Recent research claimed that Australian culture stifles the entrepreneurial spirit. If Australia is to capitalise on its natural advantages in this ‘Asian Century’ what role will entrepreneurship play? Samantha Fossey spoke to a entrepreneurial student at the Faculty and attended a recent ‘Meet the Founder’ lecture to get one expert’s opinion on Australia’s entrepreneurial spirit.
48 hours to create a company and pitch it to the established business men. That was the daunting challenge of Greg Weissberg, a Bachelor of Commerce student at the Faculty, who triumphed in a student Hackathon that posed this challenge to him and his teammates. Weissberg and his teammates came up with the idea of Meet & Run and got firm approval from notable members of the Melbourne tech start-up scene.
“The Hackathon was the best experience I had, with regard to entrepreneurship, as it was my first real practical experience” he says. The essence of entrepreneurship is about identifying a shared problem and generating ideas to solve this problem through a start up. Having the flexibility to do so is what drives Greg to be an entrepreneur. “You have a give and take relationship with every single person and that’s why I really want to be an entrepreneur, to accomplish that. You don’t have control, but that’s the last thing I want – I prefer the team mentality” he says “I recognise that I need help from people and I see value in whoever I talk to, which is what entrepreneurship is about”.
Weissberg says that entrepreneurship in Melbourne is in a state of growth. Having lived in Belgium, America and now Canada, he recognises that “it is a very tiny entrepreneurship community wherever you are but you’re seeing more people becoming involved”.
The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor identifies Australia as showing comparably strong early-stage entrepreneurial activity, on par with the USA and Netherlands however in terms of individual components, such as innovation capacity and sophistication of business, Australia does not rank highly.
A recent reportby Dr Fiona Wood, from the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, argues that there are “missing links” between the tertiary, public and business sectors that counter the development of start ups in Australia. Weissberg agrees and argues that the barriers to start up entry are relatively low however the very nature of entrepreneurship isn’t naturally cohesive with higher education.
“It’s important that universities realise that entrepreneurship doesn’t necessarily mean anything because entrepreneurs are contrary to the corporate world and learning is the result of self-taught, practical experiences” he says.
This is one of the core challenges that universities face. According to Dr Wood, entrepreneurial thinking is not properly embedded in Australian tertiary education systems. Yet, the very nature of entrepreneurship suggests that it is something that can’t be ‘taught’.
The lack of international experience of graduates is another factor highlighted in Dr Woods report. Weissberg suggests that gaining experience overseas is of greater value if graduates learn in areas with strong infrastructure, knowledge and promising economic conditions. The Faculty reinforces this need through providing global opportunities such as Student Exchange and the Global Business Practicum.
A similar argument was noted by Ruslan Kogan, founder of Kogan, at his recent ‘Meet the Founder’ lecture at the University of Melbourne. He reinforced the need, also identified by Dr Wood, for Australia to leverage the entrepreneurial potential of immigrants through policy change. Kogan suggested that immigrants develop start-ups far from their home country and have no fear of the unknown which is often why they are so successful. Greg agrees, “While I’m in Australia I feel free to attempt new things and put my ideas into action because failing doesn’t mean anything really. In Canada, I never had the courage to really do anything about my ideas”.
Student Entrepreneurs Inc. are holding their semester two Launch Event on Tuesday 31st July from 12pm onwards in the Elizabeth Murdoch building. The event gives interested students the opportunity to meet like-minded peers and learn more about what it means to be an entrepreneur.