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July 06, 2012

A week at Innovyz START in Adelaide, Australia



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 | TrackBack

July 05, 2012

SARRC Sea to Summit 34k run, Adelaide, Australia

A few weeks ago I visited Adelaide, Australia to be a mentor at the Innovyz START technology accelerator. That was a great experience, and I'll write about in another post, but first I have to talk about the weekend I arrived in Adelaide.


A few weeks before the trip I started looking on line to see if there might be a nice 5 or 10k race that I could run since I was arriving on a Saturday and wouldn't have to show up at the accelerator until Monday morning. What I found was the Sea to Summit race, put on by the South Australian Road Runners and Walkers Club. I'm sure I had heard about this race before and remembered that it was considered to be a "can't miss" race. I think I read every word on the website trying to figure out if I was going to be up for the run. It was to be 30k, starting at the ocean and climbing to the top of Mount Lofty, the highest peak in the area at 2,500 feet. It was was described as a "bush run" which made me wonder if there might be crocodiles and dingos to contend with, or at least poisonous snakes. Having read A Sunburned Country, I was pretty sure there would be some sort of lethal plants or animals to contend with.


My biggest fear was the trail itself. As my friends know, and are probably tired of hearing me say it, but I believe that traditional running shoes are evil devices guaranteed to hurt people. I wear Vibram Five Fingers or I wear nothing at all. I found the website for the Heysen Trail which the route would use, and they specifically said "Good walking shoes, or boots, with grip soles. Thongs, sandals, elastic-sided boots and smooth-soled sneakers are not appropriate." I will admit, that was pretty good advice in hindsight.
I kept telling people in the weeks before that I was going to run the race, but I had not actually signed up. Then the night before I was to leave I got an email from Andrew Hyde promoting his new book, TRAVEL. Wanting to help a fellow Boulder entrepreneur, and thinking what better to read on the plane than a book about travel, I bought the book and started reading it. Even the first few chapters were enough to cause me to think differently about the trip, so the next morning while sitting in the Denver airport, I signed up for the race. I decided I would just figure out the logistics when I got there and I'd do my best.

I left Denver Thursday afternoon and arrived in Adelaide Saturday afternoon, stayed awake all day and went to bed at my "normal" time with an alarm set for a 6:15 AM Taxi that I had arranged. I ended up being dropped off on a dark street near the ocean well before the race was to start and before anyone else had arrived. Walking down a trail, in the dark, to where I thought the starting line might be, I was startled by the sound of what I thought was either a homeless man snoring or a Dangerous Australian Creature. Either way, I decided a retreat back to the street was the best move, and I found another trail that looked promising. That one also had the strange sound, so I made one more detour and found my way down to the ocean via what looked like a boat ramp where I found an almost empty parking lot where the race was to start.

Thinking about Andrew's book, and the lesson he's learned about just getting out there and talking to people, and trusting that things would work out, I walked up to a couple of people who were obviously runners and introduced myself. Within a few minutes I was welcomed to Australia and assured that I would not only make it to the top of the mountain, but that someone up there would help me find a way back down. I was also told that the sound I had heard was not a crocodile or homeless person snoring, but was most likely a male Koala.
(Photo by Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0)
The Australians seemed pretty amused that I had been frightened off the trail by a Koala, though they did admit that they (the Koalas) could be testy at times. The rest of the day I spent too much time looking up into trees hoping to spot a Koala, but I never did. I did manage to fall twice by not looking where I was going, and I came home with what I'm told Australian trail runners call "badges." Everyone else calls them cuts and bruises.


As the sun was coming up, most of the racers made their way onto the rocky beach and many joined me in actually touching the water before moving to the starting line a hundred yards back up the hill. Then Terry Cleary, the race director, stood on top of a cooler or "Esky" as they call it, and talked to the runners. He reminded us to be careful and have fun, but he also reminded us that we would be running on land that passed through Kaurna country, who are the traditional owners of the land. In fact, the race would be supported by Neville Highfold and other members of the "Mari Yerta Men's and Young Men's Aboriginal Corporation." Terry talked about respecting the people and the land, and it was a great way to start the race.



The race started, and off we went climbing stairs and then a series of single-file switchbacks to get out of the park by the ocean. We ran through neighborhoods on the street for a few miles and then into a park. I had heard that the race could be tough just because it was easy to miss a marker and end up off the trail, but I thought the race was very well marked. I did miss a turn, but it was my own fault. As we got farther along what is know as the Heysen Trail, it became more rugged, but I was just amazed by the beauty of the land and the unfamiliar trees, bushes and birds.

The best part of the race was the people. Terry (I call him Australian Terry now so people won't think I'm talking in the third person about myself) caught me pretty quickly, even though he must have been one of the last runners to start. I introduced myself and we talked a bit, and then he ran on as I was running at my "just finish the race" pace. I caught him twice more, but only because he stopped at every aid station to thank the volunteers. Because of that, we got to spend a lot of time talking and it was just a great way to spend what could have been a lonely and tough race.


Everyone else I met was also very friendly, and two literally gave me a hand up after I fell and made sure I hadn't broken anything. If anyone from SARRC is reading - thank you for a WONDERFUL experience! And Nina, thank you for encouraging me and sharing your story those last few miles, and for the offer of the blister pads. I probably should have taken them!


The race ended up being 34K or 21.32 miles according to my GPS. I finished in 5 hours 21 minutes and 30 seconds, which was just fine since my goal was just to finish. After the second fall I think I started taking it a little easier, so now of course I'd love to go back and try again for a faster time.


After the race, Australian Terry invited me to dinner at his house, which I accepted, and I had the best welcome to Australia that I could have hoped for by Terry and his wife Gay. It really was fantastic. Monday morning when I arrived at the Innovyz START office space, I was limping a bit and people thought I was crazy for having ran the race at all, much less after flying half way around the world. For me, it is on the list of the best experiences of my life, and it was the very best running experience I've ever had. Even with the "badges."


Thanks to Andrew Hyde for giving me a different way to look at travel, to Australian Terry and all the other SARRC people, and of course thanks to Jana Matthews and Innovyz START for inviting me to Adelaide!

July 5, 2012 in Running | Permalink | TrackBack