Rohan Workman and Martin Adams
Rohan Workman is director of the Melbourne Accelerator Program (MAP) at the University of Melbourne. Martin Adams is chairman of MAP’s advisory board. MAP offers mentorships and training for budding entrepreneurs and has led an annual delegation to Silicon Valley since 2013.
When MAP started in 2012, we had this dingy little office in the old metallurgy department. It hadn’t been used for so long there was a squatter in there.
In the first year, we had to explain to people what an accelerator program was before they applied for it.
In 2012, 472 people attended our public events, this year it’s over 10,000. We had 32 applications [to participate in the program] in 2012, we had 124 this year. It’s been a phenomenal growth over the past few years and you can really see the excitement building.
To be eligible for our accelerator program, one person on the founding team has to be a student, staff member or alumni of the university, but all of our pipeline activities are open to absolutely everybody. Eventually, we’d like to get to the point where anyone can come and do a start-up at the university.
One of the things we get very excited about, and I’ve seen more and more of this, is when you walk downstairs and see an entrepreneur having a coffee with a venture capitalist in the university cafe. You can start seeing the ecosystem growing before your eyes.
An entrepreneurial ecosystem has to include corporations and universities and all the different participants in a normal economy.
We’ve seen a massive growth over the past few years in co-working spaces, in accelerators and meet-ups and all these sorts of things, which is very healthy. But one of the things we need to do better is how corporates engage with start-ups; at the moment they speak different languages.
That’s one of the things you see a lot when you come to Silicon Valley: the way listed companies are engaging with start-up companies. The entrepreneurs we’ve spoken to have been able to navigate the big companies and they understand how they work and are more able to pierce the corporate veil.
The objective is to bring a group of Australians to experience Silicon Valley and get them to connect with start-ups and learn more about Silicon Valley. It’s a great engagement mechanism for people to come over to Silicon Valley and learn how to work and also get to know each other.
The fact we have senior businesspeople from Australia, not just typical entrepreneurs, adds a depth. Entrepreneurs get to talk to someone like Laura Anderson [chairman of SVI Global] or Nick Gruen [chief executive of Lateral Economics].
Google has also been fantastic for us. For the first two years that MAP came to Silicon Valley, Google hosted our demo day and used their networks to bring people in. They helped us build our brand over here and over the years they’ve been wonderful in facilitating access to people over the [San Francisco] Bay area and also in Sydney, too.
They’ve also been wonderful with mentors. So whenever we visit a Google office, normally we’ll have a few engineers from the Google team come in as mentors to start-ups.
MAP was an initiative to create culture change at the university and to offer entrepreneurship as an option for students. We’ve had almost 10,000 students come to various functions, masterclasses and workshops, who are now thinking about starting a business or being involved with an entrepreneurial space. That’s where the culture change starts to happen.
One of the challenges at the beginning was to find mentors, experienced businesspeople who would be willing to assist and coach some of the start-ups. It was a lot of work to find people. Now, four years on, people are knocking on our door wanting to become part of our program and that’s fantastic.
The other thing is we’re engaging with corporates. We’ve had our first year with Australian Post as a main supporter and we are rolling out a very big program with them in 2017; we jokingly call it the Diesel and Dust tour. We’re going to provide our knowledge and support and, with Australia Post outreach, try to stimulate entrepreneurship in regional Australia, countrywide.
Australia Post has an extensive change program. They got their senior execs to spend time at MAP working among our entrepreneurs and Rohan’s team, just to see how to go about things.
Australia Post has now built a club of Melbourne University alumni inside its organisation.
Everybody’s going through change and innovation; we assist budding entrepreneurs but we can also help larger corporates.
That’s one of the interesting things about MAP: people flow in and out all the time. It’s a place that just draws people in. There’s plenty of connectivity out there, it’s just that there’s been no focal point for it to coalesce around and we’re providing that point.
The other thing is the international linkage; it’s not just university to university, or corporate to corporate, and that’s the beauty of a delegation where you have a broad range of people who can engage at different levels.
If we’re going to do well, we want a flow of people, a flow of capital, a flow of business to happen smoothly.
The thing about [taking delegations to Silicon Valley] is the sustained engagement. It’s the third time we’ve done this and it’s important to keep that flowing.
Every business, every operation, every government department is going to have to deal with innovation. We’ll all have to change, we’ll have to adapt, but it’s productivity or process improvements or being disrupted by somebody else.
So it’s the soft skills of how to form teams and how to work with people from different backgrounds and multi-disciplinary thinking which are becoming really important, and that doesn’t start at university level, it starts at primary school.
One of the things we’re doing is talking to schools as well, trying to foster these generic skills.
Rohan Workman and Martin Adams spoke to Joanne Gray who joined the Silicon Valley tour as a guest of MAP.