Edwina Sharrock (BN '03) gets things done.
She was 36 weeks pregnant when Tamworth’s private hospital maternity unit closed down, taking with it one of the few prenatal classes in the community. The fact that a regional area was again losing a critical service gave her the motivation to start her own. The monthly classes, which she ran for five years, were constantly booked out in advance.
Edwina, who was also working as a nurse and midwife at the time, started to wonder if there was a way to reach more people. With 41 percent of maternity units in Australia having closed in recent years, it was a service that was desperately needed.
“I thought, well I can't build maternity units,” she says. “But I can deliver childbirth education using technology. And that was when I made the decision to go online.”
When she received a quote of $13,000 to build a website, she decided to do it herself, even though she had no online experience. She called the website Birth Beat.
“It was scrappy and probably not very user friendly, but I got it out there and showed there was a need. I tested the market really. And people loved it.”
Edwina had graduated from the University of Sydney with a Bachelor of Nursing before returning home to train as a midwife at Tamworth Hospital. She added her experience of teaching adults at her own antenatal classes to shape the content of the website, which includes walking parents through the stages of labour, pain-relief options, different types of birth, and a full caesarian-section operation.
“There’s so much judgment on women at the moment, particularly in Western society, about the right way to birth,” she says. “Our ethos at Birth Beat is that we are here to give evidence-based information so that you can make empowered choices. It's not my journey, it's your journey, and I'm just here to give you a whole lot of tools to put in the toolbox.”
She added entrepreneurial skills to her own toolbox when she was accepted into HCF’s Catalyst program, which is designed to fast track startups in the health sphere. “It was like a business degree in three months,” she says. “It was amazing.”
Since then, Birth Beat’s business has grown 380 percent.
Edwina almost ended up delivering calves instead of babies: as a child, she wanted to be a vet like her father. But when he told her she’d have to give up her beloved hockey and focus more on her studies, she thought, “I don’t want to be a vet that much…” A friend suggested she take up nursing, and she chose the University of Sydney, partly because she could continue to play hockey while she studied. She intended to settle in the big city afterwards, but her father developed lung cancer, and she returned home to help her mother care for him.
Now, she is proud to be running a national company from the country, where she lives with her husband and two children, and says her friends and family call her “the mayor of Tamworth” because she never loses an opportunity to promote her hometown. She seems energised by the opportunities Birth Beat has given her and empowered by the new skills she has learnt.
“At times it’s exhausting but it's so exciting,” she says. “I have 19 years working in public health and now I'm in the startup world.
“I'm my own boss, I've got a small team and if we want to test something, we'll just put it out into the big world and see how it goes. Our vision is to better the birth experience for all. As long as it aligns with our vision, we'll give it a red hot crack.”