tourism New Zealand and filmed in Rotorua and Waikato, five celebrity fathers and their children were home-hosted by Rotorua families.

The shows attracted an estimated 1.4 billion viewers globally and established a world record of 20 billion social mentions on Sina Webio (Chinese Facebook).

An estimated 75 minutes featured the celebrity fathers and their children enjoying home-hosting in Rotorua.

"In terms of PR, it's an entrepreneur's dream come true," Dr Charity said.

But she warned budding entrepreneurs not to underestimate the switch from paid employment.

"The first year will take every ounce of mental energy, self-belief, courage, commitment, integrity and ingenuity you can muster, create or borrow. But if you think you can do it -- throw your heart in the air, run like hell, seize and test every opportunity on the way but be sure to know how long your runway is ... it's a pretty fine line between lift-off and crash and burn."