Innovate, build and you have a working future, Herald Sun, 8 June
One recent Monday morning, I stood in a circle with a dozen others inside a converted warehouse whose windows looked out over Sydney’s Queen Victoria Building. One by one, the current crop of start-up founders in BlueChilli’s incubator program gave a 30-second ‘elevator pitch’ about their big idea.
Richard Owens pitched his service to connect wine buyers directly with producers. Paul McStay, a former Scottish national football representative, has created an app to help soccer coaches identify and manage talent. Fan Valnoresse, a former cabbie, has founded Find A Driver to help boost the amount of time taxis are on the road and increase the number of cabs available when people need a ride.
Run by BlueChilli founder Sebastien Eckersley-Maslin, the Monday morning pitch meetings are run standing up, to make sure people don’t waffle (an approach that other workplaces might benefit from!). They’re an important part of BlueChilli’s training program for new entrepreneurs. Regular practice explaining what their start-up does helps founders refine their pitch and keeps them focused on the essentials. Each person must name a ‘no-fail’ goal for each week and report back on whether they’ve met last week’s no-fail goal. The price of failure is that the entrepreneur buys coffees for everyone else.
Incubators like these have been springing up all over Australia in the past few years, helping to turn bright ideas into serious businesses. There are now at least 25 of them scattered across every state and territory, including ones like the York Butter Factory and Angel Cube in Melbourne. Far from being some niche interest for nerds, these hothouses of innovation are cultivating the jobs of the future.
We’ve long known that small firms are major employers: two-thirds of Australian workers are employed by a company which has less than 200 staff. But recent research from the OECD think-tank shows that it is start-ups and new businesses in particular that are the major drivers of job creation.
After looking at data across 18 countries, the OECD’s analysts found that small firms younger than five years old created 42 per cent of all new jobs (by contrast, small firms aged 10 years or older shed more workers than they add). Start-ups in the tech and digital fields are particularly strong job creators because when they succeed, their explosive growth can create work for hundreds.
The type of jobs created by start-ups matters too. Well paid, safe, creative and flexible – jobs with such companies are exactly the kind we want to see our kids stepping into in the years ahead.
Australia’s start-up sector has come a long way in the past few years, but it is nowhere near as developed as that in countries like the United States, Israel and South Korea. If we want to create good jobs by the thousand, we need to work harder at building an economic ecosystem in which innovation and entrepreneurship can flourish.
That’s the thinking behind our plan to ensure all Australian kids learn coding at school. It’s also why we’ll fund 100,000 scholarships for students who want to study science, technology, maths and engineering at university.
Helping more young people develop skills in these areas doesn’t mean we expect every one of them to go on to work as a scientific researcher or a pure mathematician. Scientific skills can be put to literally hundreds of other uses, including designing new apps, analysing big data sets and solving design problems. In fact, the biggest benefit of studying these subjects comes simply from learning to think differently.
We also need to make sure that entrepreneurs with good ideas can build their businesses here instead of heading overseas. That’s why we’re going to establish a $500 million Smart Investment Fund to co-invest in early stage and high potential companies. Partnering with venture capitalists and licensed fund managers to make these investments will ensure this money is spent on start-ups with real potential to make it big and create local jobs in the process.
Back at the BlueChilli incubator, the founders are still working through big challenges like finding the right staff, securing funding and building their market share. We don’t know if any of their businesses will become the next billion-dollar success story. But by putting the building blocks for innovation and entrepreneurship in place, we do know they’ll have the best chance to flourish – and build great jobs in the process.