It’s been 10 years since I first googled the term #startup. I was working as an IT business analyst for a company in Sydney when the software developer I was working with mentioned his cousin had got into Startmate.
We were on the final sprint of a software release and were working late into the night. We stopped for a pizza break and he pulled up the pitch videos from the first Startmate cohort. As I watched, I felt this strange stirring inside me. “This is what we need to be doing on the Gold Coast!”.
For 2 years I had been living on the Gold Coast, working from home and commuting to Sydney for work, and I wasn’t the only one. The 6am Virgin flight to Sydney was always full of smart, talented people, raising families in what I think is the most beautiful and vibrant city in Australia but earning their income from elsewhere.
We needed to be creating these high scale, technology based businesses on the Gold Coast to create the executive and knowledge rich jobs that were missing from the city.
When I returned from that trip I was driven. A person that had always been very happy working quietly and diligently within an IT department, I found myself actively reaching out to government, industry and into the community to try and find the people, programs and places that we would need to start building support for startups in the city.
I also found myself tirelessly researching other cities and startup ecosystems to learn from their experiences. I started volunteering my time to run events and to raise awareness of the programs, initiatives and support that was available to help people wanting to start a globally scalable business – and where there were no programs or support services, I began creating them.
A year or so after my obsession with startups began, a book was released by Brad Feld: Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City. It is still, in my mind, the greatest playbook for an effective startup ecosystem and one that I revisit all of the time.
The Gold Coast now has a thriving startup community, and everything that I have observed over the past 10 years of helping to foster the Gold Coast ecosystem is written on the pages of the Startup Communities book – the cycles of support from government and education sectors as innovation and technology go in and out of focus, new players, old players, times of extreme growth, times of new grassroots activity. It makes every new phase feel familiar to me.
While the ecosystem shifts and moves with the times, it is navigated by leaders that embrace these 4 key attributes that are outlined in the book. I wholehearted believe that these behaviours are the key to supporting innovative and creative communities and I work hard to embody them and to bestow them on new leaders that emerge.
Be inclusive. Anyone should be able to participate in the startup community, regardless of experience, background, education, gender, ethnicity – none of that matters. As a leader of the community, your responsibility is to stand at the gate and ensure the door is open to anyone. Leaders should act as an ecosystem chaperone, introducing newcomers or visitors to relevant events and a handful of key individuals. Leaders should also nurture and make room for the next generation of leaders.
Play a non-zero-sum game. So many people approach human and business relationships as a zero-sum game— you either win or you lose. Startup communities will never thrive under this style of thinking. Everyone must embrace the notion of increasing returns— the more you contribute the more everyone gains. It’s a key principle the GC Hub was founded on “The sharing of knowledge makes knowledge greater.”
Be mentorship driven. Give to others so that we all may learn and grow. Embrace multi level mentoring – leaders mentoring future leaders, leaders mentoring startup founders and startup founders mentoring and supporting each other. Always lead by example.
Have porous boundaries. Be open — Startup community leaders should talk with one another, share strategies, relationships, ideas, and resources. Individuals who come and go should be embraced and welcomed back when they return.