Startup News & Analysis

Former fighter pilot and new SA chief entrepreneur says startup founders should be hailed as “heroes”

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien /

New South Australian chief entrepreneur Jim Whalley. Source: Supplied.

New South Australian chief entrepreneur Jim Whalley. Source: Supplied.

The South Australian Government has appointed its inaugural chief entrepreneur, and he’s set to hit the ground running in his bid to champion startup founders in the state.

Jim Whalley, co-founder of tech-focused professional service and defence company Nova Group and former fighter pilot, will be supported by a new office of the chief entrepreneur and an entrepreneurship advisory board.

The board will take over the services currently provided by TechinSA, South Australia’s startup support agency, which will be wound down.

Also, the role of chief innovator, currently held by Tom Hajdu, will be phased out.

Speaking to StartupSmart, Whalley says while he wasn’t involved in the decision to make the changes, it’s a new approach to economic growth that’s reflective of an evolution in the South Australian startup and entrepreneurism space.

Innovation is an “important and fundamental component,” he says, but in terms of “turning innovations into commercial outcomes,” that’s where entrepreneurship comes in, he says.

In the new role, Whalley will focus on creating a business-friendly environment that’s supportive for entrepreneurs, making sure young business people have the skills to grow a business from concept through creation to a stage where they’re profitable.

“Young entrepreneurs should be heroes,” he says.

“They’re putting their savings on the line and making an effort to create jobs and create wealth.”

In the same way we support athletes, entrepreneurs should “get a bit of kudos with it,” he says.

Challenges in the state that he intends to address include developing the venture capital industry to bring it in line with what’s available in the likes of Sydney and Melbourne, and encouraging people to invest as a “social thing”.

“There’s a lot of wealth [in South Australia] — money sitting in bank accounts, not doing a lot.”

If people realise the opportunities of startup investment and try to support the startup community, “if we do it really well, we all gain”, he says — not only in South Australia, but in the country as a whole.

“I would like to see the Australian pie getting bigger,” he says.

Whalley maintains that South Australia is already “a great place to start a business”, with good universities and support from “government of all persuasions”, he says.

There are “a few things we need to tweak”, he says, but “we can start changing entrepreneurship in the state”.

South Australia is already a hub for defence, space and biotech startups, as well as boasting “world-class universities doing world-class work”, he adds.

Equally, Adelaide in particular is a relatively small city, making networking much easier for founders.

Whalley advises early-stage startups in the state to get out and about, meeting as many people as possible, not only for the sake of winning customers, but “for the sake of learning the lessons,” he says.

“Be enthusiastic, be positive … get out there, participate in the ecosystem,” he says, “and support your entrepreneurial mates.”

The government is open to meeting and supporting new founders, and there are plenty of ministers and business people willing to share their wisdom — and in some cases, their own mistakes.

“We’ve got the best beer and wine in the country,” he adds.

“How can you possibly not network with that?”

NOW READ: Ed-tech startup Intersective secures $90,000 grant from SA government to give international students a foot in the door

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Stephanie Palmer-Derrien

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien is a reporter at StartupSmart.

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