Solving a problem turns into a business for MBA student

Leah Callon Butler, picture by Sharp Eye Images

Leah Callon Butler, picture by Sharp Eye Images

In summary: 
  • Solving the problem of balancing study and work was the path to her own business venture for UTS MBA student Leah Callon Butler
  • The Hatchery+ (startup accelerator program) participant has launched a service to match business development managers who need flexible working arrangements with employers

Most successful people have a story to tell about a turning point in their life – a point when faced with a decision they took the harder road. For Leah Callon Butler it came when she was offered a job as a business development manager for a startup in New York.

"I was tempted at first – bright lights and all that," she says holding up both hands and wiggling her fingers. But Callon who was a little more than mid-way point in her MBA decided to follow the less glamorous path of being a full-time student.

"I thought I'd have a go at being a real student," she says, "join the debating team, make a few friends."

But after just two weeks Callon-Butler became interested in the businesses that her fellow students were starting up. She offered to work for them on a commission-only basis. It was the perfect part-time arrangement for a postgraduate student. She could work her own hours, earn money and finish her degree. Most importantly for her, rather than have to take a part-time job (that could well be a step down in terms of job satisfaction) she could still work on big goal-oriented projects.

Soon the offers for work were coming in thick and fast. It dawned on her that there might be other people wanting the same sort of flexible working arrangements.

She didn't know it yet but the idea for her business had just been born.

Hang on. Who starts a business without even knowing it?

Plenty of successful people according to Rick Baker of venture capital firm Blackbird Ventures. Addressing students in UTS Hatchery+ (a three-month startup accelerator program and co-working space), he said that typically the best ideas are ones where the founder has a personal connection to the problem they're trying to solve.

After solving her own problem of balancing study and work Callon Butler began to wonder if there were other people out there who had the same problem. And so this is how the journey started for Callon Butler and Neowip. The idea of the business is to act as a sort of recruitment firm and match talented business development managers who need flexible working arrangements, up with companies.

One of those groups in need of flexible working arrangements is mothers re-entering the workforce. Sarah Gilbert, a business development manager, who is half-way through her first pregnancy says the idea is hugely appealing. Gilbert specialises in the energy sector and has worked for the likes of Energy Australia.

Post baby she still wants to have work that sees her reaching ambitious goals. Many workplaces, she says are still stuck in conventional business practices, "You still have to be seen in the office until a certain time."  While this is changing a little, she says,  Callon-Butler's idea is appealing not only for workers like her but for businesses too who don't want to employ a business development manager full-time.

Which brings us back to Callon Butler who set out to become a real student. Did she end up joining the debating club? Not as yet, but she did apply and was accepted to something else – the first intake of Hatchery+.

In fact she was one of the students in the audience eagerly listening to Rick Baker's advice.

Long term she wants her business to offer career development opportunities for sales people. For now she is in the co-working space every day and taking in advice from mentors such as Vicky Lay, Director of Artesian Venture partners. While she hasn't had time to join the debating team, she has managed to make a few friends. It's a different take on being a real student.

Hatchery+ is open for applications for semester two. If you have a business venture that you'd like to take to the next level, apply now by emailing an expression of interest to hatchery@uts.edu.au