Lessons learned from running an international accelerator program in Australia
By Chris Chang, Program Manager, Techstars Adelaide
Running Techstars Adelaide, the first accelerator for Techstars in Asia Pacific, has been an incredible learning experience and introduction to the Australian startup ecosystem.
Before I arrived in Adelaide, I’ll be the first to admit that most of my knowledge of Australia’s startup scene was limited to Atlassian, a few Techstars portfolio companies, and a handful of notable VC firms.
What I’ve discovered over the past year is that Australia is teeming with great opportunities and incredible incentives for startups, making this country a very attractive location to build and grow a business.
An international mindset
In Australia, most startups are born with a global mindset, something I’ve found is quite unique to this market.
In the United States, startups generally set out, and strategise, to take over a portion of the domestic market because it’s so large — it’s easy to set focus solely on the US.
In Australia, if you want to be big, it’s important to think globally from day one. In our first class of Techstars Adelaide, each of the ten companies had ambitions to sell internationally as a part of their growth strategies.
Another thing that stood out was the extent of government support for innovation in the form of grants, business subsidies, and practical help.
Some of the initiatives available to Australian startups include the Entrepreneurs’ Programme and the R&D tax incentive, two programs particularly relevant to tech startups. Startups looking to expand overseas can access Austrade’s Landing Pads in several major global cities, and also the Export Market Development Grant (EMDG), which reimburses companies for the cost of export promotion.
Due to the lack of government provided resources, most US founders see angel investment and venture capital as the only sources of growth capital and support. To have Australian government assisted programs, directed towards the success and growth of small business, truly impressed me.
Startups in the US seem much more siloed in terms of incentives and fundraising options; in Australia, there’s a lot of support to push entrepreneurs [of all levels] forward, to help them access the capital they need and to pursue and develop ideas.
Great business culture
I was taken aback by just how conducive Australian business culture, as a whole, is to the startup scene.
When arriving in Australia, I was advised on challenges, such as tall poppy syndrome, competitive issues, and the struggle to find mentors willing to help. We were pleasantly surprised to find that this was simply not true. Everybody we encountered in the ecosystem was positive and openly offered to help.
At Techstars, one of our core values is #givefirst, the idea that you selflessly give before you get. The willingness of the Australian startup network to help our program get up and running met the virtues of our program, ultimately leading us to bring together the best mentors, founders, partners and stakeholders to our first class.
Now we’re looking to give back and are firm believers that this culture is one of the reasons Australia is setup for startup success.
Cohesive community support
I did worry that operating in South Australia we might face challenges working with the rest of the country. As mentioned in the ‘Business Culture’ section above, we immediately faced an overwhelming sense of support from all over the country, giving us the ability to help the startups do more faster. In the US, the scale of the market can make startups feel alone or fragmented.
With Techstars in Adelaide, we felt nationally supported from the get-go. Key players in the ecosystem were always eager to jump on a call to provide advice and guidance. Many even flew down to Adelaide to spent a few hours working with the startups.
This cohesive community support is a real advantage for Australia. Large cities in the states, Los Angeles for example, host thriving ecosystems when it comes to Techstars and startups, however, as a side effect, these large communities can also from fragments or bubbles. These geographic, and sometimes cultural ‘bubbles’ can make it challenging to connect and interact with other startup or business communities. In Australia it has been so much easier to plug into people from all sides of business.
We may have a wide geography, but we also have a smaller ecosystem with shared culture, making it more intimate and fluid for connection.
An instant regional gateway
Australia is a gateway to the whole Asia Pacific region. Setting up in Australia enabled us to open our doors to a new demographic. It also turned out to be a great opportunity to better connect with the wider APAC market.
Simply put, opening our offices in Adelaide has made Techstars much more accessible — serious founders no longer have to fly to Boston or Kansas City or New York, we represent a central access point, much closer. The diversity of applications for the first cohort really demonstrated this with applications from 49 different countries.
Having run startup programs across the West Coast of the United States and Canada, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the power of the Australian startup network and the extent of resources available to startups choosing to build their businesses in Australia. This country truly does have all the ingredients that startups need to succeed.
My one piece of advice: Don’t be afraid to have a grand vision and acknowledge that you’re just as good [if not better] than the startup next to you! From open and supportive business culture to strong government support, your startup will always have foundation from The Lucky Country.