By Hoa (Gloria) Pham
Content Warning: this article contains descriptions of sexual violence.
2021 has been a milestone year for Australia’s fight against sexual violence. After Grace Tame, a sexual assault survivor and activist, was named Australian of the Year, many March 4 Justice protests spread throughout the country following rape and sexual assault allegations against high-profile politicians.
Similarly, when Isabel Hamilton, one of the top 4 candidates in SPARK Deakin’s Startup Ideation program, came up with the idea of a nightclub that specially caters to women’s safety, it immediately received enormous support and became a phenomenon on online forums for women.
From a personal story that turned into shocking statistics…
Isabel was 18 when she first attended clubs in Melbourne and started realising that sexual abuse here was “completely overlooked, normalised and tolerated”, having personally witnessed and experienced it.
“The standard nightclub here caters to men and the male experience. I wished there had been a space that acknowledged this problem, where women could feel safe but also enjoy the benefits of a nightclub,” Isabel said.
When she first tested this idea in a Facebook group for Melburnian women with about 60,000 members, she instantly received over 1,000 expressions of interest in a matter of days.
“The majority of the answers were like, ‘Finally! It’s about time!’. As women, we all knew that the issue was there, and this is the start of the change we want.”
Isabel found out that 94% of the respondents had been sexually harassed or assaulted in clubs and bars, and one out of three women had experienced this on multiple occasions.
“I had hundreds of women messaging me about their tragic experiences. I spent a full day scrolling through them and bawling my eyes out. They were very hard to read – you just can’t fathom it’s real,” Isabel said.
“I heard about a woman who was screaming for help in a room full of people and no one bat an eye, and a woman who got dragged into an alleyway and was raped. These could have been avoided, and that’s the sad part.”
To a trailblazing startup project…
Isabel’s deep dive into the issue made her realise that there was a much greater need for her idea than she thought.
She named her brainchild “Virgo Nightclub”. The anecdotes and findings inspired her to include in this project a wide variety of features exclusively designed to protect women, such as:
- A special women-only zone, since many women who have been assaulted still feel traumatised and scared to be around men, according to Isabel’s research.
- A requirement for customers to disclose that they have not committed any sexual offence when purchasing tickets.
- A requirement for every man entering the venue to be accompanied by a female party.
- An “angel shot” system where customers receiving unwanted attention can order a specific drink to alert the staff and receive.
- Safe transportation options to get home.
From how the idea took shape…
Virgo Nightclub was actually not Isabel’s first idea in the Startup Ideation program. She only pursued it from week five, when she realised she did not have enough research to validate her original idea.
“It was hard to catch up on five weeks of work. Still, you can have such a great idea, but if no one thinks it’s an issue or a need to be fulfilled, then it won’t succeed,” Isabel said.
Fortunately, the interest she received made it far easier for her to pivot to Virgo Nightclub.
The greatest lesson that Isabel learned from SPARK Deakin is the importance of backing up her ideas with research, taking feedback, feeling confident in making decisions, and taking care of herself.
To future plans
Isabel and her volunteer team will launch Virgo Nightclub’s first event in late February 2022, which has received roughly 430 registrations of interest. This will prepare for their main event leading up to International Women’s Day on 8 March.
To learn all the necessary skills to turn your idea into a viable startup, please see further information on our Startup Ideation program here.