Interview with Professor Rowena Barrett, Pro Vice Chancellor (Entrepreneurship) at QUT
Posted 4 months ago
This month we spoke to Rowena Barrett, Pro Vice Chancellor (Entrepreneurship) at QUT. Rowena and her team deliver entrepreneurship support and learning programs for QUT students, staff, alumni and the wider community. Rowena told us about the start-up she is currently most excited about, why she refuses to see failure as an end point, and what it’s like to live a life in service to two feline overlords.
Can you tell us a little about your current role, and what you do?
I lead a team of 12 amazing humans who empower individuals to realise entrepreneurial opportunities, and create value for others through events, programs and mentoring. We start with the notion that entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity beyond the resources currently controlled, and so we welcome and encourage all forms and types of entrepreneurship. We focus on individuals, and their learning.
At QUT we deliver extra-curricular activity for the 53,000 students and 12,000 staff and any of the 250,000 QUT alumni who wish to engage. We run regular community events that anyone can attend and many of our learning programs are open to the wider community.
My role is to define and bring a purpose to what we do and provide space for others to flourish in achieving that purpose. I regularly ask why.
“We start with the notion that entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity beyond the resources currently controlled… we welcome and encourage all forms and types of entrepreneurship”
What’s your professional background?
I have a range of degrees (BSci, DipEd, MCom, PhD). I taught briefly in secondary education, and have worked in higher education in Australia (Vic, WA, Qld) and overseas (UK) since the early 90s. I have created and delivered educational content to help others see possibilities, learn about themselves and understand business and management concepts and theories, as well as how they can be applied in practice.
I’ve spent years researching the management and organisation of smaller companies and working with others to develop, use and apply that knowledge.
What time do you get up in the morning? Do you have a regular morning routine?
I wake up around 5:00am with one of my two cats licking my head to demand breakfast. I have tea and toast while reading the news online and thinking about what I would like to achieve that day. I take my time in the morning, enjoying the quiet and company of my furry family. They keep me grounded as I exist in service to them, and in return I am rewarded by their company.
What is your approach when a creative project gets stuck or delayed? How do you get back on track?
I put it aside. I search for similarities in other places. I use time to reflect and change my perspective rather than rush at possible solutions.
What program or software would you be lost without at work?
Email. Slack. Twitter. I don’t use too many different software programs as I find them distracting.
What book, resource or app has recently changed your life?
I consume a lot of novels. I head to the QUT Kelvin Grove Library and randomly gather books off the shelves. Reading novels is my way of stilling my mind, withdrawing from the busyness of the day, and relaxing.
A novel that has stuck with me is Barkskins by Annie Proulx. It’s about families and their histories in the context of chopping down forests across Canada and the US. I felt queasy throughout about our destruction of the natural world. It reminded me of our impact on the earth but also highlighted our insignificance – events we consider important at one point in time can so quickly get lost in history.
I have 70 acres of bush land and resolve to steward it for future generations, to preserve at least a small part of our natural landscape.
Has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success?
Immersion in the entrepreneurial world teaches you that failure is not an end point, or shameful in any way. It is a valuable learning experience, and an opportunity for growth. The best lessons often come from entrepreneurs who have tried, failed, and come back stronger. I’ve had a range of failures, but I don’t dwell on them. I try to learn, and ensure next time is different and better.
“Immersion in the entrepreneurial world teaches you that failure is not an end point, or shameful in any way.”
What behaviour or habit has most improved your life?
A few years ago, a friend invited me to join her on a Sunday morning walk with some of her friends. The four of us now walk every Sunday (our group is called ‘Sunday starts with a Walk’) starting at 5:00am in summer and 6:00am in winter. It’s more than just exercise – it reinforces the importance of routine and friendship, and it sparks innovation. On our walks we come up with lots of new ideas.
What is your biggest challenge?
I have a bias towards action, and I like to get things done. I want to see outcomes. Sometimes this means I come across as impatient and terse when things don’t happen quickly enough for my liking. I am working on reminding myself to slow down, so I can work more effectively with others.
“I am working on reminding myself to slow down, so I can work more effectively with others.”
What new technology, start-up or project are you most excited about currently?
I spend a lot of time at the World’s Biggest Garage Sale volunteering and mucking about sewing and creating MVPs (minimum viable products) from waste fabric. World’s Biggest Garage Sale founder Yasmin Grigaliunas always makes me feel welcome, even though her weekends are busy. Yasmin is a powerhouse – using the circular economy to promote sustainability and creating employment opportunities for vulnerable members of our society. She epitomises the ‘GSD’ (Getting Sh!t Done) aspect of entrepreneurship. She’s embedding the UN Sustainable Development Goals into her business in a real, authentic way and creating something extraordinarily valuable to the world.
How do you stay up to date on industry trends and news?
I read The Guardian and ABC news online every morning, watch The Drum when I can, and listen to Hack on Triple J. At work I read Campus Morning Mail every morning, and the Education News shared by QUT Library on Wednesdays. I scan QUT’s media mentions each morning, scroll Twitter, talk to colleagues and attend lots of entrepreneurship and university events.
What three things do you hope to accomplish over the next twelve months?
1. Continue the growth of QUT Entrepreneurship’s impact
2. Launch a university program to formally reward entrepreneurship activity at high school
3. I want to change the dominant stereotype of entrepreneurs as young men who build tech companies. Some do, many others don’t. I want the world to also know about the ‘many others’.
“I want to change the dominant stereotype of entrepreneurs as young men who build tech companies. Some do, many others don’t. I want the world to also know about the ‘many others’.”
You can find Rowena on Twitter at @ProfBarrett or @QUTEship, and you can visit the QUT Entrepreneurship website to find out more about current support and programs: www.qut.edu.au/engage/qut-entrepreneurship