In April this year I wrote an article highlighting how Australia is creating a generation of workers, not entrepreneurs and how as a nation we are missing out on a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Our economy is still hugely reliant on stuff we dig out of the ground, yet we live in an age when next generation technology is creating opportunities to break into every industry sector. Australia needs technologically capable and entrepreneurially inspired young people. If our future business leaders are going to succeed, they need to be willing to take risks, start businesses, to fail and try again.
In Australia a large proportion of our first-time entrepreneurs are in their thirties and forties. Relatively few younger Australians engaging in creation of high-growth startups, compared to other countries and particularly to Silicon Valley. As a result, many startups founded here are at the lower end of the risk-reward curve, and are focused on small niches or domestic markets. Too often Australian startups are based on a business model with early revenue generating opportunities rather than a global game plan and as result we have relatively few truly disruptive high-risk startups that tackle global opportunities.
Australia has a long history of innovation and a strong track record of entrepreneurship in traditional industries such as property, resources, tourism, and agriculture. But our track record in forming tech companies that scale globally is limited. Having young people become entrepreneurs is important because startups are high risk (most fail) and as a general rule, an individual’s risk tolerance decreases over time, particularly once they have a mortgage, a family and an established career.
Having a founder starting young can be a factor in creating world-changing businesses, and we’ve seen that with Steve Jobs at Apple, Bill Gates at Mircosoft, Sergey Brin and Larry Page at Google, and Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook. It’s not co-incidence that all these companies were founded on the western coast of the United States. Silicon Valley is the nadir of global innovation.
I was 24 years old when I launched my first business out of my spare. Pretty much everyone I knew, from my commanding office to my girlfriend, thought I was crazy to leave a safe and secure job and risk everything. But I was lucky enough to have had the exposure to technology, and to have an inkling of the potential of what was then an emerging internet.
Today, while young Australian’s hopefully have more of an inkling than I did about what is happening in the world of technology, far too few are starting their own business, or even looking to develop their coding and IT skills. More foreign students than local ones study computer engineering or ICT courses at university. We need to capture the imagination of the next generation, to show them what is possible and encourage them to go make a job, not just go get a job.
That is why I’m putting my money behind my mouth, and have enlisted the support of sponsors to take 20 young Queenslanders on two week-mission to Silicon Valley to immerse themselves in Silicon Valley’s rich culture of high-growth entrepreneurship. From November 16th to the 26th they will visit the offices of global tech companies such as Google, Facebook and Twitter, attend networking events with startup founders and student entrepreneurs, meet with fellow Australians who are running startups in the Valley, and take part in educational events to equip them with an understanding of what is involved in launching a globally successful tech startup.
When they get back we will share their experiences, so that more young Australian’s open their mind to the possibilities of technology entrepreneurships. It’s not about starting American companies or exacerbating the Australian “brain drain”. It is about helping young Australians learn from Silicon Valley’s success and catalyse the formation of Australian companies that will become global successes and make a mark on the world.
Follow the Startup Catalyst mission at: http://blog.startupcatalyst.
Steve Baxter is an entrepreneur, investor, founder of River City Labs and board member for StartupAUS. He will appear as a ‘Shark’ on Channel Ten’s Shark Tank Australia when it airs in 2015.