The Catalyst Effect

I think I have a Startup Catalyst Hangover.

It feels like a hangover, jet lag and too much caffeine all at once. This is today’s feeling, I’m on a high, a shaky-fuzzy kind of high but a high nonetheless. I know it’s high because yesterday was a low day, very bloody low.

Apparently, this is all really normal according to Startup Catalyst CEO Aaron Birkby our fearless leader of the Startup Catalyst London 2017 mission.

I’ve seen Aaron return from trips now for the past 2 years, he goes through this returning emotional rollercoaster each trip. I know this because we always talk it through. He comes to me enthused and we plot ways to keep pushing our local ecosystem forward and launch new things. We also talk it through when he tells me it’s all f*cked here in Australia and he’s moving overseas to join a real startup ecosystem where people get it.

Lucky for all of us, he never follows through with the latter. It’s a pattern I have observed as a friend previously, now I’m in the pattern myself. 
Yesterday I was leaving, today I’m staying, it’s all good. The show will go on.

So, Catalyst — what does it do to us? It’s promoted as an international trip, a delegation as such.

Well, there are various missions that take different groups to international Startup hotspots to immerse the participants deep into vibrant Innovative ecosystems ( apologies for all the buzzwords but it’s necessary to explain this properly). The Youth Mission drops a group of highly technically capable young people into Silicon Valley for 10 days to experience all that is ‘The Valley’, they visit all the glowing neon beacons of Startup-land like Facebook, Twitter, Google, Slack HQ and participate in a local Startup Weekend.

It is designed to be a sensory overload for the Aussies and to smack them in the face with the reality that they have everything they need to create or be part of a globally scalable tech company, their skills are THAT good. They just need to start and believe in themselves. It’s a mindset play, think big, then bigger again, then start. We don’t quite get it here ( in Oz) so we need to take them to a place where you simply can’t escape it.

My trip Catalyst London was for Investors & Startups ( mostly Scale-ups) and ecosystem people like myself. The Mission actually started in Berlin, I joined on the London leg arriving in time for #LondonTechweek.
The mission officially kicked off on Sunday afternoon with a briefing from Aaron followed by drinks with the Victorian delegation who were also in town for London Tech Week. Sounded fun.

I had an itinerary, meetings booked, spaces to check out and Oyster card for the Tube, my laptop to do (real) work in the evenings. I thought I was set.
No, no Peta, I was completely unprepared for the week ahead.

Completely unprepared. I can’t even tell you why.

Drinks, dinner, amazing conversations, new people, familiar people, new experiences, challenging conversations. Sensory overload. *face smacked*

That was Day 1. I had 7 more to go…

We attended lots of sessions as part of Tech Week, I have lots more to say about many of the sessions that I will go into more detail in future posts. I also visited many, many amazing work spaces, coworking spaces, innovation centres, accelerator spaces their staff and program leaders.

Holy shite. The is another entire post coming which explains each place in detail, their model, their focus and their piece in the large puzzle that is the UK Startup scene.

Places are huge, nothing smaller than 1000sqm or less than 2–3 levels, they’re all full and planning expansion; second, third spaces, host multiple programs, look gorgeous, well staffed, 100’s of members busy getting stuff done. The huge UK population helps so does a competitive property market making co-working/co-sharing spaces an affordable option for new companies.

But these spaces are not full of startups. They sit side by side with corporates, HQ’s of large organisations who see the value in cohabitation with innovative companies. There’s little separation, the more the merrier and the closer everyone can work the better it seems.

The spaces, projects and programs are all very well funded, mostly by corporates. Large corporates especially the big UK Banks take a very hands-off approach to innovation. By hands off I mean, they have identified they know that they are not in the business of innovating so they partner with those that are. Bravo!

Barclays is a standout with 7 locations globally. They have partnered with Techstars to deliver an accelerator in each location.

Note to Australian Corporates; if you are not in the business of innovation, hand it over to those that are. Simple? You bet.

We have a long way to go here. We need to start with letting go of control and fear of change, fear of the future and tackle this thing head on. The only way to stop being afraid of change is to change, lead the charge, open up your data, talk about your problems and talk to customers. Customers? yep, those people that buy your product and services, bring them in and work with them, every. single. day.

I start to get angry when I talk about this because it frustrates me we are still not getting it. Resistance to change and fear will keep us in the past and hinder our growth as a nation.

The sheer volume of people working on new business and new ideas in Europe is unfathomable. Next time I hear an Aussie founder mention in their pitch that they ‘plan on expanding into the US/UK/ASIA markets’ in the future, I will always respond with ‘who do you know in those markets?’ If they have not been there or have zero contacts, you MUST question why.

For the sake of a plane ticket, some gumption and a willingness to seek, connect, learn and grow as a founder it is imperative we get the global mindset right from day 1.

We will simply not cut it on an international scale until we do. You can launch here in Oz, keep your team here, grow here, expand elsewhere then return….but you must have deep connections into other strong markets to be relevant.
Get to know people, know who’s building what, what other programs are offering, what mentors are willing to work with you, what connections you can loop your company into, and who invests in what. It’s all very important.
There is so much help out there for people willing to make their business work. So much help, so many opportunities. It’s an exciting time for entrepreneurs.

If you are heading to the UK as a company connect with these guys, there is no organisation working harder than The Department for International Trade, making it easier to trade in their country. All the help and support you will need is right there. As we were told repeatedly #LondonIsOpen !

Everyone on the Catalyst trip had some major takeouts from the mission. Each had a different lens to look through depending on their situation.
Mine is ecosystems, Corporate support, spaces and programs. We do lots here in Brisbane at River City Labs but we need to do so much more. We also need support to do it. We need a large corporate (or a few) to come on board, share the vision and support us in our quest to raise the standards, lift our global game and get us on par with our international counterparts. This is not optional, it is essential for our survival. Sounds harsh, but it’s true.

One of the most asked questions to the group was around our connections and affiliations with the Asian market given our proximity. I was embarrassed to say we have none, or very little. We are so close, it’s crazy we don’t work together more. A timely reminder we need to build this area of our own connections.

I did ask Aaron many times during the week “What is this trip you are running?” as we traipsed from bar to bar, to info sessions, to meetings with the likes of an English Lord to drinks with fellow Aussies who have flipped up to the UK to random live music nights in back alley bars to fronting up bright eyed and bushy tailed to an Investor Breakfast to huge networking events at Australia House to swanky gigs with the Lord Mayor of London at City Hall.

The itinerary was packed and then packed again with serendipitous events slotted in as they presented themselves. It was crazy, you could never manage to do what we did as a group on your own, not would you want to. The group dynamic added all the value in my opinion. If anyone is considering heading to any global startup hot spot, my advice is to talk to the Catalyst guys first before spending way too much on another ‘Innovation Theatre’ style trip. If you want to meet some genuine players in the scene, you need to go with those who are respected and will get you places no one else has access to.

We did it all and then some. My feet still hurt and so does my head a little bit. I had my eyes and mind blown wide opened. I am annoyed I didn’t go earlier but grateful for the opportunity to go this time.

I’m committed to going on more future trips if I can manage it because if I am to do what I need to do here in Oz, it’s almost imperative I keep seeking and connecting on behalf of my community and my tribe. We will all be better for it.

The #CatalystLDN17 crew

So, Catalyst — my expectations were not met, they were blown right out of the water. I’m uncomfortable, excited and heading into the unknown. I’m committed to being honest, to tell people what I really think, challenge others, forge ahead with change, push boundaries and make shit happen because I will not be satisfied until we make some serious headway here in Oz.

If you want to hear more from the other participants, please join us for a panel catch up in Brisbane on July 17th, tickets available here.

We have only just begun.