Running start-up laps

Brothers and sisters, I’ve got the spirit coursing through me today!

That might be a bit full-on for a Wednesday in March, but last night I was lucky enough to attend the StartupSmart Awards ceremony at the Melbourne offices of accounting firm Pitcher Partners and, let me tell you, I am still buzzing.

You simply cannot be in a room of passionate, energetic and optimistic entrepreneurs and not come away buzzing. Even in our office this morning our staff were talking about their own business plans and dreams.

Today we profile some members of the top 50 who we just know will soon be challenging Australia’s established SMEs community. The average business employs 11 people, well beyond the typical mark of six staff that separates long-lasting companies from the rest.

These entrepreneurs are young (average age of 36), well resourced (average start-up costs of $157,000) and generally seasoned professionals who have a career in industry behind them.

They love technology, they love disrupting markets and they are not afraid to think big.

One award we gave out last night recognised Australia’s top start-up investor. It went to Pollenizer, the start-up incubator that last year tested 16 ideas, started eight new businesses, raised $7 million for portfolio companies, raised $1.1 million for incubation, and sold Spreets for more than $40 million.

The group is headed by Mick Liubinskas and Phil Morle and we took the opportunity last night to do a quick on-stage interview with Mick.

He is one of a small but growing band of investors and entrepreneurs trying to develop Australia’s start-up infrastructure along the lines of what Silicon Valley has enjoyed for so long.

While Mick agreed the start-up community has flourished in the last 18 months, he was quick to remind the audience that we are still on the early “laps” of creating a great start-up community.

When Mick talks about a “lap” he means the cycle of founding companies, investing in them, growing them and exiting them. As he points out, most people in Silicon Valley have 10 or more laps to their name, whereas the emerging start-up investors like Liubinskas are on their third of fourth lap.

So there is still some way to go – but we are clearly heading in the right direction.

I’ll finish with another insight Mick shared about the companies Pollenizer invests in. He’s focused on web businesses, but one of his key criteria is how quickly the idea can be tested. Pollenizer wants to get a product in front of customers within 24 hours of testing started.

And that, brothers and sisters, is what we’re all up against.

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