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Joining the dots – ways to partner unis, government and industry in promoting entrepreneurship

Monday, 9 November 2015 | By Peter Bradd

Unless you have been living under a rock these past few months, it’s pretty clear that technology, innovation and disruption are the words on everyone’s lips.


In his victory speech, the newly minted PM Malcolm Turnbull, said that “disruption is Australia’s friend”, and we wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment - innovation is indeed what is going to push Australia’s economy forward.


The 2013 PwC report on the startup economy found that the technology startup sector has the potential to contribute 4% of GDP (or $109 billion) and add 540,000 jobs to the Australian economy by 2033.


Yet, how do we plan on creating a nation of innovators and entrepreneurs who can transform our economy from resources-based to knowledge based? And what are the policy priorities we need to implement in order to get there?


Just recently, The Office of the Chief Scientist released a report on boosting high-impact entrepreneurship in Australia through the involvement of the Australian university sector. Finally, we are seeing steps being taken to fix what StartupAUS believes to be one of the key foundational issues in creating a more entrepreneurial culture in Australia – our education system.


The report stated that countries with successful entrepreneurial cultures have a vibrant university sector that encourages and fosters entrepreneurship and innovation.


Understanding the direct link between the education sector and entrepreneurialism has been our priority for some time. Earlier this year, StartupAUS released the latest version of its Crossroads report - a credible, action-oriented plan to help Australia capitalise on the enormous opportunities technology presents in transforming the Australian economy.


One of the key action points is to improve the quality and quantity of entrepreneurship education in Australia, which is why it’s great to finally see the connection being made between forward-looking universities and tech entrepreneurship.


So, what exactly needs to be done to boost high-impact entrepreneurialism in Australian universities? To have any chance of growing a sustainable, robust startup ecosystem we need a culture shift.

Australia needs to move towards having a greater entrepreneurial mindset as a society. We also need the practical skills to successfully launch and grow businesses with global potential. Australia is currently a long way behind many other countries in this regard.


While some higher education institutions are dipping their toes into entrepreneurial studies, most are currently largely geared toward preparing students for the workforce.


Don’t get me wrong – this in an incredibly important skillset that should continue to be taught. However, it does not adequately equip young people to start businesses, particularly high-growth startups.


Universities have a vital role to play in creating an entrepreneurial culture change by educating and cultivating entrepreneurial skills in their graduates. From the report, we know that Stanford and MIT have produced graduates who have gone on to create 39,900 and 25,800 companies respectively, generating an estimated $US2.7 and $US3.3 trillion in annual revenues.


And what better way to instil entrepreneurial spirit and skills into graduates than to use those with first-hand experience - serial entrepreneurs who have launched startups, who have succeeded and failed and who know how to recover from losses.


We strongly support the chief scientist’s recommendations that university entrepreneurship programs need to harness entrepreneurs as role models, and provide hands-on learning to students through incubators, accelerators and overseas placements.


These are necessary to instil enthusiasm and gain a real knowledge of the skills needed and the challenges they will face. In the same way that universities currently use job placements and internships to create work ready students, placement in incubators and with entrepreneurs will give them market ready entrepreneurial skills and mindset.


It’s important to note that many Australian universities have made this connection and are doing wonderful things. A great example is the University of Melbourne-led initiative, the Melbourne Accelerator Program (MAP). Together 24 MAP startups have raised over $10 million in funding, created more than 120 jobs and generated over $5 million in revenue[1].


It’s time for more Aussie universities to look internally and understand how they can further create and support programs of their own.


StartupAUS suggest they engage Entrepreneurs-in-Residence within IT and engineering schools, provide entrepreneurship sabbaticals to give academic staff the opportunity to acquire first-hand practical experience.


Unis could also offer student entrepreneurship boot camps, hackathons and startup idea competitions during orientation week or as part of the curriculum.


While Australia has come to the debate late, it’s great to see innovation and entrepreneurialism finally where it needs to be on the government and industry agenda. Entrepreneurship can be taught. The culture change to see it thrive will be achieved by government, industry and most importantly, universities working together to achieve it.


Peter Bradd is the CEO of StartupAUS.