Zoe Piper is too modest to tell you about her long list of achievements, including founding four businesses, sitting on multiple boards/councils, completing four degrees and working on her PhD, raising two children, and a bucket-load more of impressive achievements. She will, however, tell you she’s followed her passions and curiosity to discover and realise opportunities that also help others.
Zoe was independent and self-sufficient from an early age. Growing up in the small NSW town of Braidwood, about an hour away from Canberra, she took every opportunity to earn her own money as a young teenager - babysitting, odd jobs, and working at the Braidwood Bakery.
At 15 years old, her family moved to the Gold Coast, but after a few months at school, Zoe decided Queensland wasn’t for her, so she moved to Canberra to finish school. Already quite financially independent as a young teen, she wasn’t too daunted by the challenge of living independently and supporting herself.
“I went to Campbell High for Year 10 and then Dickson College. I boarded with a lady who rented rooms to international students and then when I turned 16, I got my own government flat,” Zoe says.
“I worked nights and weekends to support myself through high school, packing shelves, assisting dentists, doing reception work. But my education was very important to me, so I was determined not to let the hours I spent working detract from my grades.”
Zoe graduated with a 94.65% Universities Admission Index (UAI), the predecessor to the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR).
Enjoying science in high school, Zoe wanted to study biology at the Australian National University (ANU). But after completing a bridging course in chemistry at the ANU, she realised it wasn’t her thing, so she arrived at UC during orientation and asked to enrol.
“I hadn't previously applied to UC, so I went back and read a university handbook to look at the degrees offered by all of the universities to pick a new one. The communication degree at UC seemed to be the broadest and would give me a taste of a range of different things,” Zoe says.
Completing an economics class as part of her undergraduate degree, she enjoyed it so much she changed to the double degree and graduated with a Bachelor of Applied Economics and a Bachelor of Communication (Advertising/Marketing Communications) in 2003. Zoe has also done postgraduate studies in Management and Business Administration, and is currently pursuing her PhD at the ANU, focussing on cross sector careers.
In 2009, Zoe co-founded her first business, Ecolour Paint, a paint manufacturer that produces water-based paint completely free of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) so it’s safer for asthma sufferers, pregnant women, children, and pets. VOCs can cause lung, bladder, and other cancers and Zoe had seen firsthand the pain and suffering cancer causes. Her mother passed away in her third year of university aged just 47, and her grandparents on her mother and father’s sides also passed away from cancer. This pain turned into passion for reducing the risks of developing cancer.
“My economics degree taught me the importance of considering the impact that business has on the planet. When my co-founder and I came across this paint product, we thought, ‘This is a great quality product that has zero VOCs so it’s not doing any harm. Why isn't everybody using paint that doesn’t cause health problems?’”
“I knew nothing about the industry at first, but I thought if we've got a better product at the same price that's doing good for people, then that's something I'd like to be part of and have a go. So, I did the research, saw the opportunity, and believed this product could really help clean up indoor air quality and create healthier living spaces,” she says.
For Zoe, it would be her first of many startups.
She has also founded Ethitrade International (a blockchain-based provenance platform empowering micro and small enterprises in South East Asia), Allaran (an advisory firm operating at the intersection of industry, research, and government), and CareerVitae (a platform empowering individuals to manage their career).
“Breadth is what I've gone for in my career, combined with deep expertise in multiple different areas,” Zoe says.
“My diverse experience helps me understand things from different perspectives and see how trends from different industries intersect and impact each other.”
Her ‘portfolio career’ includes roles in technology, management consulting, manufacturing, investment and more.
“From my experience, building a varied, dynamic and agile career is the best possible strategy for ensuring steady income long-term,” she says.
It’s this varied career at the intersection of industry, research, and government that has prepared Zoe well for this role as UC’s Dean of the College of Adjuncts. Adjuncts and Professors Emeriti contribute to teaching, research, professional development, extension and internationalisation activities, and the wider University community.
“I'd really like UC to be a leading example for how adjuncts are engaged here in Australia.”
Having just commenced her new role, Zoe says that the initial phase will be all about engaging broadly. Her first order of business includes gathering feedback from the faculties, adjuncts, and other stakeholders to help inform the strategic direction for the Adjunct and Professors Emeriti programs.
Words by Kailey Tonini and photos by Tyler Cherry.