Bec McHenry founder of PopUnion, The Projection Room and more!

Starting her own business at the age of 22, Bec McHenry is used to being in charge. Driven and ambitious, she started The Projection Room because she wanted to help people achieve their projections for a better world. As Australia’s second Certified B Corporation, The Projection Room is emerging as a dynamic ‘conscious company’ committed to redefining success in business.

Bec has been working with pop up concepts since day one. A prime example is through her work with Policy Booth – a social enterprise that engages disengaged audiences using design-driven pop up environments and digital platforms.

Through such work, Bec begun to see beyond the ‘trend’ of pop up to recognise an emerging ‘industry’. Pop ups were popping up everywhere!

Crucially, the growing frequency of pop ups was not the only indicator that highlighted its transition to a ‘trade’ – it was also its form. Bec noticed pop up was no longer a strategy reserved for retailers – it was being embraced by governments, creatives, even educators. Pop up was also no longer a secondary solution, with businesses actively choosing it in favour of conventional retail methods, and some even incorporating it into their businesses plans. Recognising this, Bec knew it was time to acknowledge the value of pop up as an enduring, legitimate industry.

In a world saturated in information and opportunity, the ideas that will thrive to become the next big thing will be those that create meaning and value through experiences.

However, to formalise pop up in this way, she realised its features and functions would have to be streamlined, and that a platform would need to be established to allow the collective pop up community to gather and interact. The result of this realisation was PopUnion. @popgoestheunion Linked-in

Tell us a little bit about your idea and what made you decide to take the plunge and make it happen?

No doubt many of your readers have heard of or experienced ‘pop up’ in some way – from shops to cafes to cinemas, they are literally popping up everywhere. Through some of our other projects, we noticed its growing popularity, but realised that there was more to it. For us, pop up was formalising and becoming an industry in its own right.

The best evidence of this could be found in the businesses and brands that were emerging within the pop up industry, just like PopUnion. People – like us – were choosing to activate pop ups as part of a permanent strategy, or even building permanent businesses around pop up concepts.

This is why we decided to launch PopUnion – the industry collective for all things pop up. We wanted to industrialise and strengthen the growing pop up movement and help to transform it from a ‘trend’ to a ‘trade’.

To do this, we provide our members with access to a variety of platforms, services and resources that enhance their pop-abilities, including our online directory

Basically, we are working to streamline the pop up process in order to service and support this new industry.

Please explain your business model. 

PopUnion is a membership collective, so we derive some of our revenue through member fees. However we also curate and activate pop ups on behalf of clients.

What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next three months? 

We are working on and with a number of pop ups that are happening over summer. In fact, this summer is going to be intense for us, and the pop up industry.

If it was anything like the past summer in the UK – which saw over 2000 pop ups happen in three months – we are going to be very, very busy!

Oh, and we are currently working on something for White Night Festival in Melbourne, but that is pretty hush, hush at this stage… Watch this space!

How do you make ideas happen?

“Start where you are. Use what you have.  Do what you can.” –  Arthur Ashe

But I would also add ‘find  the right people’ to Authur’s checklist because ideas that have become reality for me have only gotten there because I pitched them to the right people and they got on board. I never make ideas happen – ‘we’ make ideas happen.

What does your typical day look like? 

I’m an early riser – so a 5am wake up is ‘typical’. Usually, I head straight to my desk and smash out a few hours of work while my brain is fresh and words are flowing. I love mornings because of the clarity they allow for. This burst is usually followed by another burst –  of exercise that is. Then the rest of the world arrives at work and it’s on – emails, phone calls, work, work, work! But the work is so varying, nothing is ever ‘typical’. For instance, the other day I was installing a giant chess board on Bridge Road in the morning, and then collaborating with one of Melbourne’s largest insurance companies to build a short term pop up insurance policy in the afternoon. How’s that for contrasts? I guess they are both ‘strategic’ in some way…

What challenges have you faced when starting or growing a business/organisation in Australia?

Knowing where to start is a challenge for me, and I don’t mean administratively. It’s hard to know where to start engaging people in what you are doing, and what to start delivering first – especially when your passionate and impatient.

Within PopUnion, and the wonderful world of pop up, there are so many opportunities to follow that it can be hard to know where to start. Therefore, I needed to be careful to embrace each opportunity when the time was right. I didn’t get this right the first time, but I learnt – hard and fast. On this note, any challenge can be overcome if you are willing to listen and learn, especially from more experienced mentors.

What is one idea you are willing to give away for free? 

I would give anyone an idea for a pop up that would suit their business or community for free – the more pop ups that happen, the more the industry evolves and strengthens.

Personally, I’m dying for someone to do a food truck that services the health industry – using an old ambulance of course. And that’s not an idea based on originality (because I have seen old ambulances used in this way before) but opportunity – the heath sector never stops, and therefore needs services available to them that can keep up with this schedule. A food truck could really help provide staff with access to fresh meals at all hours of the day.

I also want to see a pop up roller rink in Melbourne, purely because I haven’t done it since I was a kid and I think it would be fun! There is currently a pop up dodge ball court floating around Docklands (literally because it is like a big blow up jumping castle) which is pretty awesome. Random, but awesome.

On a broader level, I think the next greatest innovations to stand out and shine will be those that fully integrate people’s lives online and offline. In my opinion, online should be seen as a tool for enhancing an offline experience – even if it is a day to day chore.

A key word to linger on here too is ‘experience’. Whatever we do, we must create memorable experiences for the people we are engaging with. In a world saturated in information and opportunity, the ideas that will thrive to become the next big thing will be those that create meaning and value through ‘experiences’.

What people/companies/organisations do you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry, in Australia at the moment?

  • All B Corporations, now that B Lab has officially launched here in Australia
  • Melbourne Central, the champion of pop up in Shopping Centres
  • Renew Australia, the champion of pop ups for community renewal
  • Pop Plant, a cool company truly embracing pop up
  • Tram Sessions, who run pop up concerts on Melbourne trams
  • Pozible, who are playing around with what happens when pop up and crowd funding collide (great things, trust me!)
  • PSC Horsell, who is helping us make the first short term insurance policy for pop ups

What about internationally?

My list is massive, but would include:

What role do you think business can play in affecting social change?

As a co-founder of B Lab Australia, I doubt it’s surprising that I believe business is key to overcoming our key social and environmental challenges. But before it can claim and embrace this role fully, we must come together to redefine what success in business actually is. For business to be a real force for good and for change, it must pursue purpose and profit simultaneously, and prioritise a broader community ‘stakeholder’ above traditional ‘shareholders’. Importantly, it must grow into this role. Excitingly, this is already happening here in Australia, with 15 B Corporations now certified and that number growing fast.

Name 3 websites you would recommend to our readers.

How Not To Suck Online

And some usual suspects being Forbes, Fast Company and Brain Pickings

Name 3 Australians we should follow on Twitter.

Anyone but me! I’m allergic to 140 characters…

Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea (e.g. are you looking for funding, interns, marketing help)? 

Yes – definitely.

The thing we are craving most at the moment is content – good content. So if there are any writers out there who love spontaneity and story-telling, check out our blog and see if you would fit in with our other ‘ferrets’ (our freelance writers).

If you are interested, email me your answers to questions 9, 10 and 12 of this interview, plus 2 examples of posts you have written.

We’re aiming to build a community of Australian idea makers helping each other. If you could have one question answered about start ups, marketing, social media, accounting, monetization, product development etc. What would it be?

‘What legislative change needs to take place for us to get where we want to be?’

A lot of the change we seek in the world can be brought back to a policy or piece of legislation. I think we need to be asking more questions about this, and working together to identify what needs to happen within public policy to encourage growth in areas like the start-up sector.

What’s your favourite bar/café/restaurant?

My dinner table. Not that I’m the greatest cook, but it’s where I tend to find the greatest conversation and company.

We thought it would be cool to crowd source an annual prize to award to the interviewee’s choice (each person interviewed gets one vote) winner for the year’s best interview. Are you willing to kick in a prize?

No, but I’ll pop one in. How’s that for a cheesy tagline???

PopUnion will curate an entire pop up for your brand / business / community of choice – but the activation will be left to you!


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