What is 30under30?
30under30 is an Anthill initiative that was launched in early 2008 to encourage and promote entrepreneurship among young Australians. Each year, we invite our readers to nominate young Australian entrepreneurs deserving of recognition for their outstanding entrepreneurial endeavours. Anthill’s editorial team then trawls through hundreds of applications and identifies and profiles the top 30 Australian entrepreneurs under the age of 30. The process culminates in an event held in Melbourne where the 30 winners network and celebrate. We’ve been releasing profiles of this year’s Anthill 30under30 winners via our Twitter account – youngest to oldest. Read 30under30 winners, 2009 (The Full List)
Age: 28 (1981)
Industry: Interior & Graphic Design
Company: Forward Thinking Design
Vanessa Cullen left her former employment after discovering a colleague had been plagiarising design works for many years. She refused to turn a blind eye to dishonesty, and started her own design firm Forward Thinking Design so that she could make work ethics the number one rule in the studio.
Forward Thinking Design provides interior and graphic design solutions for restaurants, retail, commercial and public applications. As the owner and principal Interior and Graphic Designer, Cullen is responsible for all areas of business activity - from lead generation, client management, marketing and accounting to CAD drawing and graphic design.
“I get perverse enjoyment out of the challenges of business itself,” says Cullen. “Design + freedom = FUN! I like getting credit for my work and solving my own problems. The pay is good and I do rather enjoy the perks!”
When Cullen was 17, her 14-year-old sister almost died and was left with a permanent disability. Tough life experiences made Cullen mature beyond her years and she committed deeply to her goals.
“Now my life and business are characterised by an unquenchable drive to live every minute as though it were my last, give my all and truly define my own future.”
Cullen has won two business awards within the last year and continued to increase her company’s gross turnover and profit. She has also mentored eight professional women under the age of 30 in the past three years and supported more than 10 not-for-profit entities with reduced rate/pro bono design services. Cullen is also an active speaker to school groups about careers and at events for professional associations.
Being featured in this year’s Anthill 30under30 Award, Cullen hopes her story could inspire profit-seeking young entrepreneurs to also infuse themselves with creativity, passion and a sense of social responsibility. Her ultimate goal is to lead the commercial design industry in Australia towards a more respectable, optimistic and ethical future.
ENTREPRENEURIAL LESSONS ACCORDING TO VANESSA
How Forward Thinking Design survived the GFC?
The GFC caused my major client to halt fit-outs in the Asia/Pacific region and therefore more than 50% of my turnover dried up. Thankfully, I had foreseen the danger of having all my eggs in one basket and had already begun to invest in additional marketing/networking strategies to increase my number of clients and thus ensure that my risks were spread. The first hints of the GFC gave me further impetus to make my business more sustainable by ensuring it wasn’t over-dependant on just a few clients. I have massively increased clientele and have already replaced the lost turnover.