Start-up founder and student Kayleigh Sleath is helping to redefine the face of STEM — one Vogue Australia feature at a time.

When Kayleigh Sleath taught herself to code in her bedroom as a teenager — a start-up that forged a new way to access food and a feature in Vogue Australia wasn’t what she had planned.

But that’s exactly what happened.

Currently studying a Bachelor of Engineering Research and Development at The Australian National University (ANU), Kayleigh says she was drawn to the world of coding in high school — and it happened almost by accident.

“In year 10 I decided to randomly learn code,” explains Kayleigh.

“There was like an assignment where you had to build a website. But rather than using a website builder, I decided that I would learn HTML and CSS and proceeded to build the dodgiest website you have ever seen.

“It was so bad,” she says.

“But I liked that I could make something out of nothing.”

By the time Kayleigh was in year 11 and 12, she knew she wanted to pursue her interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

While she explains that she already had a passion for climate action and the patience needed to watch eight hours of coding videos (no, that isn’t a typo), it was a podcast that would spark the idea behind her start-up Ohna.

Kayleigh’s app brings together her passions for sustainability and coding: Photo: supplied

“In my first year of uni, I listened to a podcast called How to save a planet. They had an episode called ‘Soil: the dirty climate solution’, which was about regenerative agriculture.

“I fell in love with the idea that we could have a food system that is not just good for us but good for the planet at the same time.

“Then I went down a rabbit hole of ‘okay, what does our current food system look like? And is that system actually good?’ I got really excited by that,” Kayleigh says.

Daring to ask big questions and look for even bigger solutions, Kayleigh began talking to local farmers and developing a way in which local produce could be not only accessible and sustainable but also affordable.

“I think that we can cut out the supermarket middlemen and make it just as convenient and affordable for people to buy directly from farmers (without the supermarket mark-up).

“It means farmers are going to get much more of the profits that they deserve.

“I’m hoping we can build a system where we can pay less for fresh food — that’s where the tech side comes in.”

Kayleigh says that through her app Ohna, ANU students — and eventually other Canberrans — will be connected with what she describes as a sustainable alternative to food consumption.

“Ohna is dedicated to building climate resilient food supply chains, which financially values farmers in this space.

“The goal is to automate delivery to food hubs around Canberra. When students download the app, they will be able to see different products from different farmers. If you tap on the stallholder’s name, you can see their grower profile with all their products, links to socials, and a message from them.”

“Right now you can order through the app, that money gets transferred directly to farmers, and you’ll get your produce that Saturday,” Kayleigh says.

Kayleigh hopes that, through Ohna, farmers will get more profit for their produce. Photo: Image supplied

But Kayleigh isn’t the only young female trailblazer helping to shape the world through STEM.

As she discovered in her recent photoshoot with Vogue Australia, which featured four other inspiring women, the future of tech not only looks more sustainable, but more female too.

“We have a group chat now,” says Kayleigh.

“They are all brilliant and so inspiring and working on incredible things. And we were also all female solo tech founders, which was wild because that’s quite rare to find. The synergy in that room was amazing.”

“I always tell them we’re going to run the world — but in a good way. I guess you could say it’s a small goal.”

For Kayleigh, Ohna forms part of that vision for change. Kayleigh says she hopes this year more students at ANU will be able to ditch instant noodle diets while positively impacting the planet, one download at a time.   

“We’re working with UniLodge at the moment, so we’re going to be doing drop-offs there and at Fenner because they’re in the same area. But I’m keen to expand that to the other [residential] colleges,” she says.

“We’re also working on a way that people who aren’t necessarily living on campus can have access to affordable, fresh produce too.”

Top image: Kayleigh Sleath holding her feature in Vogue Australia. Photo: supplied

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