The Abbott Government has handed down the budget that they have been conditioning us for since the turn of the year. Joe Hockey has implemented many of the recommendations by the Commission of Audit and abolished several grant programs in the hope of simplifying the Australian grant system while simultaneously putting the boot into the ‘Age of Entitlement’. One of programs given the last rites was Commercialisation Australia.
I have mixed feelings about this as I advise, and have advised, several technology companies that have devoted effort and expense into this process. I sincerely hope that the Federal Government are able to transition current applicants into new programs so their time is not entirely wasted. I also implore the government that business owners that are creating valuable intellectual property for the benefit of the country should not be considered ‘Entitled’. However, I am glad that the government has finally used the bullet that has it has been threatening to use for the past nine months so every stakeholder from company through to investor has clarity around the program and its demise.
A 39 degree day saw over 300 people congregate in Richmond for the first Lean Startup Melbourne of 2014. An interesting topic first up with Susan Wu, Brendan Lewis and Leni Mayo on a panel providing insights into the startup ecosystems of San Francisco, London and Melbourne.
As endemic for the set-up and the timeframe, the insights were limited to giving novices a broad overview of the landscape and provided some guidance as to how it can be improved locally. Importantly though, it made much of audience consider their environment, their position in it and how they could be best capitalize on the available structures.
Personally, it provoked thought on the startup environments in general and what would be the best components to facilitate a startup culture in Melbourne. Broadly, my thoughts took in three areas:
- Defining the parameters of the ecosystem to best identify who the participants are and how we recognize success.
- The general ingredients that may constitute a successful startup ecosystem
- The assets particular to Melbourne that can make it standout globally
At the end of October I’ll be winging my way to Brisbane as my company Alphastation will be exhibiting at the annual AusBiotech Conference. Biotech is a high concept industry with an individual and collective requirement for intelligence, knowledge, creativity, perseverance, and finance. From my perspective, it is essential that the activities in this industry are fostered, incubated and accelerated for the betterment of our society, and I encourage anyone who has an interest in the sector to have the courage to participate.
For those unfamiliar, here are the salient points. The biotech industry uses biologic processes to make products such as drugs, diagnostic tests and vaccines, as well as applications in crop improvement, animal health, industrial processing and environmental protection. The industry is relatively young with $6.4bn in revenue in Australia in 2012, but is scheduled to grow considerably as both federal and state governments are committed to promoting Australia as a world centre for biotechnology.
This is not a pipe dream as the level of expertise in research and development is staggering but there is a requirement to supplement the scientific skill set with entrepreneurial ability. In short, selling the outcome of this scientific activity.
One afternoon in late July I was called at the customary time by Neil Graham, an inspiring and agreeable chap, the compelling blend of equal parts entrepreneur and engineer, to discuss his current project. This was the latest in a series of phone calls where we incrementally moved towards a point of discovery. Our journey included many discussions regarding his new technology, its potential and how it should be positioned to the world. On this call the subject turned to philosophy. How do we explain the enormity of the opportunity?
“Dominic, this story is too big. How do we get somebody to understand this? How is an investor to understand the scale of this undertaking if we are unsure of it ourselves?”
This is truly a philosophical question as we are caught between the truth, our expectation of a future truth, the yawning chasm in between, and the tap dance that needs to occur that elevates us over this chasm. My approach to this is The Big Big Picture.
The first step is to explore the thinking behind the initial approach – The Big Picture. The subsequent step is to use their newly discovered understanding as a platform to envelop this new reality with a concept so new and innovative that if we pitched it to them first, it would be utterly incomprehensible. This is the thesis behind The Big Big Picture.
The election of Tony Abbott has been polarising to the nation with the blue side of the country waving flags in triumph after years dealing with an ‘illegitimate’ government, and the red side marinated in disbelief over the election of the most malevolently objectionable prime minister in living memory.
Personally, I am unmoved by the current political culture of personality, polls and photo calls as it promotes both extremism and homogenisation at the expense of holistic policy development. However, I am interested in the ascent of Abbott as it has been instructive for a number of reasons. Due to the demonstrated combination of endurance, fortitude and tactical nous in the field of battle, these parallels can be drawn into the spheres of business, philosophy and life.
Leadership over Personality (plus the not-so-invisible hand of the media)
In 2007, Abbott’s leadership tilt lasted only a few hours against Brendon Nelson and Malcolm Turnbull. He was the object of derision in the press as the majority of commentators thought the Mad Monk was unsuitable for high office. In the context of the time, Tony Blair and Nicholas Sarkozy with their presidential approach of PR-glossed personality was favoured in this media-juiced world. Labor found their prodigal son with Kevin Rudd. Tony Abbott didn’t have any of these presidential qualities and found himself in political purgatory.
This was confounding as personality was never a mandatory requirement to leadership as John Button famously said to Bill Hayden:
“You said to me that you could not stand down for a ‘bastard’ like Bob Hawke. In my experience in the Labor Party the fact that someone is a bastard (of one kind or another) has never been a disqualification for leadership of the party. It is a disability from which we all suffer in various degrees.”