Come together! Dr Margarietha de Villiers Scheepers is connecting the Sunshine Coast’s entrepreneurs of tomorrow

Dr Margarietha de Villiers Scheepers moved her family from South Africa to join the University of the Sunshine Coast as a researcher and lecturer on Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management in 2010.

Margarietha de Villiers Scheepers
“I really care about empowering people and helping students to create their own destiny and future through entrepreneurship.”

Known as Retha the 43 year-old mother of two was drawn to the Sunshine Coast to follow her dream to create a community of aspiring young people who will one day change the world.

“I really loved that the area was still regional enough that I could maybe help shape the direction of where innovation was headed and be part of the conversation about new, big ideas.” Retha says.

With this goal, Retha turned her lecture theatre into an experiment.

“I’d had some students say they wanted ‘real life’ experiences not just lectures about entrepreneurship,” she says.

“So I changed the way I taught, which in turn changed the way the students were learning.

“This trial teaching method was also combined with research supported strongly by USC, and we got to a point where we decided to hold the first Startup Weekend Sunshine Coast (SWSC) in 2014.”

Retha and dedicated volunteers organised and hosted a successful SWSC event, Retha asking her students to reflect on their experience as part of their course work.

“From the feedback I could see there was no way this could be left as a once off event,” Retha says.

“After the SWSC experience, I did not have a class of students anymore, but a class of founders who were more confident, innovative and not just academically minded.

“They kept in touch with the business people on their teams and mentors they met and the experiment made me realise with satisfaction just how imperative the experiential component of learning about entrepreneurship truly was.”

Another SWSC was held in 2015 and in 2016 popular demand led to the initiative growing further to become the Empowering Young Entrepreneurs (EYE) program.

The EYE program is a series of experiential entrepreneurship activities, including SWSC, informal meetups, two full-day capacity building workshops and an online boot camp.

“It was a really ambitious idea and also really expensive to pull together,” Retha says.

“Had it not been for the grant we secured from Advance Queensland it may well have not got off the ground.”

The EYE program was awarded $20,000 from the Advance Queensland Young Starters’ Fund.

“That cash injection made it all a reality and it’s very much our intention to pay that back to the state of Queensland in the form of fabulous future entrepreneurs,” Retha says.

“Our program empowers the youth of the Sunshine Coast and they’re the entrepreneurs who will shape our region, state and nation in years to come. I believe this is already a place where innovation is born but we need to make it a place where it can flourish and succeed as well.”

It’s an experiment that has so far returned some significant results, not just for Retha’s research but also for the Sunshine Coast and beyond.

SWSC has generated five legitimate startups and four of these have been awarded and recognised,” Retha says.

“Startup projects in development from the 2016 SWSC include Surf Pulse, which is an app focused on helping surfers find the best surfing spots daily, Ratted an app to help young people find special offers at venues and Fheels manufacturers of women’s shoes with a removable heel.”

Retha says the biggest lessons all new startups have to learn is the art of persistence.

“There are no overnight successes,” Retha says.

“I always tell my students to read the story of Steve Jobs, he failed so many times before he started to realise success.

“There are so many hurdles and roadblocks to overcome when you choose an entrepreneurial career, but the moment you give up is when you fail.”