Dr Catherine Ball trained as an environmental scientist and as a statistician. She is currently Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and founder of several companies mainly based on drones, coding and robotics.
Catherine was an enthusiastic learner, even at primary school. She always loved science subjects and languages.
In secondary school, her favourite subject was geography and she had a dream that she would travel to a new country every year. She was not keen on maths at school even though she eventually studied statistics at university!
In her final year of school In England, she studied Biology, Chemistry, Physics and French. She was also in the debating team, the orchestra and the choir.
I really threw myself into all the opportunities I had at school and this has followed me throughout my career.
When she was at school Catherine also did babysitting jobs and worked in a pharmacy and a pizza shop.
After she finished school, Catherine took a gap year working in Zambia.
My mum is a big hero for me. She always said to me “go out and do it and be yourself”. I could always rely on her if things went wrong.
As a child, Catherine loved animals and nature.
I fell in love with planet Earth from a very young age and David Attenborough was my ‘third parent’, I was just transfixed by wildlife.
I’m also very grateful for my education and my wonderful teachers.
University and first job
I originally thought I should study medicine, but then after my Gap Year in Zambia I decided to go with environmental science. We have enough medical staff really, and you can’t vaccinate against famine.
Catherine’s first degree was in BSc with Honours (Environmental Protection). She then had another gap year working in Thailand, finding and recording new species of bananas
After that, she completed a PhD in Spatial Ecology and Predictive Statistics.
My PhD gave me the wings to choose where I might work in the world, it was my passport to go where I wanted to go or be what I wanted to be.
Catherine’s advice to students
She says that no person is an island, your networks and the strength and diversity of those directly relate to how successful you’ll be.
Communication is key when you’re self-employed. Your network is your net worth. Relationships are very important.
Ability to identify new ways of doing things and creating business opportunities with them. If you can’t see new ways, then creating them is just as good if not better.
I never give up. Tenacity.
People don’t often talk about it but not having people in your network can also be powerful. Don’t be afraid to say no to things, sometimes people want to connect with you for their value, not yours.
STEM skills are going to be required by most jobs and in most businesses going forwards. We have global challenges such as climate change and population growth and aging that we can only improve if we use STEM.
Having a broad spectrum of experiences has been a huge factor in how I have been able to become independent. If there is one piece of advice I could give young people today, regardless of what career path they think they might want is “travel, you have to travel, you have to get out there and see the world.
Catherine has won several awards during her career Named a Westpac #100WomenOfInfluence in 2016, 2015 Queensland Telstra Businesswoman of the Year and 2015 National Corporate and Private Sector Telstra Businesswoman of the Year.
Becoming an Entrepreneur
When she came to Australia, Catherine first worked as a consultant, advising companies on environmental issues.
Catherine’s first project using drones was looking at turtle rookeries (where they dig their nests and lay their eggs) on isolated islands off the coast of Western Australia. The project identified endangered animals that had not been seen in years. She was inspired by the enormous potential of drone technology.
Since then she has started up five STEM-based businesses, which she heads:
- Remote Research Ranges is company that sends drone technology to remote communities to work with indigenous ranger groups.
- SheFlies, co-founded with Dr Karen Joyce, to encourage girls and women into STEM careers, to build confidence by getting them to try their hand at something new – learning to fly drones.
- Co-Creator and Technical Convenor of the World of Drones Congress, which aims to support the growing drone economy across the Asia Pacific region.
- Oneplanetwoman is a business she started to provide mentoring and sustainability guidance as well as start-up advice to women in business.
- Gumption Trigger is a book that Catherine put together. It highlights 14 stories of Australian businesswomen and how they have found their determination and resilience after things have gone wrong in their life.
Catherine’s current job
I am in charge of major strategic decisions across all my businesses. I am the technical convenor of the World of Drones Congress, so am in charge of the technical content
Catherine has built a successful career as an entrepreneur. She aims to grow her businesses and keep learning and watching for new opportunities.
She chose to work in this sector because she like to have fun and enjoy work life.
I chose a place I could see a lot of opportunity. I used my personal brand to have conversations and raise issues around where there can be improvements, especially with regard to gender diversity in STEM subjects.
STEM at work
STEM is a major factor behind my successes. My companies mainly involve the use of drones and coding and robotics, as well as business and start-ups.
Science skills really set you up for life. How to challenge things and learn about the world. If we don’t know where we are, how can we know where we are going?