Building joyful businesses through small grants

21 February 2022

In 2021, YWCA Canberra and the Canberra Innovation Network (CBRIN) were pleased to award a Great Ydeas Small Grant to Serina Bird to start a new sustainable fashion website, The Joyful Fashionista. We’ve loved watching Serina’s business grow from concept to reality, and were pleasantly surprised when Serina offered to give back to the Great Ydeas program with a grant sponsored by another new venture, The Joyful Business Club 

We took a moment to speak to Serina about her experiences with the Great Ydeas program and what made her want to give back. 

Serina Bird isn’t one to sit still. With the Joyful Frugalista website, book and podcast, she has been helping women understand their finances and live frugally for several years, but still felt like she had more to give. Thus, the Joyful Fashionista was born, with the help of a 2021 CBRIN Great Ydeas Innovation grant. 

Almost immediately upon getting the grant, Serina decided she’d give back in 2022 by sponsoring one. “I know it sounds a bit bizarre. I was very grateful for the money: it was one of those ‘wow’ moments and it felt amazing. But I just felt I needed to pay it forward.” 

Having been on the other side of a grant program during her time in the public service, Serina knows the impact of small grants. “I think sometimes small amounts are really significant. I mean, the money is useful, especially for women-led start-ups who are often doing it tough, especially in COVID times. But more than that is the credibility that having the backing of YWCA Canberra through the Great Ydeas program; that is gold.” 

Having that backing also helped Serina feel validated and led to some media opportunities to help start the business.  

“It was an incredibly humbling opportunity that I was so grateful for.” 

Having now experienced both sides of grant programs, Serina thinks the Great Ydeas Small Grants are perfect for people starting, as the process is so simple.  

From a financial perspective, a big focus for Serina, the small amounts are easier to manage. “You feel that you can spend and acquit that responsibly and do some good.” 

But one of Serina’s favourite aspects of this grant program is its freedom to test out ideas. “You don’t have a lot to lose. It’s not an especially difficult process, and you can say, ‘There’s an idea here; I not sure yet where it’s going to lead, but my intuition is calling me to make a start on this.'” 

Serina feels this is particularly important in grants for women and non-binary people. “You sort of get this sense, I don’t know whether it’s a female thing, that everyone else is so much better than you, so much brighter, so much more amazing, and you’re not going to stack up. Then you hear the real stories and go, ‘Yeah, actually, if they can do it, I can do it, I’ll give it a go.'” 

“You just need to be your authentic self. When you’re passionate about what you want to do, that will shine through.” 

This passion is at the heart of everything Serina does. 

“I think this is unique about women wanting to do businesses: generally, the motivation isn’t just cold hard cash. The motivation is usually to do something good in the world: for their children, their community, the next generation, the planet.” 

Unfortunately, this passion often isn’t rewarded with investment. Traditional angel investors and VCs generally look for the next billion-dollar profits rather than community good. As a result, they tend to fund men’s ideas far more often, despite research showing women-led businesses are generally more viable.  

“This is a huge issue for women getting started, which is why the Great Ydeas program is so important.” 

It’s also what started another of Serina’s ventures, The Joyful Business Club, and stimulated her interest in financial education for women. 

“I started thinking about it when I was in my APS career. The Joyful Frugalista had been published, and I knew I wanted to do more in that space in terms of financial literacy.” 

After learning about issues women face in business start-ups, she had some big ideas but decided to start small and build. She began with networking events in 2020 and 2021, which paused during lockdown.  

“Now I’m starting a new networking series with Claire Harris called Founder’s Alliance, which came out of a seminar called Adaptive Cities – Female Founders run by the Canberra Innovation Network last October.”  

“I’ve also been doing a series of Facebook Lives on business-related issues, predominantly for women, but everyone is welcome to join.” These are available to view on YouTube. 

And in April, her next book will be published: The Joyful Startup Guide.” 

With all this experience, Serina’s advice to people starting is: “Sometimes you’ve got a dream, a vision of what you want to do, but you don’t know where to start. So just start somewhere with imperfect action. Over time, you’ll develop that trust and validation to do more.” 

The Joyful Business Club Great Ydeas Grant is for women and non-binary people wanting to build a heart-centred business or start-up, which builds upon Serina’s philosophy in life and business. 

“Intuitively, it felt right. Heart-centred businesses are a key theme of my new book. There’s a sense of having a purpose and a passion and wanting to give back.” 

“I just want people to dig within themselves and find their passion. I honestly can’t wait to see what the applications are going to be like and to meet the grant recipients.” 

And we can’t wait to share those experiences with Serina! 

Find out more about the Great Ydeas Small Grants Program. 

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