Vanessa is a multi-award winning social entrepreneur, brand and built environment strategist and ultra-endurance athlete, privileged with the credentials and flexibility to now support others through speaking, facilitation and mentoring. Vanessa is known as a straight talker and is often engaged as a board advisor, conference speaker and tertiary education guest lecturer.
For over 16 years Vanessa has been the Managing Director/CEO of Forward Thinking Design (www.forwardthinkingdesign.com.au); a B Corporation and Social Traders Certified, socially and environmentally sustainable enterprise, which she founded. Forward Thinking Design is a brand and built environment strategy and fitout design studio that retains its profits to finance pro bono and reduced-fee services to charity and other social enterprise projects. The firm consults to leadership across restaurants and hospitality, retail, services, workplace, health/fitness, sporting club and community venues. It specifically exists to support fellow organisations with social, ethical and environmental impact values at their core.
Vanessa is the Diversity and Inclusion Chairperson of BLocal Sydney, Australia (B Corporation business community) and an activist for equality, environmental sustainability and improved ethics in business and society. She identifies as a moderate vegan and as ‘somewhere along the gender spectrum and not entirely straight!’. In her early career, Vanessa became notable as a self-made young entrepreneur and creative, from a lower-middle class, multicultural/immigrant background. As a genetic kidney disease sufferer and survivor of serious family trauma, she is an Ambassador for Polycystic Kidney Disease Australia, Member of the Australasian Kidney Trials Network Scientific Committee and Co-Chair of the NSW BEAT-CKD Consumer Advisory Board.
Previously, Vanessa served a full term on the Reserve Bank of Australia Small Business Advisory Board and was the Junior Vice President of the NSW Division of the Australian Shop & Office Fitting Association (ASOFIA), a committee on which she served for many years. She holds a Bachelor of Design (Hons) – UNSW, a Postgraduate Diploma in Museum Studies – Deakin and is a Graduate of the Australian Institute of Directors Company Directors Course.
Vanessa holds a Fastest Known Time 254km ultra trail running record and previously represented Australia in an age group, Sprint Triathlon World Championship. She has been profiled in several books, national print media, on radio, TV and podcasts. She is a strong promoter of individual and collective empowerment, responsibility, achievement and well-being.
Vanessa’s personal life, athletic and business stories hold audiences spell-bound. She also speaks and teaches professionally on a range of commercial topics related to her career, client industries and fields of experience.
Western Sydney Business Centre Presenter/Workshop Facilitator – ‘Starting a Restaurant, Cafe or Food Based Business’ 2020
FoodLab Sydney Guest Presenter/Workshop Facilitator – ‘Food Based Business Startup’ 2019
Lonsdale Institute Guest Speaker – ‘How to Choose an Ethical Career’, Business Faculty, Sydney, 2019
Newkind Conference Speaker – ‘How to Choose an Ethical Career’, Hobart, 2019
Profitable Hospitality Podcast and Silver Chef Guest Speaker – ‘Food Based Retail/Hospitality’ 2019
Pioneers of Good Podcast Guest Speaker – ‘Forward Thinking Design: Ahead of the curve for sustainable interior design’, UK, 2018
Club Catalina (Golf Club) ‘Board Strategic and Master Planning’ Facilitator, Batemans Bay, 2018
Nutrition in Healthcare Symposium Closing Speaker – ‘Vanessa Cullen – My Plant Based Diet vs Chronic Disease Story’, Sydney, 2017
Fine Food Australia and Commercial Drinks Expo Speaker – ‘Restaurant and Bar Innovation’, Sydney, 2017
Rare Birds Conference Speaker – ‘Growth and Outsourcing for Business’ Sydney, 2016
World Vegan Day Panel Speaker – ‘Vanessa Cullen – Personal Plant Based Athlete Story’, Melbourne, 2016
Triathlon and Endurance Cycling Expo Speaker – ‘Vanessa Cullen – Personal Plant Based Endurance Athlete Story’, Sydney, 2016
Entrepreneurial Heart Podcast Guest Speaker – ‘Vanessa Cullen – Personal Business Success Story’ 2016
PKD Foundation Australia – ‘Vanessa Cullen – Patient Story’ 2016 & 2017
Continual ongoing speaking/presentation as component of day-to-day career, as a sports trainer, youth financial literacy teacher and as CEO of Forward Thinking Design 2003-Present.