How Blackbird Ventures chooses what startups to invest in and supports the ecosystem at the same time

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By Rick Baker

 

A few days ago Jon Westenberg wrote a piece about why it’s time for Australian VC firms and startups to step up.

 

In one section he suggested that Australian venture capitalists need to focus on more than just whether a startup can achieve a successful exit or become profitable.  He said we should be focussing on investing in startups that will “improve education, improve gender equality, improve infrastructure, support women and support indigenous people”.

 

After reading the post here at Blackbird, we want to clarify how we invest and how we support the Australian startup community – to us these are two separate objectives.

 

Investing

 

When investing our funds, we have one duty and one objective: to maximise the return on capital for our investors, which include over a million superannuation fund members who have entrusted us with a small portion of their retirement savings.

 

As we make investment decisions we are careful not to discriminate because of gender, race, age or geography.

 

But we do discriminate strongly based on our views of what drives success in a startup: exceptional founders, global markets and big painful problems.  We specifically back founders who are doing their life’s work, not seeking a quick exit.

 

If we see those things we will take big risks, investing pre-revenue, and in exceptional cases pre-product.  On the other hand, if we don’t see those things we will not invest.

 

Venture capital is not charity and investing in anything less than world-class teams and businesses will do nothing but destroy the wealth of our investors, waste the time and emotional energy of the founders and kill our own business.

 

Community

 

That’s how we invest our investors’ money.  But personally we’re super passionate about helping grow the Australian startup community.

 

This part of our activities is funded from our own money, not our investors’.

 

We have decided to focus our efforts on helping educate potential founders and promoting STEM in schools and universities.   Here are some of the things we do:

  • We organise the annual Sunrise conference, where Australia’s most successful founders share learnings from the early days of their businesses. It is recorded and made available online on YouTube for free.
  • We also run the Sunrise Alpha, a mini-conference to inspire Year 8-10 high school students. We work hard to make sure we have a good representation of girls and schools from less wealthy areas.
  • We’re also huge supporters of the FIRST Robotics competition in Australia.  We believe this program is driving hundreds of high school students into STEM and entrepreneurial subjects.  Along with a bunch of others we’re working hard to help provide the resources to make this available at more schools, especially in the outback.
  • We host weekly AMAs with successful Australian founders every Thursday at 1pm on our website, so anyone can interact with and learn from founders.
  • More generally we’re often speaking at meetups, panels, conferences, pitch competitions.  We try hard to make sure we’re not just doing this in Sydney, but that’s where we live.

 

In doing these activities we can focus on education, infrastructure, gender equality, Indigenous people and regional areas.

 

Hiring a community manager

 

Earlier this year we realised that we didn’t have the time to implement many of the ideas we have for building the community.

 

So we’re excited to announce that we’ve hired a community manager.  His primary objective is to help us increase the number of great founders in Australia and with his help we’re going to ramp up our activities.  We don’t have a huge amount of money – we’re a startup ourselves – but this is not about money – it’s about helping foster community and grassroots activity.

 

We’re super excited about the Australian startup ecosystem.  It’s gathering momentum, there is capital here for the right teams and businesses, we’ve got strong links to Silicon Valley, and startups are succeeding on the world stage.

 

We have every chance to significantly increase the number of great startups being formed each year.

 

Rick Baker is the co-founder of Blackbird Ventures. This piece was originally published on the Blackbird Ventures blog.

 

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