2019 Program Mentors

Startup Gippsland Program mentors are committed to taking your startup to the next level. They have all been there before and through their experience, they will work with you to take your startup to the next level.

Startup Gippsland Program mentor Chris Allford

Chris Allford

Director at In2 Project Management, which focuses on business transformation through the use of Lean thinking project management. We specialise in shifting values, beliefs, ways of thinking and change management within your projects.

Startup Gippsland Program mentor Jessie Balantyne

Jessie Ballantyne

I am the Founder & CEO of Australia's award winning grants directory. My responsibilities include overall leadership and strategic direction, innovation, and partnership development. Having survived the startup phase in business, I was keen to take part in Startup Gippsland to help support someone else bring their dream to life. Getting a business off the ground is hard work, and most people fail. If I can help someone else start up a successful business through what I've learned along the way, then that's a big win!

Startup Gippsland Program mentor Neil Betts

Neil Betts

Neil is the director of In2 Project Management, a consultancy that focuses on business transformation through the use of Lean thinking project management. He is an experienced executive manager with a business transformation, project management, procurement, engineering and change leadership background.

His 29 years of diverse experience in the power industry from craft apprenticeship through to executive level gives him the ability to understand the requirements of operating and maintaining a business at all levels.

Startup Gippsland Startup Mentor reflection Helen O'Brien Startup Mentor

Helen O'Brien

Parliament of Victoria

Currently Parliamentary Adviser with Parliament of Victoria. Recently completed a Masters Business Administration. Proud Gippslandian. Helen has over 10 years experience in government relations and can assist startups to form strong strategic relationships with government at all levels.

Helen has a strong business background, demonstrated by her MBA and HR qualifications. This diverse experience allows her to be well paced between startups and government to enable shared value.

Helen has worked across various public and private organisations in leadership, policy writing and stakeholder engagement.

Startup Gippsland Program mentor Kieta Cabrera

Kieta Cabrera (van der Meulen)

Maurice Blackburn Lawyers

Associate at Maurice Blackburn Lawyers

Startup Gippsland program mentors are committed to taking your startup to the next leveto optimise your experience. Read our Startup Mentors reflections Shannon Davies

Shannon Davies

Shannon is a highly skilled planner with a wide range of experience in strategic and statutory planning in peri-urban, regional and rural contexts. As director of SD Planning, Shannon is a qualified town planner with more than 15 years’ experience at local government level and as a consultant. Shannon has experience working in local government and has worked on and completed a broad range of planning projects.

Shannon also has extensive experience in public speaking and has presented in a range of forums including VCAT and Planning Panels. She enjoys sharing her enthusiasm for her industry to educate planners, non-planners and Councillors on the planning process and helping to communicate the benefits of robust planning frameworks.

Shannon enjoys creating more equitable and vibrant places and inclusive decision–making processes. A member of the Planning Institute of Australia and VPLEA, Shannon is an active participant within her profession.

Startup Gippsland Program mentor Rosemary Hamilton

Rosemary Hamilton

With twenty-five years experience in media and communications, the core of Rosemary’s work is to discover the true essence of brands, the message to communicate and the most effective medium to reach the target audience.

As a skilled brand strategist, Rosemary is an expert content creator, including the concept and production of visual campaigns and materials and in the execution of highly experiential events.

Having lived and worked in Europe, Asia and the United States before settling in Australia in 2004, Rosemary brings a global perspective to branding and startups.

Startup Gippsland Program mentor Darren Hotchkin

Darren Hotchkin

Executive Director/CEO. Darren is a leading industry expert who has been invited to speak at several IRF and TRB Conferences internationally. He was invited to join the panel for the Australian Standard 3845 in Road Safety Barriers in 2015 and is an active TRB sub-committe member AFB20 for roadside safety hardware.

In 2007 he was a national finalist in the Regional Entrepreneur of the Year. He is a member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. In his spare time Darren enjoys travelling and boating.


Scott Humphrey

I am a business mentor, and enjoy helping businesses to improve and grow their business, I primary work with business owners who have been in operation 1-5 years and employ up to 15 people.

I believe in helping the community. I'm currently involved in the badminton community, am a Level 1 coach, and a Level 2 sports trainer, I also a volunteer in the event health sector.

Startup Gippsland Program mentor Warren Jenkins

Warren Jenkins

I combine my passion for People, Design and Business in my endeavors.

Startup Gippsland Program mentor Kylie Johnson Sadhana Consultancy

Kylie Johnson

I have worked in a large established multi-national organisation, a fast growing SME, a start-up, a government organisation, owned three businesses and the director of my own private company, giving me a diverse set of business skills and knowledge.

I am an experienced Executive and Chief Financial Officer with diverse experience in best practice in start-ups, SMEs, government and multinational organisations. My qualifications include a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) in Accounting/Economics.

I am a current member of CPA Australia (Certified Practicing Accountants) and a Finance Committee member for Destination Gippsland.

Startup Gippsland Program mentor Stuart Kendall

Stuart Kendall

Stuart is a qualified accountant who specialises in business strategy for early stage entrepreneurs. Stuart helps startups spot and mitigate their accounting and financial risks early on in their business so that they’re well prepared to scale and take on investment down the line. Stuart has worked in public practice accounting since 2011 in Business services and Audit where he has gained experience working with industries such as building & construction, agriculture, manufacturing, education, healthcare and retail. He’s also served as a board member and treasurer for an NDIS registered not for profit. Stuart believes that compliance shouldn’t get in the way of running your business and that putting the right system in place is the surest way to free up time to focus on what’s important to you. His main focus is helping business owners understand exactly what it costs to run their business and putting together annual plans to help clients reach their business and personal goals.

Startup Gippsland Program mentor Leah Mether

Leah Mether

Leah Mether helps people get out of their own way and step up for success with the development of soft skills. She is a speaker, trainer, coach, facilitator and author known for her direct, enthusiastic and relatable style. With a background in leadership, corporate communications and journalism, Leah works with executives, leaders and employees across Australia to help them improve their communication, mindset and self-management.

Her work is based on the belief that soft skills are the new hard; we are our own biggest roadblock to success; and no-one is a perfect communicator, everyone can improve.

Leah’s first book, Soft is the New Hard: How to Communicate Effectively Under Pressure, has been described as “a masterclass in communication” and a “personal coaching session for leaders”.

Leah lives in the small town of Willow Grove overlooking Blue Rock Lake in Gippsland, Victoria with her husband and three energetic sons. She is a dedicated volunteer - passionate about giving back to and supporting the Gippsland community - and a trained speaker for beyondblue.


James Muir

James is the cofounder of Treiner, an online marketplace connecting football players and parents with coaches and service providers based on their preferences.

James has successfully completed several Melbourne-based accelerator and is currently scaling his startup. James helps early stage startups understand business fundamentals, in particular gaining clarity on their business idea and planning.

He brings in the perspective of building a startup in Gippsland, connecting with the broader startup community, and helping other startups in the local area.

Startup Gippsland Program mentor Silvia Pongracic

Silvia Pongracic

Silvia is a talented leader and manager with significant experience in private industry and research organisations. Silvia has previously been a Senior Administration and Industry Officer, ARC Centre of Excellence for Integrative Brain Function, Monash University. Science Course Director and Secretary, JW Gottstein Memorial Trust – the National Education Trust to the Forest Industries of Australia, Business Development Manager at CSIRO Forest BioSciences and more.

Startup Gippsland Program mentor Paul Pratt

Paul Pratt

Director & Chartered Accountant - Bachelor of Commerce (Accounting & Financial Planning), CA. Paul has worked in the accounting and advisory industry for almost 20 years, and has significant experience working with small and medium businesses across a wide variety of industries, including professional services, hospitality, agricultural, manufacturing, wholesaling, franchising, building and construction, retail, travel and accommodation and online platforms.

Paul enjoys working with business owners and high net worth families, helping them achieve their personal, financial and business goals.

Paul takes the time to understand his clients and their personal and business needs, using the latest technology (like Xero) and an easy to understand, matter of fact approach, to deal with pretty much anything that comes up.

Hugo Richard - Startup Gippsland Ambassador
Hugo Richard - Startup Gippsland Ambassador

Hugo Richard

Hugo is a serial entrepreneur, specialising in artificial intelligence and has been one of 2019 Startup Gippsland Program Ambassadors.

Hugo has been involved in cutting edge projects all over the world, including in France, UK and Australia. Hugo’s most recent startup, Dystech, uses natural language processing techniques and artificial intelligence to enable children with dyslexia to be diagnosed earlier.

Startup Gippsland Program mentor Angela Todd

Angela Todd

Helping other local Gippsland business owners to be the best version of themselves, and offer more services and products to our local area, and around the world is what makes me want to be a Start up Gippsland Mentor.

Startup Gippsland Program mentor Jo Eady Rural Scope

Jo Eady

Jo Eady is a Director and Facilitator with RuralScope Pty Limited, a consulting firm specialising in people development for Australia's agricultural and rural industries.

She holds qualifications in education, training, coaching and psychology. She has spent the last 20 years working with industries, organisations and communities to build and further develop human capacity. She is the developer and facilitator of a range of industry leadership programs including the Australian Future Cotton and Grain Leader Programs and the Grains Social Leadership Program.

Jo has established and supported over 350 mentoring partnerships as part of these programs. In addition, she has facilitated a range of strategic plans for Gold Coast City Council across education, adventure tourism, sport, environment, food and economic development. She is a dynamic facilitator and has a unique skill in being able to respectfully invite participants to have tough conversations and commit to changes in line with an agreed vision.

Participants report that they achieve so much more when Jo facilitates and that they leave the sessions with new knowledge, feeling energised, inspired, engaged and committed to change. Jo is passionate about mentoring and the magic it brings to all involved.

Startup Gippsland Program mentor Jaci_Hicken

Jaci Hicken

Jacican has always been my dream and my journey, to have a business in Gippsland where I can grow, cook and share what I love with everyone.

Being a mentor with Start-up Gippsland has allowed me to reinforce my business knowledge and allowed me to share that business knowledge with Gippsland startups.

I love being able to follow my own and other food business journeys in this area we call home.