Startup stalwart Bill Bartee urges Australia to lift its game when it comes to STEM education

Increasing participation in science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) and computer science disciplines is critical to the success of Australia’s startup ecosystem, according to entrepreneur and investor Bill Bartee.


He says if Australia doesn’t act quickly to lift participation rates in those disciplines, the nation will look back in 20 years’ time with regret.


“I think one of the ways we can improve the startup and entrepreneur ecosystem in Australia is to create more entrepreneurs,’’ he says.


“And if you look back over the statistics of who starts companies, most companies founders are STEM or computer science majors.”


Bartee, a managing director of Blackbird Ventures and co-founding partner of Southern Cross Venture Partners, recently spoke at Sydney co-working space Fishburners where he gave his thoughts on the StartupAus Crossroads report, which was released earlier this year.


He says the pool of people graduating with a background in those disciplines is small, particularly when taking into account international students, many of whom return to their home countries.

“What it means is in 20 years if we don’t increase participation in these subjects we’re going to look back at it and we’re going to regret it,” he says.


“A shortage is going to hurt us. My hope is we can really start to educate kids at a much earlier stage.


“I think we need to get to the point where the primary schools wouldn’t think of taking math and English without taking computer science.


“Not so they become rockstar programmers, but so they can think algorithmically and they can understand how things work, and how to write basic code.”


Bartee says Australia is lagging behind the rest of the world in this regard.


“If you look at Vietnam, Vietnam starts teaching computer science in grade five or six, and you’re finding that they’re becoming much, much more computer science literate,” he says.


“If you look at the European Union for instance, their Entrepreneurship 2020 Action Plan, technology entry education is part of the program and begins in primary schools.”


He says there’s no reason why Australia can’t excel in STEM fields and points to Australian mathematician Terence Tao who was recently announced as one of five winners of the Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics.


He says entrepreneurship needs to become a cultural norm.


“It has to be part of the social conversation, when we’re sitting with parents, watching kids play on the soccer field, you want the conversation to be ‘my son’s going to be a lawyer, doctor, lawyer or investment banker’ but also ‘my son or daughter is a maths wiz, she wants to be an entrepreneur’,’’ Bartee says.


“It has to come to the point where being an entrepreneur, starting a startup is normal.”


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