Over the past four years, our company theSPACE Cairns, which has now grown to a team of five staff members – has been working with key strategic partners to build a startup and innovation ecosystem in Far North Queensland. The model is designed to fit the needs of our own region, but is also being developed as a replicable and sustainable model that can be “exported” and applied to other regional areas in Australia and beyond. Although no “one size fits all” approach is possible (or desirable, given the different opportunities possible in each unique region), we have identified fundamental concepts that apply to most regions and can be customised as needed.
Our model recognizes that building a startup and innovation ecosystem in a regional area is fundamentally different than in a large city. Regions lack the density and diversity of people and industry, so spending large amounts of money on hard infrastructure is often a waste of resources.
The foundation of our approach is based on coaching and consulting through champions that also drive the ecosystem and the engagement of key stakeholders (Figure 1). This approach developed organically through our efforts in Cairns, where we fulfilled the roles of champions and coaches through our efforts to create our regional startup and innovation ecosystem. Now, we are applying this approach to train local “startup and innovation coaches” to catalyze and drive the development of new ecosystems in other regions of Australia. In a regional setting, this approach has several advantages:
1. It requires little startup capital because it is focused on “soft infrastructure” ie: building the ecosystem and a culture of entrepreneurship.
2. Champion’s create an income from the development of the ecosystem, so the approach is self-sustaining. However, the coaching and consulting income should be considered a medium-term supplement that allows them to work on their own high-growth, scalable ideas in the meantime. Ideally, champions are replaced over time as their own startups eventually flourish.
3. The ecosystem is driven by members of the local community.
4. Regions can customize the approach to develop their own brand.
5. Champions are trained in the fundamental principles of entrepreneurship (e.g., agile planning, establishing core assumptions, building minimum viable products), validating assumptions, and repeating this learning process.
6. When a person’s core business comes from within the ecosystem, they are sufficiently motivated to develop that ecosystem. This involves building relationships with key stakeholders, running programs, and offering events.
7. The champion organises and runs programs and events, and offers consultations and coaching programs. Thus, the approach builds capacity in the region as more and more people develop effective entrepreneurial skills. Mentors still play a substantial and essential role, but the champion teaches a specialised process to guide entrepreneurs through the commercialisation runway.
Figure 1. Priority interactions with key stakeholders as startups move through the “runway” to commercialisation
We invite you to get in touch today to see how we can help your region.