Australian startups have taken a blow today, as the chief executives of two of the biggest institutions in the country have announced they’re stepping down.
Petra Andrén is leaving her position as chief executive at Cicada Innovations, and Pandora Shelley is departing from her role leading Fishburners.
Andrén has held the chief executive position at Cicada for three years, and has been with the organisation for seven. In April last year, the incubator was named best in the world by the International Business Innovation Association (InBIA), fighting off competition from some 2,200 competitors from across the world.
Speaking to StartupSmart, Andrén says she’s had “a love affair” with Cicada stretching back before she worked there, “which will never stop”.
While she says it may come as a surprise for her to step down while Cicada is in such a good place, she maintains it’s timely, as “the organisation is about to enter its next phase of national expansion”.
She has been discussing the move with the board for some time, she says, and will leave at the end of March, to spend time with her family in Sweden.
“I’m not leaving because I’m in any way disgruntled,” she says. “It’s a good time to leave it to the next person.”
The news comes the same day as startup community and co-working space Fishburners announced Shelley is also stepping down and leaving the country, as she follows an opportunity overseas.
Shelley will also depart her position in March, eight years after she joined the organisation as its first-ever employee.
In a statement, Shelley said the decision to move on wasn’t an easy one.
“Fishburners is like family to me,” she said.
“This has been a very difficult decision. I am leaving to pursue my dream of travelling and working offshore for a period of time.”
Like Andrén, Shelley said she is leaving at a natural transition point for the organisation, as it moves into its next growth phase.
Although Andrén plans to reconnect with her homeland, she tells StartupSmart she intends to return to Australia towards the end of the year.
“I have not decided what I’m going to do next, and I won’t decide until I come back,” she says.
Whatever she does, however, she “will always and forever be a supporter of deep tech”, and hopes to pursue that passion when she returns.
Andrén has also been working closely with the Cicada board to find a replacement for the chief executive position, and is committed to finding “someone who understands science and innovation, and is passionate about deep tech, as well as diversity in tech”, she says.
“I’m jealous of whoever becomes my replacement,” she adds.
“It’s a great place.”
Andrén has achieved a lot of what she set out to achieve with Cicada, she says, turning it into “a home for deep tech”.
In the past, startups tended to be lumped into “one bucket”, and one of Andrén’s biggest challenges was to differentiate deep-tech and science-based ventures.
She set out to “sharpen the value proposition and focus on science innovation,” she says, addressing the specific needs of science innovation startups, including infrastructure, access to talent, and long-term support.
“We’ve developed a model to commercialise research out of the universities and to support science and innovation,” she says.
“Now I don’t have to bang on about it, it’s just being recognised,” she adds.
“That’s something I’m so happy about.”
That said, there are areas in the startup space that could still use improvement.
There are still “very few voices” in the startup industry, Andrén says.
We need more diversity, and “not just gender diversity”, she adds.
“There are always two or three people we always hear from — there needs to be more.”
And there’s also still a divide between the major cities, which Andrén still doesn’t quite understand.
“I was quite shocked by that when I started, and I’m still trying to get my head around why that is,” she says.
There’s a lot of competition between startup hubs, “where there shouldn’t be”, she says.
Andrén is by no means out of the Aussie startup space yet, and she has some parting advice for budding deep-tech, science and innovation startups: to reach out to the startup community, and to learn from others.
“Seek out a community of like-minded people,” she says.
There was a time when being a startup founder was “a lonely place”, she adds.
“But it doesn’t have to be.”
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