School of hard knocks is in session

Margaret Lim

Bolstering the startup ecosystem through practical mentoring is more critical than setting up a school dedicated to creating entrepreneurs, says venture capitalist and entrepreneur Anthony Glenning from Starfish Ventures.

“I think it’s generally valuable to all would-be entrepreneurs, but it does come down to what classes, courses or mentoring is provided,” said Mr Glenning who is Investor Director at Starfish Ventures. “As long as entrepreneurs find it valuable, I’m all in favour. The more we help the ecosystem, the better.”

Last week, the NSW Government has announced $25 million in funding for the establishment of a Sydney School of Entrepreneurship (SSE), a joint venture between NSW universities and TAFE NSW, to place NSW at the epicentre of entrepreneurship in the Asia Pacific region.

The school will bring together some 1,000 high performing students from all disciplines to learn, collaborate and experiment as part of their undergraduate degree or TAFE course. They will also receive the practical training, support and mentoring they need to kick-start innovative businesses, and further promote a culture of entrepreneurialism in NSW.

“We want to help create a critical mass of informed, dynamic and enthusiastic professionals with the practical skills required to thrive as an entrepreneur,” NSW Treasurer Gladys Berejiklian said.

“The SSE will foster the emergence of small innovative companies with the potential for rapid growth – and that means job creation.”

As a former entrepreneur, Mr Glenning believes that a thriving ecosystem comprising of successful entrepreneurs, role models and mentors will inject inspiration and creativity into the startup scene and support an innovative and entrepreneurial mindset.

Mr Glenning himself founded a company—Tonic Systems developed software for creating and managing presentations online and was acquired by Google in 2007, where he worked for the next two years within the Google Docs team.

As an investor, he said he placed more emphasis on experience over a “piece of paper” (although there is nothing wrong with getting qualified.)

“I wouldn’t directly value these skills. Just like I don’t really value high school grades. But presumably there’s a correlation between these credentials and starting more successful businesses,” Mr Glenning said.

“But I don’t need to judge that – I look at the business/founder in front of me. The question is what are they doing now – what problem are they solving, what’s their solution, how much traction do they have,” he said.

Mr Glenning agreed that aspiring entrepreneurs need to build up the basic skills that have nothing to do with solving the business problem at hand, ‘because getting this fundamental knowledge wrong would be detrimental to the business,’ Mr Glenning says.

These basic skills include how to read term sheet of investors, general ledger and GAAP reports, and other business and financial metrics, which can be taught in the classroom.

While the SSE would play a key role in fostering collaboration and use the expertise within Australia’s world-class universities across a range of disciplines, Mr Glenning pointed out that entrepreneurs also tend to be risk takers who think outside the box, and are creative and ‘inspired’.

“Good students will probably make good entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates; but Scott McNealy [Founder of Sun Microsystems] wasn’t great academically,” said Mr Glenning.

The SSE is a step in the right direction, but having successful people who have been down the same path, who can inspire and mentor budding entrepreneurs and being able to immerse in an environment where one is not afraid to try new ideas and fail, are key factors for consideration in encouraging an innovative culture.

This ecosystem will take time to build up, and only time will tell if we will transform and be more than the country of the lucky.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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