My 1st quarter at Sydney Startup Hub

A lot can happen in a year. Many posts and articles around this time of year prove it. It turns out that many things can happen in just 4 months too.

After establishing the startup programs at UNSW and running them for a little over 6 years, I had the opportunity to join Jobs for NSW in my first government role as Director of Sydney Startup Hub in mid-August. It has just clocked over the 4 month mark, and what a ride it has been! In some ways you could say working in a university is a good stepping stone into government, but even then the processes, culture, stakeholder groups and overall KPI’s are significantly different — even within the “startup support” vertical of work. Whilst some of the nuances of how and why things are done a certain way have taken time to get used to, the flip side has been the amazing opportunity that comes with the position of running the State’s, and arguably one of Australia’s flagship startup support initiatives.

So what exactly IS my role?

It definitely is evolving. When I first started, the role was focused on ‘activating’ the hub. I had been gifted a full building of 420+ startups, 4 major co-working spaces, 3 corporate innovation departments and 3 government entities with startup and innovation ecosystem facing functions. Being an 11 floor building, not all the communities naturally cross-pollinate across floors by physical design so it’s not obvious (a) who or what is happening on the levels above or below you and (b) how do we find relevant people to collaborate with in the building. My initial focus was to address these two very local challenges.

Above: a snapshot from the new SSH flyers — come and pick up your copy from our level 1 desk

Working with our amazing Advocacy team, the first thing we did was to capture all of the events run by our co-working space and incubator tenants in one place. The events are low on volume over the new years break, but we had 320+ events on our level 1 space alone since February and you can find them listed here or on Twitter by searching the hashtag #SSHevents .

With all-hub events and listings available online and on some of the new electronic displays we have installed in the building, we are part of the way there to solving the connectivity problem. But not all the way there. Plus, with the addition to our team of our new (and brilliant) CEO, Nicole Cook, the connectivity challenge broadened from across communities in our building to a much larger challenge of scaling the success of the hub from our building across the broader metro, Western Sydney and Regional NSW ecosystems.

The hub has certainly created some magic, even before a full 12 months of operations. Of the stats above, the one that stands out most to me is that of the SSH resident startup founders that responded to our survey, 81% have identified at least one business achievement that would not have happened if not for the hub. How do we take this magic and scale it across NSW?

Certainly not by “managing a building” alone, and I’m no landlord. Together with our small but talented team, we have been co-designing with our partners a suite of Programs, Platforms and Partnerships to amplify the impact we are having across the state. If you’ve been working in and around startups for long, it won’t be a surprise to you that we found some common themes in areas of support most needed for startups within the hub, across in Western Sydney and in Regional NSW:

* access to the right talent

* customer acquisition / sales

* access to funding

* knowledge exchange i.e. mentoring and peer to peer support

So what do Programs, Platforms and Partnerships look like that solve these problems in the Sydney Startup Hub serving that local ecosystem then scale out across the broader NSW?

What we have come to at this point is four key programs to launch in 2019 — details to come but trust they are being designed in consultation with our co-working space and startup residents in the hub, our all-star Advisory Committee, and key startup ecosystem and education players across the state. Key themes will be Talent, Connectivity, Customer Acquisition and Startup Pipeline. Everything we do will be considered in terms of how startups outside of the hub, particularly Western Sydney and Regional NSW based startups can also access the value created.

On the Talent piece, we’ll be looking at Graduates, to corporate secondments to over 65’s but not duplicating the great work that is already going on in the internship space and instead focusing on paid roles. We’re partnering with Sydney School of Entrepreneurship on this and the goal is to help as many startups in NSW access the right talent as they grow.

Above: Spending time with a group of Engineering PhD students who have opted in for a day of entrepreneurship soft skills training at UNSW. Could these be the first participants in our new Talent Program being planned?

Our Expert in Residence program kicked off with Clive Mayhew, our guest seasoned entrepreneur and Chairman of OpenLearning, who delivered a program that effectively played a concierge role to the ecosystem, joining the dots to relevant people, programs and advice for 26 startups over a 6 week period. This program isn’t about incubating startups in the hub that already have access to our tenant co-working spaces. It may do so as a by-product, but it is really a concierge service to the wider ecosystem and is set up to support non-resident startups that may also be part of the future pipeline of Sydney Startup Hub residents. They might be from Western Sydney, Regional NSW or metro but are looking for the right people, organisations, resources and advice to grow their business.

This Expert in Residence program pilot didn’t stop with Clive’s generous contribution. Governments aren’t well known for collaborating with other parts of government, so I was very happy to work with the City of Sydney on a collaboration that saw top Canadian social entrepreneur Mark Brand fly into Sydney via the city run Visiting Entrepreneur Program and then be connected for one-to-one mentoring with 8 lucky social startups via our Sydney Startup Hub Expert in Residence program. The CEO of Scale Investors, Ariane Barker also contributed an “Office Hour” toward the program and we have some great new contributors lined up for early 2019 too.

When it comes to ‘going global’, I have always been an advocate for our startups focusing on key export markets where the Australian brand is a little more established and there is a history of trade from Australia into said market to leverage and help open doors. That’s why I jumped at the opportunity when I received an invitation from KOTRA, the Korean government funded trade and investment promotion organisation to give a talk at the Korean Open Innovation Conference in Seoul.

Above: Presenting our SSH co-working and corporate innovation partners to the Korean startup ecosystem in October

Apart from showing off our amazing hub co-working space, corporate and government tenants, key outcomes for this trip included establishing a new relationship with Seoul Startup Hub which will open up opportunities for NSW startups in Korea (and vice-versa), connecting a Seoul based accelerator and one of our co-working spaces for a potential new partnership, helping a successful Korean fintech explore the possible establishment of a new NSW based office.

Above: The only thing better than being nominated for StartCon Community MVP 2018 was hosting a panel with my peers on “getting the most from your co-working community” on the Disruption stage to a full room

This year has been special in terms of Japanese investment into NSW, particularly with the news of three large Japanese companies committing to being a part of the planned Western Sydney Aerotropolis. If we have met in person already, there’s a chance you already know about my long time connection with Japan. I fell into entrepreneurship in the mid-2000’s whilst spinning out a company from a NSW based edutech, and found myself in a government backed incubator in Osaka City before I even had the vocab I use to describe it as we do now. That’s why I was personally very happy to host a delegation from corporate Japan and to introduce the hub as part of the annual Australia Japan Business Co-operation Committee conference in October to discuss further collaboration opportunities in the startup and innovation space across both countries.

Above: It was a pleasure to give an intro to the Sydney Startup Hub for a large delegation of Japanese corporate reps in October

The final and possibly most important category of programs we are working on for 2019 is mental health and wellness for founders and startup employees. With all the popular ecosystem rhetoric along the lines of “investing in people and teams, not ideas” what happens when those people and teams face multiple rejections from investors and potential customers? And what impact does our culture that sometimes encourages pride in unreasonably long working hours have? Mental Health and Wellness is another important area for us and together with Fishburners, Stone & Chalk, The Studio and Tank Stream Labs we have begun the process to co-design a program(s) and approach to build what should be best-practice in this space — and something we can share way beyond the walls of the hub. Watch out for updates in the new year.

Above: No startup hub can succeed without amazing Community and Events Managers behind it. Introducing the amazing Sydney Startup Hub Community and Event superheros!

Thanks to all of my colleagues, supporters, partners and the whole ecosystem for making these last 4 months such a meaningful time.

Have a happy and healthy New Years break and see you on the other side!