Painting the world

24 February 2015

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You could be forgiven for thinking that Crawford PhD candidate Zoe Piper has more than 24 hours in each of her days.

Yet the 33-year-old Canberra student manages to fit in everything from writing a PhD, manufacturing non-toxic paint, founding three businesses and being a finalist in the NAB Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards as emerging Entrepreneur of the Year.

The award winners were announced on Thursday 26 February at an exclusive luncheon in Sydney attended by former Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

Piper is up for the award because of her work as co-founder of Ecolour – an Australian manufacturer of non-toxic paint. Since founding the business in 2009, Piper has seen her business grow from strength to strength despite not knowing much about the paint industry before she went into business.

“From the beginning I understood the huge potential of a paint product that won’t make its users sick. The World Health Organization recognises painting as a high-risk occupation with many painters ending up with lung and/or bladder cancer as a result of repeated exposure to the toxins in regular paint.

“It’s not just painters that are at risk either. Paint will continue to outgas toxins for years after it is applied so the health of building occupants is also impacted. Many people would have experienced dizziness or headaches when walking into a freshly painted room, but the toxins can also trigger asthma and cause a range of other health problems.

“The domestic market for paint is worth about $3 billion annually (and $100 billion internationally) so I knew there had to be great opportunities for a superior performance, non-toxic product that could be offered at the same price as the established major brands,” said Piper.

Ecolour has proven popular with schools, hotels, airports, offices, as well as homeowners across the country. The experience of a Brisbane hospital highlights the advantages of taking the toxins out of the painting process.

“Using Ecolour enabled the hospital to reoccupy operating theatre areas and birthing suites on the same day as painting. This ensured the hospital was able to substantially improve its operating efficiencies, maintain a safe environment for workers and patients and reduce operational risks,” said Piper.

It’s not only the paint and PhD world that takes up Piper’s time. She currently manages the Productivity Unit for the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, consults for selected clients including the International Research Centre for Healthy Ageing and Longevity and chairs the ACT Regional Committee for the Australian Institute of Management.

“I’m fascinated by cross-sector collaboration. My PhD looks at how well business, academia and government interact with each other.

“In particular, I’m looking at cross-sector professionals who are able to seamlessly operate across all three sectors. This is the type of career that I’m looking to build, so a key reason for undertaking my PhD is to better understand the research sector and identify opportunities to build linkages between the three sectors,” said Piper.

The promising entrepreneur has been working full time since the day she left high school and puts her success down to sheer hard work and determination. Although not one to shine light on her achievements, Piper was humbled to be chosen as a finalist for the NAB Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards.

“There are some very impressive women that have been nominated so it is great to be included as a finalist. Regardless of the outcome of the Awards I’m looking forward to meeting the other finalists and hearing more about their stories,” Piper said.

Choosing to study at Crawford School wasn’t a difficult decision for Piper who said a degree from Asia and the Pacific’s leading public policy school is hard to beat.

“Crawford School was a very easy choice for me. I previously completed a Master of Management at The Australian National University so I was familiar with the University, and Crawford has a particularly good reputation in my field of interest.

“Building and maintaining networks has always been really important throughout my career. Studying alongside the other students at Crawford is excellent for developing a truly global network,” said Piper.

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