A culture dominated by apps, Google, and tablets has truly bumped up the necessity of breeding future technology entrepreneurs. Fortunately, future-forward Australia is fast becoming a sanctuary for startups and the workspaces that coddle them. In fact, Australian institutions are moonlighting as startup incubators.
Two universities immediately come to mind: the University of Sydney and the University of Melbourne. Both have initiated widely touted startup accelerator programs, the aptly named Incubate and the Melbourne Accelerator Program (MAP), respectively. Have a closer look:
In 2012, two University of Sydney students, James Alexander and Mina Nada, launched Incubate to encourage the creation of start-up ventures on campus. The effort met great support from the University of Sydney Union, Australiaâ€™s oldest student union.
Incubate was initially exclusive to students, researchers, and recent graduates of the university. A partnership with Google, however, has enabled Incubate to expand to other Australian universities, starting with the University of Adelaide in December.
â€œWith Googleâ€™s help, we want to take the accelerator program to other campuses to create Australiaâ€™s first national network of global-thinking entrepreneurs at universities,â€ said Alexander.
Start-ups chosen to take part in Incubate, each receive seed funds amounting to $5,000; shared working spaces in Sydney University (or Adelaide University); and access to Internet, printing, and conference rooms, among other privileges. Incubate leverages advice and mentorship of a cross-section of Australiaâ€™s think tanks in commerce and computer science. Incubate mentors have included Freelancer.com chief executive Matt Barrie; OneVentures managing partner Michelle Deaker; and PushStart founder Kim Heras.
Chosen start-ups are put into regular meetups with such personages. All in all, a typical Incubate program runs for 11 weeks and culminates in a â€˜national demo dayâ€™.
Incubateâ€™s first batch of start-ups included WeSit, recipient of a US$20,500 investment from BlackBerry, and CloudHerd, a TechStars New York finalist. SnapDisco; Edisse; Muro; Weaver; Feedback; and The Best Day rounded out the inaugural graduates.
Rivaling Incubate in its ambitions is Melbourne Universityâ€™s MAP, also launched in 2012. Most glaringly, MAP has one edge over Incubate: a higher seed funding, at US$21,000 for each accepted venture. MAP also incubates start-ups longer: six months as opposed to Incubateâ€™s three.
However, MAP is exclusive only to graduates, students and staff of the Melbourne School of Engineering (MSE) and Faculty of Business and Economics (FBE). Incubate, on the other hand, is practically open to everybody at Sydney University. Nevertheless, MAP vows to expand beyond these faculties and has exhorted unqualified applicants to lobby their respective deans.
â€œI think itâ€™s great that two of Australiaâ€™s top universities are now actively engaged in encouraging more entrepreneurs and start-ups. I hope more universities follow suit,â€ Alexander said.
On a brighter note, MAPâ€™s exclusionary framework has upped the complexity and quality of its accepted ventures. MAPâ€™s first six start-ups included 2Mar Robotics, which manufactures robotic limbs for quadriplegia sufferers; Cortera Neurotechnologies, maker of implants that diagnose nervous conditions; SwatchMate, a colour-matching database; The Price Geek, an online engine that ferrets out deals; Ebla, a publishing platform for lawyers; and Client Catalyst, an inbound marketing app.
Like Incubate, MAP takes advantage of a network of venerable business minds, ranging from techno-preneurs to angel investors. Also, like Incubate, MAP mounts industry events, keynotes, discussion panels, and workshops year-round to help students network with experts as well as potential recruits.
Assets and resources
These programs are, if nothing else, great solutions to the worldwide crunch in information technology skills. Itâ€™s worth noting too that Australiaâ€™s university-based incubation programs are only among a handful of their kind in the world.
Universities in general have the assets and resources in place to build pathways that strengthen the entrepreneurial ecosystem. A universityâ€™s alumni network and linkages to policymakers are incomparable; they benefit start-ups in ways mere workspace providers cannot.
Aside from making up the next line of business moguls, students who take part in these programs constitute a pool of attractive talent for employers. Alumni of Australian universities tend to penetrate Fortune 500 and ASX 200 companies. All that Australiaâ€™s incubators ask of startup venturers in return is an audacity that transcends fear of failing. Hopefully, the many success stories in Australiaâ€™s start-up community would help them build courage and forge ahead into the unknown.