Students Embrace Entrepreneurship at The University of Sydney



This article on The University of Sydney website covers a number of activities I am involved in including Incubate and the Commonwealth Bank’s Unleashing Innovation Program.

My favorite quote:

We want to make sure aspiring entrepreneurs at the University have every possible advantage moving forward into their future careers.

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The Rise and Rise of the Age of the Entrepreneur

As Mark Hawthorne points out in the Sydney Morning Herald today, entrepreneur used to be a bad word in Australia.

Much has changed and as I wrote in my last post, entrepreneurial fervour is at its zenith in Australia. But not just in that country. We are seeing massive increases in activity in many parts of the world – Africa is on fire, China is booming, Malaysia is massively supportive of the entrepreneurial culture and even countries like Singapore are raising the entrepreneurial bar.

I’ve been in business for 30 years, the first 15 saw me get to the point of being a corporate lawyer in a multinational, the second 15 have been a living, breathing, hell of an entrepreneurial ride and I’m very grateful to all those I’ve interacted with along the way for making it such a blast!

I don’t want to dampen anyone’s entrepreneurial spirit, but choosing this path is not always roses. You will have massive moments of doubt, you will open an empty wallet, you will face naysayers along the way, you get the picture. I’ve not only seen all these aspects personally , but also in my work as an executive coach and entrepreneurial mentor.

However if you achieve the entrepreneurial triple helix of Focus, Accountability and Balance (FAB) then your journey will be a far more enjoyable one, be more likely to see you achieve your goals and arrive at your destination in one piece. I’ll be writing more about the FAB triple helix in a future post, so stay tuned.

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Finding Positives In The Silicon Valley Brain Drain

I’ve had a number of people approach me in frustration at the recent article on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald highlighting how entrepreneurs are moving over to Silicon Valley in droves due to the lack of support they are getting in Australia.

It’s a serious situation and one I highlighted in my recent submission to the Federal Government. But I also want to paint a positive picture around the article in the SMH.

Here’s my take:

Back in the mid 2000s when I was the Director of Commercialisation at NICTA I was hell bent on leveraging their research as a platform to build a Nokia or SAP for Australia. We came close with Open Kernel Labs – their software is pervasively used on 1.6 billion mobile devices today and their journey is far from over. But, they are run by a US CEO and HQ’d in Chicago.

 

So for me, this is one of the major windmills I am tilting at. How do we build some major tech companies in Sydney that can boost the ecosystem around them and act as a “strange attractor” to bring smart entrepreneurs to our region as opposed to having them feel they need to move to Silicon Valley.

 

On the positive side, having more people like Nikki exposed to the Silicon Valley machine can mean that when she does return to Australia she will be far more globally connected and do the serial entrepreneur thing from here.



UPDATE: Nick Leeder, Google’s ANZ MD, echoes my sentiments in an article in the SMH, “Aussies are always going to travel, and that’s what makes this such a vibrant country. The trick is to get them back faster, and with their talented international mates in tow.”

The other positive thing to come from this article is the exposure to the problem in quarters that may not have had it within their current attention span. On the day the article was published I was having a conversation with a very senior bureaucrat in Canberra. She was excited that not only was this article published, but it was done on the front page of a major Australian newspaper. From her perspective it was good that because of this level of coverage these issues would reach the minds of this country’s senior politicians.

 

We need to keep pushing the barrow, encouraging more entrepreneurs to have a go and to think big, to think global, while living local.

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$100m fund sought to foster entrepreneurs

Rachel Lebihan has written a piece in the Australian Financial Review covering my submission to the Australian Federal Government’s review of the state of entrepreneurship and venture capital.

I’ve uploaded a scan of the article here and here.

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The Science of Startups and the Symbiosis between Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital

It’s been a really interesting week in Sydney. On Friday afternoon the latest cohort of Startmate startups strutted their stuff in a demo day to a capacity crowd at DLA Piper’s offices in the city.

Yesterday, Eric Ries spoke to another, much larger, audience on his Lean Startup theories. The auditorium at the Australian Technology Park hasn’t buzzed like that since the heady days of 1999!

Eric’s thesis that we should be measuring and managing startups in a much more sophisticated way totally resonates with me. I have been calling for a science of startups for a while now and in fact included this as one of my main points in a submission I put forward to the Australian Federal Government earlier this week. They had put out an Issues Paper calling for submissions (I understand this was targeted at certain people and organisations) on the state of entrepreneurship and venture capital in the country.

My submission (you can read the entire thing here) spoke to the establishment of an Australian Centre for Entrepreneurship & Venture Capital (ACEVC). This Centre will include an Entrepreneurship Conservatory that is focused on developing a results-based set of training programs for upskilling entrepreneurs using a real time, interactive pedagogy that will form the basis for a ‘science of startups’.

I also call for a VC College that can provide real life experiential training on the job for successive generations of Australian venture capitalists – an initiative designed to build up a true venture capital industry.

I believe that ACEVC is transportable to many other geographies so for all metarand readers from other parts of the world than Australia: feel free to adopt these ideas for your own country.

Besides Eric’s push for lean startups another great evangelist for the science of startups is Steve Blank with his recently released book, The Startup Owner’s Manual. I highly recommend both books for entrepreneurs.

Should/when ACEVC gets up and running, it will draw heavily on the the great work Eric and Steve have done so far to codify the science of startups.

 

 

 

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Australia’s Technology Prowess: The Internet and Beyond

 

Asher Moses has written a wonderfully inspirational piece in the Sydney Morning Herald regarding the rise and rise of Australian entrepreneurial talent. In it he explores how well some of the Internet-focused startups born in Australia are doing in sourcing Silicon Valley venture capital.

It is a great story and touches on much of my experience over the past 15 years. Australia and, closer to home – Sydney, has an incredible wealth of entrepreneurs. But in Asher’s story there is also a hint at the dark side. Let me paint the picture in three ways:

1. Financial arrogance

While I was living in Silicon Valley I assisted a startup to raise its first round of funding from a tier one VC firm, in two weeks and right in the middle of the GFC. Fast forward to today and as Asher has eruditely pointed out, tier one VC’s from Sandhill Road are currently falling over themselves to get the attention of Australia web startups.

Against this backdrop, picture me meeting with a senior executive at one of Australia’s most successful investment banks in the past fortnight. In that meeting I was told how incredibly hard it is to find funding for technology businesses, how no-one is investing in this space in Australia and blah blah. Can you see the disconnect here?

I personally believe Australian ‘investors’ have a heightened level of financial arrogance driven by an absolute ignorance of technology and also tainted in their financial risk profiling by resource-based investing (mining etc).

As long as this position remains I can fully understand why Australian entrepreneurs are US-centric. For Australia though this amounts to a major loss as we are not only losing talent in droves, but also access to ROI as our entrepreneurs grow great businesses with other people’s money!

2. Technological bias

For as long as I can remember Australian government granting schemes and venture firms have had a bias against Internet-related companies. They have preferred to back biotech businesses and other science-heavy companies that are notoriously hard to scale globally and which usually have a hard time getting international attention due to the tyranny of distance.

It is heartening to see this position starting to shift and that web-focused ventures are in fact now getting more access to schemes like Commercialisation Australia.

3. Web-centrism

While I am ecstatic about Australia’s well deserved recognition (finally) for great entrepreneurial talent, I am somewhat concerned that we get seen as only producing web-centric talent and intellectual property.

The Australian Federal government pours some $9.8 billion into public research and there is incredible technology floating around within the countries 43 universities and even more public research institutes (by contrast the US only has 41 universities). However, most of this never sees the light of day. It gets locked up in over-protective tech transfer quagmires and/or stuck in the valley of death between research proof of principle and commercial proof of concept due to a massive lack of funding for this gap.

In contrast, in the UK companies like Imperial Innovations and the IP Group, and Allied Minds in the US, are absolutely going gangbusters building businesses around research intensive technologies and assisting IP through the valley of death.

Australia desperately needs a similar business and it is on my to do list for 2012 to see that one forms. We need to not only continue to support our web-centric entrepreneurs, but also inspire generations of Australians to become tech entrepreneurs in areas that can have major global impact such as energy and health!

 

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