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Don’t be afraid to change the world: Aussie startups urged to dream bigger as Singularity University comes to APAC

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien /

Singularity University

Singularity University's Jeremy Liddle. Source: Supplied.

Singularity University’s Global Startup Program — the Silicon Valley program for ventures striving to make change on a global scale — is heading to APAC, with programs set to launch in Singapore and Australia.

Conceived by inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil and engineer entrepreneur Peter Diamandis, Singularity University is a community focused on using technology to change things for the better, at scale, in line with the UN’s sustainable development goals.

Its Global Startup Program supports entrepreneurs with big visions, and having just run its first cohort outside of Silicon Valley, in Copenhagen, it’s now launching in the APAC region.

The latest startup program is headed up by co-founder of Aussie VC firm Capital Pitch Jeremy Liddle.

Speaking to StartupSmart, Liddle says he set up Capital Pitch to manage impact investment funds, with a focus on delivering above-market returns from startups making social impact.

But the fund has been Australia-focused, and Liddle sees this as an opportunity to go bigger.

“I never launched Capital Pitch just to work out of Australia. I always wanted to be doing work globally,” he says.

“And the APAC region is super exciting.”

The APAC arm of the startup program will see two cohorts, one in Singapore and one in Australia, each supporting up to 20 startups per year. Participants will spend four weeks in face-to-face training, before flying to NASA in Silicon Velley for another month of training “on the ground”.

They will also connect to a global network of mentors and advisors, Liddle explains.

“There are mentors and investors all over the world on the connect platform.”

A billion people

The aim here is to take Aussie scale-ups and help them to grow on a global scale, while staying local.

“The goal is not to take them out of Australia so that they move, the goal is to give them the support they need so they can stay here,” Liddle says.

“The mission is to grow the talent locally and inject the Silicon Valley experience and investment into companies,” he adds.

Startups may not have everything figured out before they join the program, “but the ambition definitely has to be global”, Liddle says.

The experience is intended to help founders glean knowledge from the experts, exposing them to the global community, and to help them raise money from both international and Australian investors.

Each company should be “impacting the lives of a billion people”, Liddle adds.

“You can’t do that if you’re just staying in Australia.”

The program is looking for deep-tech startups, specifically in artificial intelligence, quantum computing, nano-biotech, robotics, bionics and automation.

In Australia and throughout Asia, “we have pockets of excellence in a lot of these,” Liddle explains.

“But a lot of these cutting-edge technologies are still in the research stage,” he adds.

According to Liddle, Australia is a particularly interesting market, as it has some world-leading technologies in development, “but we’re a tiny population”.

He calls the Australian economy “dangerously big”.

“You can build a reasonable company here without necessarily going global.”

However, there are opportunities right on Australia’s doorstep. Asia has the fastest-growing middle class in the world, Liddle points out.

“A lot of Aussie companies, when they do think about global expansion, go to the US and the UK,” he says,

“That’s great, they’re interesting markets, but Asia is where the growth is.”

“If you want to scale these kinds of technologies, and if you want to impact the vast majority of the global population, Asia is the place to go.”

Don’t be afraid to be bold

In fact, for Liddle, the biggest thing holding Australian startups back is a reluctance to think big. He says he’s seen a lot of “light technology” emerging: apps, consumer technology and marketplaces.

“That’s great, but I think people need to think about solving bigger problems that are actually going to make a difference,” he says.

There is “amazing innovation” going on in Australia, and this should be commercialised and turned into real businesses, “rather than it sitting in research labs or universities, sitting under wraps”, Liddle says.

However, to do this, we need a more mature investment ecosystem “that understands how long the returns cycle is on this kind of technology”, he adds.

“You can’t just invest in a pre-IPO and flip it in 18 to 24 months … you need really patient capital that understands deep tech or is willing to invest in it.”

The Australian capital markets are moving in this direction, with more and more investors understanding that in the deep-tech space, patience is key, but there is still more to learn, Liddle says.

However, there’s also a misconception that when investing in impact companies, you’re sacrificing returns.

“It’s the opposite. Impact companies should scale up to deliver above-market returns, and the research supports this,” he says.

“The capital market is moving that way in the rest of the world,” he adds.

Liddle’s advice for aspiring Aussie startup founders is simply to dream bigger.

“People shouldn’t be afraid to have bold visions,” he says.

“The Australian mindset is quite conservative and quite reserved by default, and I think that’s getting better, but it needs to change.”

A founder who thinks on a global scale can inspire their employees, and potential investors, Liddle says. But only if they’re prepared to follow through.

“Don’t be afraid to say you’re going to change the world but don’t say it lightly. Be willing to do the work for 10 or 20 years to make it happen.”

NOW READ: “May you power the world”: Aussie blockchain startup Power Ledger wins Richard Branson’s Extreme Tech Challenge 2018

NOW READ: Want to get a VC’s attention? Start thinking big, says Right Click Capital’s Benjamin Chong

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Stephanie Palmer-Derrien

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien is the editor at StartupSmart. You can contact her at [email protected].

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