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When Anne-Marie Elias was named ‘Agenda Setter of the Year’ at the 2017 Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards, she expressed her surprise saying, “but I’m not mainstream”.

So when she told us about how determined she is to shine a spotlight on women in 2018 that she believes are not getting enough recognition, we asked her to preempt the year ahead and edit a list with us on the women to watch.

With the help of a huge online network, including men and women with no shortage of names to put forward, Elias has helped compile the following diverse list of women you should get behind as they move forward with huge agendas in 2018.

Those on the list are included because they meet three criteria: they’re smashing stereotypes; they’re more ‘under the radar’ than they should be; and they have a compelling story to tell, including one that demonstrates resilience and achieving against the odds.

“The best startups and the people to watch are those who have the lived experience,” says Elias.

“They’re not just going out there and trying to work out a niche for the sake of it. These are people who have a problem themselves, the problem resonates with a community around them, and so they come up with solutions.”

Heba Shaheed

Heba Shaheed is the founder of The Pelvic Expert and an advocate for an area of women’s health that’s frankly not discussed enough.

Through her online programs, she’s determined to see more women shaping up their pelvic areas and preventing and alleviating what’s too often considered ‘normal’ consequences of having a baby; pelvic discomfort, prolapse, and incontinence.

Heba’s spent 2017 expanding her business through the HCF/Slingshot accelerator program, and is on a mission to further develop her online courses and start taking the programs international. Set to demo her product early next year, and having just signed a massive partnership deal with HCF to bring the program to a large trial group of members, Heba now has her sights on the US market and has been tapping networks across China, India, the Middle East and elsewhere.

She’s also built up the business in the same year as having her first baby (that means attending plenty of meetings with a newborn in tow), and brought on her husband to help.

She’s also one of the one in 10 Australian women who suffer from endometriosis and is determined to get her story heard.

Jenna Leo

Jenna Leo is the founder of Home Care Heroes, an extraordinary service connecting those who need a little more help at home or in the community with a ‘handpicked hero’ they can choose from.

These heroes are not there to provide medical assistance, but rather to help out with odd jobs, to have a chat, and to help their clients have a little more fun.

She started the service after moving her parents to Sydney from Montreal, who were both recovering from serious illnesses at the time. While the had the medical support they needed, she wanted to find people they could connect with to get them out of their home and into the community.

This is a unique but game-changing service that’s much needed in Australia right now.

Mikaela Jade

Mikaela is the founder and chief executive of Indigital, based in Kakadu. With a small team, she works on new technologies for digitising and translating knowledge and culture from remote and ancient communities.

In 2017, Indigital released an app, ran a successful kick-starter program, and partnered with Microsoft Australia to move its content onto a mixed reality platform.

“We are now able to create immersive mixed reality experiences in any location in the world, sharing Indigenous storytelling on Country with cultural digital avatars that are gesture-driven,” Mikaela says.

The mixed reality content enables the cultural stories to come alive and interact with people. As Mikaela confesses, “it’s hard to describe, you just have to see it”.

Next year, Mikaela’s knowledge and skills in mixed reality will be shared with Indigenous students, and she’ll create more augmented reality content with indigenous communities in northern Australia. She’ll also continue ambassadorships with SheStarts, VogueCodes, Questacon and Tribal Link Foundation in New York.

Mikaela Jade

Mikaela Jade with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Andrea Myles

Andrea is the chief executive of the China Australia Millennial Project, an organisation helping Australian brands and entrepreneurs leverage the massive (and increasingly fruitful) China Australia relationship.

She’s fluent in Mandarin and a self-proclaimed China geek, passionate about realising the potential and opportunity in the 450-million-strong Chinese millennial demographic: the size of which if were a country, would be the world’s third largest.

In March 2018, she’ll be leading a 100 day innovation program, uniting 100 Chinese and Australian millennial nationals in Beijing and Sydney to help foster disruptive cross border enterprises.

But what really makes her one to watch is how she’s championing diversity in innovation, with every program and event she leads being at least 50% female.

Andrea Myles

Angela Vithoulkas

Angela has a great profile in the small business community and in local government in Sydney, especially as a Sydney of City Councillor.

Now she’s looking to take her efforts and influence state-wide.

The owner of Vivo Café on George St in the heart of Sydney, has launched the Small Business Matters party, with the hope of landing a small-business voice in NSW State Parliament in 2019, before taking the party national.

She’s also hoping to take a number of female business owners along with her, proving there are plenty of women who’re able and willing to enter politics — especially in a party that can offer a unique voice on how they live and work.

That could be a game-changer for women in politics, with just nine of NSW’s 42 members of the Legislative Council being female, and just 26 of the 93 member Legislative Assembly.

It could also be a game-changer for small businesses, which are increasingly being started by women. As Angela recently told Women’s Agenda: “Small businesses are not even in the top ten priorities of mainstream parties. It’s a crowded world. I want to push us into at least the top five.”

Angela Vithoulkas

Jocelyn King

Jocelyn King is the chief executive of First Australian Capital, supporting Indigenous businesses and having already financed more than 100 such businesses since launching in October 2016.

She co-founded the enterprise with Leah Armstrong, after running a series of pilot programs supporting Indigenous Social Enterprises in regional areas.

And through 2017, it’s grown much faster than they anticipated.

“We had a generous grant from AMP Foundation to get started and at the time agreed we’d work with two businesses to get started,” she says.

“We were overwhelmed with phone calls, especially with the Federal Government introducing a 3% procurement policy for Indigenous suppliers. They [the Indigenous businesses] were saying they have these opportunities but no access to capital.”

FAC offers the businesses they work with access to patient capital, as well as virtual team management services to assist with accessing CFO, marketing and HR support. It’s also partnered with the Melbourne Business School to offer training and development for entrepreneurs, and just secured a grant from Mastercard Asia Pacific to support female Indigenous entrepreneurs with a mentoring program.

String Nguyen

While String Nguyen is not necessary ‘under the radar’ (she has a huge social following and describes herself as the ‘Oprah of the Geeks’), she’s well deserving of more attention in 2018 – especially for her digital marketing expertise and the work she’s doing encouraging more women to get heard via video.

If you have something to say, she wants you to say it, no matter who you are an what you look like. The message is more important than your appearance, as is just getting it done, rather than, ‘I’ll get to that when the timing is right’.

Jessica May

Jessica May is the founder and chief executive of Enabled Employment, a labour hire company for people with a disability, as well as carers, former ADF Personnel and their supporting family, senior Australians and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

The business was inspired by Jess’ own experience of being a worker with a disability. Now she’s helping to fill skill gaps by finding highly capable and skilled people with disabilities and putting them in excellent jobs and careers.

The business also has the lived experience, with all management staff at Enabled being people with disability, or ex-ADF personnel or family. It’s a unique enterprise in that it’s, “employing on the basis of positive discrimination” and operating in the private sector.

Annie Harper

Annie is the co-founder of Equal Reality, creating social interactive training tools in virtual reality for education about unconscious bias in the workplace.

The artist, former Intel engineer turned game development teacher, only started the business at the end of 2016 and has an impressive range of advisers and supporters on board.

Bringing gaming and virtual reality to a complex area of training makes this is a game-changing business to watch.

Karen Hind

Karen is the founder of Recall App, an evidence collection tool designed to help people experiencing domestic violence collect and prepare the key information they need for domestic violence and family law court cases.

Having just been selected to take part in the 2018 SheStarts program, she looks set to accelerate the growth of the newly created business and start facilitate change in the family law court system.

Morgan Koegel

Morgan Koegel is the chief executive of One Girl, a charity aiming to get more girls educated all over the world.

Already One Girl’s awarded 425 scholarships and educated 8875 women and girls on menstrual health, mostly in Sierra Leone through an on-the-ground partner in the region. She’s doing remarkable work in a difficult area.

Watch out for more from all these women in 2018.

Morgan Koegel

This article was originally published on Women’s Agenda.

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