Startup Advice

The strengths and weaknesses of the government’s Landing Pads program from a founder who did it

Adam Stone /

Landing Pads

Adam Stone with former Prime Minister Tony Abbott at the Israel Landing Pad. Source: Supplied.

In 2017, Speedlancer founder Adam Stone headed to Israel and Berlin as part of the government’s Landing Pads program and last month, he highlighted some of the strengths and weaknesses in the program in a Medium post. Find out what he got out of the Austrade-supported program, and why he thinks it’s overlooked by Aussie startups.

Are you looking for the right program to get your business going global? For us Aussies, there is an option to take advantage of landing pads for market-ready startups and scaleups ready to go global. Even many Aussies are unaware of the Australian Government’s Landing Pads program, run by Austrade.

You might not know it because it’s not really sold in the best way it could be, and for some reason, it appears to have trouble receiving the uptake from people who have heard of the program. Maybe it’s because folks are too spoilt with government grants and easy money (accelerators) these days — fair enough. The landing pad does not offer any funding. However, the Landing Pads program does do its job of helping your company to build global connections through an in-country business development manager.

In this post I’ll share my experiences from the Austrade Berlin and Tel Aviv landing pads in particular.

This year [2017] I was fortunate enough to have spent time in two of the five global landing pads and visited a third. I stayed in Tel Aviv for four weeks, Berlin for six weeks, and I also visited the San Francisco landing pad for a day last month. And I had the time of my life, all while researching the global markets for Speedlancer. It’s a 90-day program, but you can stay for less time (and you can equally return informally), and I believe I was the first participant to have split my time between two locations. I think splitting between two locations is a great approach; more on that below.

The first thing you’ll notice when you walk into a landing pad is how small they are, physically and in terms of numbers. I’m not sure if it’s limited in size by design, or if it’s because they are struggling to attract the numbers. The small size benefits you though because it does mean the landing pad managers are there almost exclusively for you and the two or three other companies going through the program.

The key purpose of the landing pad program is to help Australian companies export into overseas markets. That’s helpful for Australia and Australian founders, as home can be a terribly small market. It’s nice for us Aussies to make global connections through the landing pad for long-term business growth.

“Startups grow 2.5x faster if they are born global” — Dr Stephanie Fahey, chief executive @ Austrade

The landing pads achieve the goal of international growth/research by helping you hit the ground running overseas. Right out of the gate you are given a local business development manager (BDM) to represent you. This is awesome.

If you need a certain type of connection, they represent you as your local BDM with the knowledge and connections in the local market. These aren’t necessarily connections you wouldn’t be able to make yourself; nor is the local culture something that you can’t learn. However, having a local represent you accelerates your learning by at least a month (if not more) and means you can start attracting meetings as soon as you land.

In Tel Aviv, Omri Wislizki (the Israel Landing Pad manager) did a particularly amazing job at providing these connections. I’ve heard many folks at Austrade say that Omri is one of the best hires they have ever made. He hustles for you and he is so well networked. If you know Omri, congrats, you’re now just one or two connections away from 90% of people worth meeting in Israel … that’s raw value in itself! Omri makes himself available whenever needed and really cares for his startups!

The interesting thing about the landing pad is that it relies on the government giving private sector connections. In some ways this idea works, especially when the Landing Pads program forces them to go full-steam ahead and support you — and I think they have developed strong enough KPIs for the landing pad managers to deliver on this. Additionally, where the landing pad managers were unable to help, there was almost always another Aussie government contact a hop, skip or a jump away to help you find whatever connections you needed. These government contacts also come from the close ties the landing pads have with the local embassies.

Benefits

In my case, being in Israel and Berlin had the main benefit of being in the European time zone. This helped me test the European market for Speedlancer. I didn’t really have a true goal when I went, other than to see how Speedlancer could fit into a global market, especially in other languages.

Throughout my journey, a couple of other things jumped out. Firstly, in Israel, venture capitalists are more than happy to meet (aka do their research), but they will almost never invest in non-Israeli founders — I’m Jew(ish), and apparently that doesn’t even count!

Secondly, the Israel network really excels with connecting you to founders or founding team members of top startups. They’ve come back to Israel after leaving their previous startups with a wealth of legitimate knowledge to share … and boy do they tell you what they think. Culturally, Israelis tell everything like it is. Omri had warned of this but there’s nothing like an Israeli raising their voice at you and getting really excited about their opinion on a topic.

Obviously, if you’re in cyber or high tech then Israel is also the place to be, with an abundance of super intelligent people. But this tech was way above my pay grade. Another landing pad participant seemed to have some success with their cyber company and the connections Israel afforded.

Other than the clubs, I had an unbelievable experience in Berlin from a business perspective. Here the landing pad manager, Michael Bingel, was unfortunately away during the period I was there (but he gave me plenty of notice and warning about that so it’s totally not his fault). Instead, the Aussie embassy jumped into full swing to support us — a startup! It was a pretty cool experience to have that calibre of government connection on your side. Even if I need connections after the landing pad is over, having those government contacts within international markets will no doubt prove hugely valuable.

I also did plenty of cold emailing to make up for Michael’s departure, and one connection led to another where I found myself in the oldest film studio in the world, Babelsberg. There I was speed dating with government ministers and film directors over lunch at the studio by introduction from the local government’s film industry funding director. I met with studios who worked on blockbuster Hollywood movies who showed some interest in Speedlancer’s Bundles system to deliver large-scale workflows and snippets of work. I’m yet to close one, but that’s only because I left Berlin … so another trip or 10 is in order.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Dr Stephanie Fahey, chief executive of Austrade, during my last week at the landing pad in Berlin. Our product resonated with her right away and she pulled some strings to connect us with one of the big four consultancy firms which panned out pretty well. Again, this is government somehow fighting for private companies.

Important sidenote: I’d like to make a parallel for comparison. I’m currently in Brisbane for the Queensland Government’s HotDesQ grant. Here, the model for introduction relies on private partners (aka co-working spaces) to provide the introductions, and these co-working spaces are paid extra to provide such intros. The model works, but the incentive doesn’t seem to be exactly the same.

There’s something about the cachet that a government connection has that really gets a prospective partner/lead’s attention, and also if the job of the government official is to provide introductions, they will focus on delivering that. I think the landing pad is a perfect example of how well this can work.

Weaknesses

Finally, I’ll end with the weaknesses of the Landing Pad sprogram. There are a few. Again, it’s not funded, so that’s an obvious ‘weakness’, but as I alluded to above I don’t think it needs to include funding because its intention is to help with connections, and it delivers on that well. So, I’ll leave that out. (Oh, and keep an eye out to apply for HotDesQ Queensland’s next batch if you want connections & funding).

The landing pads have such amazing real estate in some pretty sweet locations. They take an office in great co-working spaces … but they don’t actually seem to use that space to its full potential. Everyone loves Australia and loves to see the Aussie government emblem and the Aussie flag in their local co-working space/country. Yet, the landing pad is pretty cut off from the local community. I’d love to see more events that incorporate the community and show off the landing pad and its startups better. This would create some organic networking, as opposed to just relying on the landing pad manager to make introductions when asked. Sometimes in-person/random networking is the way to go!

To be fair, there were a couple of events I had the opportunity to go to. In Israel I was invited to an embassy party for the departure of Dave Sharma who was the Australian Ambassador in Israel. He is a lovely guy, and throws even lovelier parties. I’d love to see some more low-key events at the landing pad spaces too though.

Source: Supplied

Finally, it’d be great if there was more unity between all the landing pads. If they could all work together to help facilitate global introductions, it’d become even more valuable for Australians to support each other to export globally.

Similarly, if the network continued after the end of the program through a Slack channel or otherwise, that’d be superb. This would encourage deeper connection, spark growth, and potentially even contribute to cross-collaboration and partnerships for Australian businesses.

Furthermore, Austrade and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have hundreds of offices globally. Imagine if the landing pads could get broader buy-in and create a system in place to facilitate introductions where Austrade folks and Australian consulates globally feel incentivised to help within their local communities (even where there is no ‘landing pad’)? That’d be a massive, massive accomplishment, which would provide an incredible large impact for companies looking to go global. In addition, this would give Australian startups in any location true access to global connections in hundreds of cities globally.

Summary

I love the concept of connections specifically, even more than the concept of the landing pads themselves. The landing pads are great as a method to facilitate introductions, but I think there may be a way to broaden the network and make it more widely accessible for all startups.

Do the landing pad if you’re considering going global; you really won’t regret it!

This post was first published on Medium and is republished with permission.

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Adam Stone

Adam Stone is the founder of freelancing marketplace Speedlancer.

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