This summer, something very interesting has been developing quietly in the Manning building of the University of Sydney. When exams finished at the end of November 2012, the campus fell silent and the usual hordes of students parading down the main boulevard, Eastern Avenue, all but disappeared. The only people left on campus? Some academic staff, the few summer school students and the 8 Incubate teams.
Incubate is a student-entrepreneur program founded by Sydney University students James Alexander and Mina Nada. Incubate runs on a model similar to Silicon Valley accelerator Y Combinator in that a cash grant is offered to seed-level startups and intensive work is done over what is almost a 3 month period. The program was created out of the desire to provide support for university students who were looking to start their own business.
Winning applicants of the Incubate program received a $5,000 grant which is not attached to equity, working space on campus for 11 weeks from December to February, and mentoring from Australian entrepreneurs such as Matt Barie of freelancer.com, Matt Byrne of curicon.com and Nikki Durkin of 99dresses.com.
Incubate joins the likes of Sydney University’s own Genesis program (started in 2008) and Melbourne’s Accelerator Program (started in 2012) to provide needed student entrepreneur support. Similar to the StartX program at Stanford, these programs are aimed at fostering growth in aspiring entrepreneurs early. And early is definitely a good thing. Entrepreneurs need to start flearning as early as possible.
Everyone in the startup community has experienced some degree of failure at some point, but with an average entrepreneur age of 33.43 in the Sydney ecosystem, these failures (and learnings, the important part!) could come earlier. Youth is definitely a more flexible demographic in that they have less obligations and so can commit more to a business and they also have a higher tolerance towards the calculated risks required to build a startup. Also young people are less likely to have subscribed to dominant industry frameworks i.e. they have a fresh mind which is ready to absorb new knowledge. However it can also be said that young people aren’t prone to focus as much as adults that have had more experience in a given field.
Either way, the startup community is taking notice of young entrepreneurs and are keen to support them. VenueMob and 121cast are two businesses which have come out of the Melbourne Accelerator Program and successfully raised $450,000 and $250,000 respectively through Optus Innov8. The latter was co-invested by Adventure Capital from Melbourne.
The efforts of programs such as Incubate will assist in fostering the culture of entrepreneurship in Australia. Sydney is Australia’s largest startup hub, being 55% larger than Melbourne and so Incubate and it’s startups are definitely well placed to grow and gain support from the industry and peers. Hopefully this support leads to as many flearnings as possible as early as possible.
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