“A sad day”: QUT closes its Creative Enterprise program, as COVID-19 puts pressure on university sector


QUT CEA chief Mark Gustowski. Source: supplied.

Queensland University of Technology is winding down its Creative Enterprise Australia (CEA) program after 12 years, as COVID-19 hits the university sector.

In a statement on Friday, the university said operations will wind-down in late-2020, including planned investments through the program’s Creative Tech Ventures Fund, citing the “major impact” of the coronavirus pandemic.

The health crisis has forced institutions to close their physical campuses, while international students have not been able to enter the country. That loss of university fees has made for a challenging environment across the university sector on a national scale.

QUT is planning to “integrate and consolidate some of CEA’s core activities within the university, reflecting QUT’s priorities for creativity and entrepreneurship”, the statement said.

Speaking to SmartCompany, CEA chief Mark Gustowski noted the university’s QUT Entrepreneurship program and industry engagement groups. These are the areas that will pick up on the work CEA has been doing, he suggests.

“We’re looking forward to a lot of those activities continuing on within the university, rather than within a special-purpose vehicle like CEA,” he says.

“Universities are looking at ways in which they can do a better job at engaging industry at all levels,” he explains.

“Organisations like CEA certainly were very good at engaging with industry right from startups through to large corporates, but we are now seeing groups within universities, like the industry engagement group in QUT, picking up on a lot of those areas.”

A large part of encouraging entrepreneurship among students is in identifying those who have the potential to be successful founders, Gustowski suggests.

“Allowing them to grow as entrepreneurs within syllabus and outside of syllabus, and then having active ways in which students can engage with industry, both at a startup, scaleup or enterprise level, all of those things are very important, and I’m sure all those things will continue,” he explains.

Since the announcement was on Friday, entrepreneurs who have been through the program have been tweeting their support and sharing fond memories.

Entrepreneurship group Startup Toowoomba called it “a sad day” for the Queensland startup ecosystem, “and a disappointing decision for many”.

Taran Cox, founder and chief of Prysim Music, said the CEA team has had “a huge influence on my life [and] the way I view not only the world, but myself too”.

Co-founder of Code Bots Indi Tansey also sang the program’s praises.

“The incredible energy and momentum that @QUTCEA has brought to the Brisbane ecosystem can’t be overstated,” she said.

“The support from our community has been fantastic,” Gustowski says.

“We’ve been pretty overwhelmed … it’s been a real validation of the impactful work we’ve been able to do with QUT,” he adds.

It also proves the work the program has done has been valuable, both the to the university and to the founders it has worked with.

“It’s validated what the university set out to achieve, and it’s validated the matra we ran by, which was always founder first and community first,” Gustowski explains.

“I’m sure that that good work will continue.”

This is however, the latest blow COVID-19 has caused to the Queensland ecosystem. Earlier this month, co-working community Fishburners announced it is closing its Brisbane space, as the economic crisis threatens its financial viability of the co-working model.

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