Meet Madeleine Buchner. Founder of Little Dreamers, a not-for-profit organisation who work to improve the emotional and physical health, well-being and resilience of Young Carers. Little Dreamers aims to reduce the prevalence of mental illness among Young Carers by promoting social connectedness. This is her entrepreneurial story.
Where did you get the idea for your business?
Little Dreamers was created as a result of my own personal experience as a young carer. My brother, Charlie, has been sick for most of his life. He was first diagnosed with asthma at six months old, encephalitis at three years and epilepsy at four years. In later years, he was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and an adrenal insufficiency. I often had to stay with friends or family whilst my brother was sick which was difficult at times but eventually became the norm.
As a teenager, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and I then became a young carer to both of them. It’s fair to say that we never really had a ‘normal’ family and there was never really a routine, one minute Charlie and mum could be quite healthy and the next minute both of them could be in the hospital. As a result, I struggled quite a lot growing up, I didn’t really have many friends who understood what I was going through; there was never really anyone there to support me which was hard at times. Today, I still suffer from anxiety and that has definitely come from being a young carer.
How did you get your business started?
At the age of nine, I ran my first fundraiser to raise money for an organisation that supported the brothers and sisters of sick kids. I continued to run fundraisers for different existing charities for six years and when I was 15 years old I participated in a competition to come up with an idea of how we wanted to “change the world”. As part of this competition we wrote up our first business plan for Little Dreamers. I had a lot of help from my parents when I was younger and I still do get a lot of help from them as they are incredibly passionate about the charity following our own personal family experience.
Today, I consider myself very lucky because I have an incredible support network around me to help manage Little Dreamers. My university course has always required immaculate time management which has been difficult at times, especially with campaigns such as this or fundraiser events like the Young Carers Festival. However, I have been able to use Little Dreamers as the object of my assignments at University on several occasions so I think that has definitely helped combine my two passions.
I think the success of the charity can be largely attributed to the desire for change, I knew the situation wasn’t fair and I knew that I wasn’t the only one in this kind of situation. For example, like many children who are unwell, there was always help and assistance for my brother but there was no support network for me. In the end, it came down to how passionate I was about the cause – anything is possible when you have the passion and drive behind it.
What lessons have you learned so far on your business journey?
Some of the main lessons that I have learnt are:
- There are no stupid questions.
- You need to be ok in asking for help, and accepting help when it is offered to you.
- Business is complicated – but butchers paper, textas and mind maps help!!
How important for you has it been to have a mentor?
Having a mentor is extremely important to me. I have a number of mentors at the moment that all help me with different parts of Little Dreamers – from growth planning and management to program development and social media marketing.
For me, having mentors that are from different backgrounds and having different experiences has been fantastic. I have mentors who have successfully run their own social enterprise and then moved into a high-level position at a corporate, people who have been in the education industry for 15 years, and those that are just starting out but have had huge successes that I can learn from.
I think that having a mentor who you feel comfortable with and can call up or email with questions along the way, but also someone who will challenge you and won’t just give you the answer they think you want to hear is the best type of mentor.
What are your top 3 tips for starting a business?
- Have a clear direction and plan – If you want to run a social enterprise, what is it that you want your end goal to be, what social problem do you want to have impacted or changed.
- Be passionate about what you are doing – running a business is complex and time-consuming, but if you love what you do you’ll never work a day in your life!
- Find your tribe of like-minded people and surround yourself with them – learn from them, bounce ideas off them, have them there to help you come back from any failures but also to celebrate all the wins.