Wrap-up of the Startup Community Leaders Mission USA 2018

The second Startup Community Leaders Mission to the USA took place from 11-18 March 2018, with 20 participants taking part, including 14 from 11 different regional towns in Queensland, 3 from Brisbane, one from Sydney, one from Adelaide, and one from New York (assisting the Beach City film crew).

All the participants are running some type of program or space to support startup entrepreneurs or build the startup community in their region, from running accelerators and co-working spaces, to startup meetup groups, student entrepreneurship groups, and maker spaces, as well as University faculty and Government policy makers.

Why we run this particular mission

The objective of this mission is to explore different models and programs used overseas for providing support to startups, while building global awareness, discovering international best practices, learning about the latest trends, and building strong global connections, all to better support the startups in our local Australian startup communities.

Some of the problems we are attempting to solve include:

  • Regional hubs are often not well connected (locally or globally)
  • Regional hubs often lack deep local startup expertise
  • Startup programs are often duplicated across regions unnecessarily
  • There is often a low level of knowledge transfer across hubs and programs
  • There are low levels of genuine collaboration, and few partnerships
  • There are few strong regional pathways to global markets
  • The world is generally not aware of our awesome local and regional startups

Who we took

The mission was partly funded by Advance Queensland, which is a Queensland Government initiative to support startups and innovation. Under this funding, twelve regional Queensland participants were selected (via a competitive application process) to receive sponsored (funded) places on the mission (excluding their return international flights and personal spending money). The other participants on the mission each paid their own way to attend.

Why Boulder, Denver, San Francisco?

San Francisco, and the associated Bay Area, is home to Silicon Valley – the epicentre of startup activity – where an estimated 27,000 startups and 15,000 investors operate in an area roughly equivalent to the the Brisbane-to-Gold Coast region, and with a population of roughly 7 million people. Some of the top startup accelerators, incubators, co-working spaces, maker spaces, investor groups, and founder support groups are located in San Francisco, making it the ideal location to visit.

Boulder in Colorado is the home and birthplace of TechStars, and for a population of just over 100,000 people, it has one of the highest per-capita rates of startup participation. It also has a robust sense of community, and is a leading example of how robust startup communities can be built in regional areas.

What we did

We had a total of 32 official events and meetings across 7 full days on the ground – half the week in Colorado, and half in San Francisco. The meetings included co-working spaces, accelerators, investor groups, tech giants, University startup hubs, maker groups, and pitch events. We also had a number of group workshops and facilitated discussions on every aspect of startup community building and founder support.

We had some amazing meetings during the trip, including time with David Cohen and David Brown, the co-founders of TechStars.

Just some of the general observations (from participants, credit Joe Thorp):

  1. Founders are at the centre of everything in the US. Australia needs to be unashamedly founders focused.
  2. Startup community leaders and organisations are honest about their strengths and role in the ecosystem and stick to it. They collaborate and refer to those that play their specific role. Whereas many in Australia try to present themselves as across everything and are quite protective of their patch.
  3. People here are incredibly willing to help, to introduce and refer. It happens very naturally and quickly – sometimes whilst you are talking. You need to be ready to follow up immediately.
  4. Entrepreneurs are a cultural norm in the US. Doing startups, Angel and VC investing is mainstream.
  5. Corporates are actively involved with startups – intentionally interacting by either running incubators and accelerators themselves or through Techstars, 500 Startups, Plug And Play for example; investing; or intentionally being first customer.
  6. Investing here is about making sure you are in – FOMO is huge. There isn’t the same relentless push to negotiate investment down or share up that we see in Australia.
  7. There are huge opportunities here and assistance available – not just from Austrade who do a fantastic job at the Landing Pad in SFO, but from the ecosystem generally. Aussie startups can and should plug in.
  8. References by startups to Australian customers and competitors don’t resonate with US investors and corporates unless they know them. Startups need to refer to US customers and competitors in their pitch wherever possible.
  9. Galvanise is a great model of industry leadership to meet skill needs. They aren’t waiting for universities or governments to fix things.
  10. A lot of attention is being paid to mental health issues in startup founders. We need to balance glamourising startups with models that ensure people are looked after.
  11. Creation of safe spaces for female entrepreneurs to grow startups, and to work within early stage tech companies is a very real issue in the US following cultural concerns at a number of 3 tech companies. Startups are still generally male domains. However both Techstars and 500 Startups acknowledge that female founders build better businesses.
  12. Our startups are as good as theirs. We need to quickly get on their stage.
  13. There are a number of very good players in the ecosystem without an Australian footprint who could be very valuable contributors to the Australian startup scene.

Other participant blogs and media coverage:

1 Response

  1. Linda says:

    Nicely articulated! Thanks for an incredible experience and one we can only grow from and share with our community (global through social and nationally) because now we know who’s who and for what purpose!

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