Training & Development

Travel entrepreneur sets up $10 million entrepreneurship institute at Melbourne Uni college

Eloise Keating /

Is entrepreneurship something that can be taught?

Travel entrepreneur Peter Wade thinks so and he is willing to put his money where his mouth is.

Victorian-born Wade, who founded UK-based travel agency Travelbag in 1979, has donated $10 million to Melbourne University residential college Ormond College to build an institute designed to teach university graduates the skills they need to be successful entrepreneurs.

Construction for the Wade Institute of Entrepreneurship will begin in January and is expected to be completed in early 2016, in time for the commencement of a 12-month Masters of Entrepreneurship degree, to be offered by Melbourne University and Ormond.

Ormond College master Rufus Black told SmartCompany this morning the institute will be “self-funding”.

“Peter’s gift enables us to create the place where it will all happen,” Black says. “And the economics of it works well in terms of student fees covering the operations.”

Ormond hopes to attract up to 60 students for the full-time degree, which will cost around $30,000. Black says the focus will be on “learning by doing”.

“By the end of the year we want them to be start-up ready,” he says.

“We want to take them through the creation process a couple of times by creating a product or service, launching a pop-up business in the middle of the year, and by the end of the year, having a start-up idea that is substantial enough to pitch to venture capital investors. We want them to just keep going.”

Black says the university’s School of Business and Economics will be the “custodians” of the degree, although the School of Engineering will also play an important role.

Black says the idea was born from two parallel conversations that were happening within Melbourne University and amongst the college’s leaders.

“The university has been very focused on liberating the ideas from within the faculties of the university and the engineering faculty has really lead the way with its accelerator program,” he says.

‘In parallel, at Ormond we want to prepare students to make a real difference in Australia today, especially with the significant changes taking place in our economy. We want to help them create the next generation of jobs and wealth and opportunity.”

Black says Ormond and Melbourne University began discussing how the two could work together on these goals when Wade, who is an Ormond alumnus and serves on the college council, asked what it would take to set up institute to nurture budding entrepreneurs.

“He said, ‘I would like to give you $10 million to make it happen’,” Black says.

Wade, who reportedly sold the Travelbag companies to Ebookers in 2013 for £55 million ($101 million) said in a statement his gift builds on the work he has previously done to support the education of young Australians.

“We are a smart nation but still too few of our great ideas are generating the future of our economy,” Wade said.

“We need to create jobs and opportunities to replace those being lost. Traditional manufacturing is disappearing. Even service jobs, whether they are in call centres or law and accounting firms, are going offshore. Technology is disrupting existing business from media firms to retailers. Even those who work for others will need to be more entrepreneurial and innovative to help create Australia’s future.”

While Black says there is no doubt entrepreneurs need a range of personal attributes to be successful, he believes entrepreneurship can be taught.

“Entrepreneurs need to have passion, be ideas-focused and problem solvers, be prepared to take risk and fail,” he says.

“They are the personal attributes but then you need to have knowledge on how to turn those ideas into a business.”

“Ask any entrepreneur and they will always tell you there are things ‘I wish I’d known’, a list of things that would have increased the likelihood of their success or made their life easier.”

“We want to make sure we give people the list of things they wish they’d known.”

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Eloise Keating

Eloise Keating is the editor of SmartCompany. Previously, Eloise was news editor at Books+Publishing, the trade press for the Australian book industry.