It Takes a Community to Raise a Startup

Source: Queensland Venturer Program

As we prepare to raise a child for the first time we naturally engage with our village to support us on this unknown journey: we sign up for antenatal classes; fathers ‘wet the baby’s head’; mothers’ groups form. We lean on our family and friends in times of need and model behaviour by observing those more skilled than ourselves in the art of child rearing.

It is the resilience of the village that builds our own, day by day, call for help by call for help. The resilience of the individual parent is developed over time by a unified, supportive, and highly skilled village. It is embedded in the way in which the village operates and ensures the advancement of the entire tribe, one by one.

I arrived home yesterday from a week’s hiatus. For seven days I disconnected from my everyday and plugged in to a community of entrepreneurially-minded individuals for a shared experience in resilience. We are all Queenslanders. We all have our reasons for engaging in this experience. Mine were to gain some clarity of mind — of what is important and what I might do with life’s opportunity — and to explore the concept of resilience as it relates to the entrepreneurial method.

Ben Southall, Adventurer in Residence at the Office of the Queensland Chief Entrepreneur and Best Job in the World winner, led us on the inaugural Queensland Venturer Program. We were a collection of entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, educators and startup community leaders: all passionate and looking to build our collective resilience. One of my passions is educating our youth, and I am championing experiential entrepreneurship as a significant contributor to revolutionising the way in which we prepare our children to enter the workforce.

Australia has placed its future success on the ‘innovation economy’. It is a structural shift in the way in which commerce occurs, and relies on the entrepreneurial method to drive performance. Our village is highly skilled at building employees, not entrepreneurs. Our schools have evolved to prepare our youth to achieve an entrance score to university. Our universities and trade schools teach technical skills in preparation for jobs that are unlikely to exist in ten years. Our entire society is in the midst of an epoch and is ill-equipped to cope with the uncertainty that abounds in our post-digital revolution economy.

In times like these we can look to our past for clues to our future. Frank Knight distinguished uncertainty from risk back in 1921, branding entrepreneurs as the masters of uncertainty. He dispelled the myth that entrepreneurs were simply lucky risk takers and sowed the seed of an understanding of the method which sits behind entrepreneurial behaviour. Entrepreneurs have a distinctive manner of making decisions when uncertainty abounds, imbuing them with a competitive advantage in the business of innovation. There is a discipline which underpins the process of creating and commercialising a new product or service, and we call it the entrepreneurial method.

The entrepreneurial method is a learned behaviour. It develops over time in those with the courage to embrace uncertainty and the resilience to sustain the commercialisation process. It is not surprising, therefore, that we see hotbeds of entrepreneurial activity where a whole-of-village approach enables the advancement of entrepreneurial individuals. Boulder Colorado, a regional city of just over 100,000 residents, has six times more high-tech startups than the nation’s average, 2% unemployment rate and 96% house occupancy rate. It is known as a startup community and employs a unified, supportive and highly skilled model. The examples of Silicon Valley and Tel Aviv are widely discussed.

It is true that examples of the lone wolf succeeding in spite of the system exist, but for every lone wolf there is an entire pack who benefited greatly from their community when traversing the entrepreneurial tightrope. Whether it be the local coworking space, the mentor offering advice, the business angel providing early capital, the stories in the popular press normalising the challenges of the entrepreneurial process… Successful entrepreneurs in startup communities benefit from their community’s developed resilience to overcome the hurdles present in every entrepreneurial journey.

I speak from recent experience. My wife-to-be Cath and I have a 10-month-old (startup) and we were laughing this morning that we have entered what we call the Tantrumic phase. Business pressures are such that little things at home are setting us off: a misheard remark, the toilet seat up, whatever! We are irritable and, upon reflection, somewhat irrational with one another. While Cath continued to be Chief Everything Officer last week I had the privilege to engage with twenty awesome individuals on the Venturer Program. Friends and strangers alike shared their wisdom. I opened up to Anne-Marie and Aaron who gave invaluable insight into the Tantrumic phase. We gained perspective from Matt Golinski, tactics from Rob Davidson, and inspiration from Steve Baxter and Wayne Gerard. Queensland’s Chief Entrepreneur Mark Sowerby brought it all together. I came home determined to enact change: my own resilience enhanced by my community.

Learning about the local Ngaro people’s history at Maureen’s Cove, Hook Island

This is the secret ingredient: the intangible resource which, at a system-wide level, enhances entrepreneurial activity and will deliver the espoused ‘innovation economy.’

Resilience.

Not individual resilience (you can take Angela Duckworth’s test here) but community resilience. The latter begets the former. The Queensland Venturer Program delivered this in spades. It is now our responsibility to pay this gift forward: to build a unified, supportive and highly skilled entrepreneurial community such that we create our own future rather than react to one created for us.

For me, this demands a revolution in our education system.