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What do startups have on their 2018 wishlist?

Better access to international talent. The continued democratisation of tech. More startups with global ambitions. Less innovation ‘tire kicking’ from government. Less tall poppy syndrome. More incentives for investors to back seed-stage ventures. More opportunities for female founders and entrepreneurial university students.

These are just some of the things startups would like to see come to fruition in 2018, according to a line-up of 18 thought leaders. Read on for their full thoughts…

Julie Demsey, General Manager, SBE Australia: “Australia needs more female founders, more female founders getting funded, less unconscious bias and more stories celebrating the successes female founders are having with their businesses.

“There also needs to be more talk about the importance of life balance and taking care of oneself. Founders cannot take good care of their business and continue to drive innovation if they are not first looking after themselves.

“We need to continue to improve on the quality of programs and support given to startups to help them succeed, focusing on solid startups that are growing and sustaining that growth, even if they are not looking like they will make Unicorn status.”

Mark Gustowski, Acting CEOQUT Creative Enterprise Australia: “In 2018, we’d like to see more Australian tech companies expanding their reach on a global scale. For startups to reach their full growth potential they need to be able to scale up and quickly abroad. To achieve this, we need to see Australian startups connecting with global networks.

“But before startups chase growth, they need to be in the right position for it. Firstly their product needs to fit the market and secondly they need to have the right people and resources to grow. There’s no point chasing growth if you don’t have the capacity to cope with it. We help many start-ups learn these fundamental steps from the get-go, so they can achieve optimal growth.

“To further improve the startup scene in Australia, we need greater access to the international talent pool and a higher calibre of angel investors too. The recent changes to visa laws makes this quite difficult, but in order for young companies to achieve global success, we need access to world-class talent.”

Marissa Senzaki, Head of Talent, Weploy: “There needs to be a shift towards Australia having a more global outlook. There’s quite a big competition nationally, with each state trying to be the destination place for tech and startups. Meanwhile, these startups are not growing up. The biggest complaint I receive from entrepreneurs, is that they do not have anyone to seek guidance from. They get stuck in an echo chamber and view leaving the country to gain more experience as a key to success. We need to open up our borders more. I’d like the world to shift from seeing foreigners as a threat to job security, and as the potential for job diversification and creation”.

Tony Wu, Co-founder, Weploy: Due to competition and lack of talent locally we recently hired some strong international talent. To do this was an extremely costly affair, so we would love to see a set of unique visa laws that apply only to startups, which will grant us better access to talent.

Karen Lawson, CEO, Slingshot: “We have seen different levels of commitment to the startup ecosystem across state and federal governments and we would like to see further improvement across the board, not only for early stage startups but for scaleups too. Scaleups are responsible for close to half of all new job creation and with increasing concerns around automation and under-unemployment, supporting these growth areas is essential.

“In 2018, we’d also like to see greater levels of funding including regional programs. Access to grants has enabled Slingshot to run corporate accelerator programs in regional NSW and Queensland. With more funding, we can have a far greater impact by providing more areas with access to funding, education, mentoring and customers.

“Over the last year in particular, we have seen the impact of corporate accelerators, and platforms such as CoVentured.com, which create an essential bridge between corporate Australia and emerging businesses. Corporates have scale, customers and resources which startups and scaleups can leverage to achieve growth and drive innovation across the economy. However, financial support for startups isn’t enough as they can quickly run out of funding – they need access to customers and the ability to scale quickly if we are to really see step changes in our ecosystem.”

 Robert Read, CEO, MedAdvisor: “We would like to see more investment and support for tech companies and startups who are at the centre of the convenience economy. Our user growth since the start of 2016 – from around 100,000 users to 925,000 – proves that consumers are looking more and more to technology to save them time and we’d like to see more encouragement for increased convenience and access. In a world where you can use your phone to track your food delivery, get from A to B at the drop of a hat, it’s astonishing that there are still some sectors that are behind.

“For example, the health and pharmacy sectors have been slower to embrace technology than other sectors, and a large part of that is due to industry fragmentation. People are leading busy lives and they’re tired of waiting 15 minutes every time they go to the pharmacy. There needs to be a committed push to tackle this from all stakeholders, because at the moment the companies that are trying to simplify the barriers to technology are being held up by red tape and archaic approaches to technology.”

James Alexander, Co-founder, Galileo Ventures: “The amount of entrepreneurial activity at the moment surprises me in a good way. I think Australia is probably one of the fastest growing startup sectors in the world – how we capitalise on this momentum and harness it to build on our strengths is a key question for us as a country.

“We need to start thinking about the long-term competitiveness and health of the startup ecosystem, beyond brand name events and meet-ups. That’s why next year I want to see more universities taking student entrepreneurship seriously and providing meaningful support options for students and researchers who want to take the startup plunge. This applies to both student startups and researchers who want to commercialise their high-value research – supporting our next generation of entrepreneurs needs to be a number one priority for the Government and the business community.

“I’d also like to see more programs take up ‘resident entrepreneurs’ whom have real experience in founding, scaling and ‘exiting’ (trade sale or public offering) of a business and sit alongside startup programs on campus. Entrepreneurs who have the full experience of running a business successfully are invaluable to shaping and guiding a community of new entrepreneurs.

“I want to see less professional ‘startup consultants’ and digital agencies parading around as startup shops or ‘tech cofounders’ for hire. The reality is, founders rarely need or can afford consultants in the early stages and the best co-founders are working alongside you not contracted at an hourly rate.”

Creel Price, Co-founder, Investible: “Investors need to work towards accommodating a company’s biggest asset – the founders. Not only will this boost the ecosystem overall, it’s also of benefit to the investor as founder friendly terms go a long way in keeping founders motivated.

“I’ve been encouraged by growth in the Australian startup sector…but next year I want to see even more ambition from entrepreneurs. In any given week, we might have 100 businesses pitch to us and by far the biggest disservice they do to themselves is not demonstrating how they’re going to start local and go global.”

“Governments need to stop innovation tire kicking – all words and announcements with little substance or follow through. Similarly, I want 2018 to be the year corporates stop using startups to build up their own profile, and start working with entrepreneurs in a spirit of true collaboration.”

Michael Jankie, CEO, Powered Local: “In 2018, we will see the democratisation of tech. We’ll start to see the high tech digital tools usually exclusively available to corporates being implemented in small to medium enterprises across the country. Offline businesses will no longer be offline – they will be connected bricks & mortar. Cafes, bars, barbers and retailers are going to get their savvy on and start surfing the digital waves of data analysis, personalisation, automation and the utilisation of digital tools to enhance physical interactions.

“Blockchain adoption will come also come into play for businesses. The Blockchain is the tool that takes ownership away from big corporations and gives it back to the people. Consumers are sick of every cafe, hairdresser and any other business offering clunky rewards and loyalty programs. Blockchain will replace the outdated technology and enable the creation of (de)centralised platforms that can tie your identity and loyalty positions into one global, free, application. This will allow gift-cards, cash back, vouchers to be blended into one application that is guaranteed to be accurate and work.”

Gerard Healy, Co-founder & Managing Director, Titlexchange: “I’d like to see tall poppy syndrome stamped out once and for all. Australians just don’t foster taking the leap of faith like other countries do, and equally make founders feel ashamed if their venture doesn’t succeed. This environment really impacts the startup ecosystem and strangles innovation. I hope 2018 is the year we all recognise that failure is a critical ingredient to progressing forward and that encouraging people to ‘have a go’ without trying to belittle will only encourage local innovation and prosperity.

“Too often, opportunities for cross pollination are missed because emerging businesses are worried about sharing their IP. It would be great if 2018 could foster a greater sense of trust and respect in the startup community.

“While we’ve made some headway in standardising and digitising services across the country, I’d like to see more resources focused on integrating and streamlining processes in both the public and private sector. Not only would this require greater collaboration between corporates, government bodies and startups, it would require true collaboration between startups themselves.”

Joel Robbie, Co-founder & CEO, Nod (financial advice): “What do we want to see more of? I think the thing startups most want to see is more incentives for investors to back startups at the Seed Round stage. There is a great market for Series A capital in Australia now and some amazing accelerator programs but we still have work to do on the bit in between which can be precarious for many companies. Tax incentives for investors that reward them for investing earlier in a company’s life cycle are probably a good place to start a discussion.

“The second thing I personally would like to see is more women in tech. I totally believe that having a diverse workplace means better outcomes for everyone so I’d like to see the government and the private sector take steps to pave the way for more women joining and founding tech companies.

“What do we want to see less of? Startup founders want to see less restriction on overseas talent coming to work here and build innovative businesses. If you want to build the best technology businesses in the world then you need access to the best technical talent in the world. We have some amazing people here but it’s a small market overall and startups can’t afford to wait for months and months for the right talent to come along. They need access to a wider pool of talent and get them working on building a great company as quickly as possible.”

“What can we improve on from this year for next year? Roll back 457 visa restrictions for technology related roles. Open up the market for talent. Investment into startups at the Seed Round stage through investor incentives.”

James McKinnon, Founder, Sittr & Creator, VCDundee: “I want to see more startups with tech- and design-focused founders. Having this focus gives a startup a serious competitive advantage in terms of the quality of product and how quickly you can iterate to address customer needs.

“While the barriers to building an MVP (minimum viable product) have become ultra-low, the barriers to building a sustainable business have expanded exponentially as there is way more competition for customers and capital. You will need to push product updates daily so you’ll be seriously disadvantaged if you’ve fully outsourced your tech and design teams. Most Aussie startups will eventually fail for this reason, even if they do manage to raise some capital.

“I also want to see Aussie founders attack bigger markets and develop new business models to solve global problems. It’s 2018 – if you’re planning to launch an ‘Uber for X’ you’re about 7 years too late to the game and if you have identified a market where an “Uber for” solution doesn’t exist yet, it’s likely because a handful of companies have already tried and failed.”

Jeremy Duffield, Co-founder & Chairman, SuperEd: The Australian fintech scene is creating some real dynamism, hope of change and better outcomes in financial services.  We’re seeing a real pickup in super fund interest in digital advice, driven by the need to expand availability of advice for members.  Super funds are either in exploration of RFPs for digital advice or issuing RFPs for it so that’s encouraging. Funds recognise they need to compete for members in an evolving world of personalised digital service in other industries.

“That sets consumer expectations.  Established firms need to innovate to stay competitive but usually don’t want to get into the invention phase. Fintech firms, which are founded on the concept of innovation for advantage, bring a natural complementary focus to more established firms which are often encumbered by legacy systems and procedures.

“Not surprisingly, new capabilities are running ahead of regulation.  We regularly see instances of regulatory obstacles to better service for consumers.  One example is in the provision of retirement income forecasts, which are subject to peculiar restrictions on what can be provided under general advice vs personal advice rules. Also, in the recent CIPR (Comprehensive Income Product for Retirement) consultation, the Treasury’s view of ‘mass customisation’ equating to standardisation, and not mass personalisation, was strange to see.”

Philippe Odouard, Chief Executive, Xtek: “The federal government took a step in the right direction for small companies when it capped the size and length of IT procurement projects. This gives smaller companies in the tech space a shot at winning deals.

“What many startups need is their first deal, their launch customer. I’d like to see the government identify which departments would benefit from using startup services and encouraging them to sign ‘first deals’.”

Bane Hunter, Executive Chairman, GetSwift: “A better regulatory structure to protect early stage companies and founders from unscrupulous incubators/accelerators. Ideally a free service where founders can seek guidance to determine if what’s on offer is fair and how it ranks overall. Too often founders don’t have access to proper legal or business advice. A public scorecard would keep shenanigans to a minimum. Let’s enable growth where growth is fostered, not taken advantage of at the earliest and most vulnerable stages.”

Mike Pritchett, CEO, Shootsta: “The reason I love tech, and the reason I love the way the current generation thinks, is that we see a system, an industry, a process and we refuse to go along with “that’s the way it’s always been done” thinking.

“We question it, we fight with it, we rip it apart and, due to the advancements in technology, we’re able to build it back up a million times smoother and more efficient than it has ever been.

“Take the FinTech industry and how it has revolutionised loans, for example. When I applied for a loan with a bank I’d been with for 15 years, they gave me 20 pages of questions and required reams of paperwork, then told me it would take four weeks to process. A fintech provider used my login details, sucked out all of the information they needed, and had the funds in my account by 11:59pm that night!

“What I look forward to in 2018 and onwards is seeing more and more innovative ways to do away with clunky, outdated systems, the organisations that hold onto them so dearly. Our children will laugh at the very concept of the written signature, yet somehow, it’s still considered the most sacred form of identification. Hello Blockchain; goodbye antiquated and inconvenient systems!”

Steve Orenstein, Founder & CEO, Zoom2U:

“It seems like every other day, there’s another allegation of sexual harassment and impropriety in the entertainment industry. The media spotlight on this issue has given victims the courage to stand up and be heard, and it’s my hope that this collective backlash will trickle through to the business world. Let’s not forget the various instances of sexual harassment in the startup industry that were reported earlier this year. As business leaders, it’s our responsibility to create a positive corporate culture that’s respectful and supportive of both genders equally.”

Wes Sonnenreich, Co-CEO, Intersective: “In 2018, we want to see more students doing project work and internships for start-ups. Investors and mentors should coach start-ups into building a talent pipeline sooner rather than later by engaging with universities and other educators that offer project-based learning opportunities. For students, start-ups provide more opportunities to work directly with influential business leaders on real-world projects.

“Startups often are under pressure to hire employees with advanced skills who can be productive immediately. They can struggle to see value investing time into students who are still developing skills and not immediately employable. But as a start-up who has built much of its team this way, we know that the return-on-investment three to four years down the track is incredible. By adopting a grassroots approach to hiring and taking students onboard from a tertiary level through to graduation, we end up with appreciative employees who have real-world skills that are perfectly tailored to our business.

“We want to see more companies fostering talented individuals as they come through the education system, as early as secondary school and continuing throughout life. The old-school practice of hiring university graduates through annual recruitment doesn’t align with the nimble ethos of most start-ups. Looking at an individual’s learning experiences and the real skills they’ve actually gained, is a greater way of assessing an individual’s abilities.”

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James Harkness

James Harkness

James Harnkess previous editor at Dynamic Business

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