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July 06, 2012

A week at Innovyz START in Adelaide, Australia

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In my previous post I talked about my first full day in Adelaide. This post is about my time spent at the ANZ Innovyz START technology accelerator in Adelaide, Australia.

My good friend Jana Matthews has been going to Australia and other parts of the world for years to work with start-ups and fast growing companies. I was thrilled for her when she told me that she was going to be spending the summer in Adelaide, Australia working with a new technology accelerator. When she invited me to come over for a week and work as a mentor to the start up entrepreneurs, I thought, "that should be fun, and I can repay Jana for all she's done for me over the years." After getting home from Adelaide and thinking about my experience there, I realize now I didn't repay anything and I believe I'm now deeper in debt to her!

Jana and I have spent many mornings sitting at Turley's talking about the challenges of leading and growing a business. She's seen me at my worst times and at my best times, and through it all she has given me great advice that I've sometimes listened to. I'm not always the best student, but it is fair to say that without Jana's advice over the years, Gold Systems would not be what it is today.

Boulder, Colorado is home to TechStars, which is the #1 startup accelerator in the world. I was asked to be a mentor in the first year of the Boulder TechStars, and it was a fantastic experience. I learned a lot and I gained a close personal friend in the process. The Innovyz START accelerator in Adelaide is modeling a lot of what they do on TechStars, and they are part of the Global Accelerator Network which the TechStars guys also support. Both David Cohen and Brad Feld have helped get them off on the right foot.

My experience with the people of ANZ Innovyz START was fantastic. I was in the second week's flight of mentors to arrive and we were welcomed with a great dinner put on by Jana, Philip Vafiadis and Jerry Kleeman. I was the only Boulderite in that week's group of mentors, but Sherri Leopard, Catherine Merigold and Lu Cordova were also mentors other weeks. Most of the other mentors were from Australia or other parts of the world, and I really enjoyed getting to know everyone in my group.

Monday morning started with quick introductions and then we jumped into one-on-one's with each company. There were ten start-ups selected to participate in the program, and the founders had all relocated to Adelaide and for the most part seemed to live in their offices. They are working hard to make the most of the program and to be ready for Investor Day on August 17.

I felt for the entrepreneurs, because they had to quickly explain their company, and then process questions and suggestions from mentors that though they had a lot of experience, had just the smallest understanding of the company. As I think about it, that is one of the first lessons you have to learn as a new start-up entrepreneur. How do you to take all the advice people are willing to give you and make sense of it? Often the advice is conflicting and threatens to take your company into an entirely different direction. I did my best to let them know that while I might have an insight or an opinion for them, it could well be wrong and it was ultimately up to them to decide if it was helpful.

New entrepreneurs get a lot of advice on hiring. "You need a strong tech person" or "You need an awesome sales or business development VP." Maybe, but that advice can get a - into trouble. The founders first need to be competent in all areas. Maybe not great, but competent. A founder needs to be a fast learner and willing to dive into things they know nothing about, and then do the job until the company can really afford to bring in the experts. Except for running out of cash, nothing will kill a start up faster than hiring the wrong person at the wrong time. Getting someone who doesn't fit the values and culture that the founders want to create is deadly. Hiring a VP from a big company who "loves the idea of a start-up" but has no idea how to execute without a big staff is killer. I spent a fair amount of my mentor time with the entrepreneurs just reassuring them that they were in fact very capable people who could get the job done. Everyone of them was passionate about their idea, smart, and hard working or else they would not have been selected for the program.

That's the basic idea behind accelerators. Get lots of entrepreneurs to apply, select the very best, and then give them mentoring, introductions and financial help. Do that, and most of the companies will exit the accelerator a few months later and be on their way to success.

I'm happy to have been a part of the first year of ANZ Innovyz START in Adelaide, but I'll bet that next year and the year after will be even better. Adelaide looked like a great place to start a technology company and I hope to get back there again soon. I asked Jana, "How is it possible to miss a place I didn't even know existed a few months ago?" I wish the best of luck and success to ANZ Innovyz START, the entrepreneurs, my new mentor friends and the city of Adelaide!

July 6, 2012 | Permalink

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