There’s a lot of buzz in the startup space about embracing failure, a concept I believe is largely click-bait for the bigger issue of resiliency. I’ve got a lot to say about resiliency in the face of hardship and tragedy. Maybe another time as that’s not what this post is about. Nor is this post about failure. This post is about experiments, learning, and evolving. With that as context, it is with mixed feelings that I am announcing my departure from SPARK BUREAU.
Glenn, Tony and I started this conversation over 2 years ago with the premise that innovation and entrepreneurship on the Coast needed coordinated activation and that the community was best suited to drive that activation in the form of a not-for-profit. I went back and looked at the original pitch deck I created in May 2015 and can see that our stated mission was to “maximize the economic and social impact of innovation on the Sunshine Coast”. We also believed that ‘game changing’ infrastructure projects on the Coast would serve as a platform for innovation across a range of industries and that innovative companies could be attracted to come here and test new products and services.
Again, from the pitch deck, we sought to:
- Help to understand challenges from the perspective of local community
- Convene stakeholders from across the Coast to develop, prototype and scale new solutions, and
- Build capacity for social change by working with government and private sector to create new policies, redesign public services and create learning communities.
Ambitious goals for sure. Audacious maybe. But still worthy, relevant, and ones to which I remain entirely committed.
And now, two years on, how are we doing? I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished. We delivered on our incubator program with two cohorts representing 14 early stage ventures — the first of its kind funded by the federal government. We provided a central and flexible event space that accommodated nearly every startup and community innovation program in 2016 and so far in 2017 including: Startup Weekend; Startup Weekend Youth; GovHack; HackFest; USC’s Game Jam; CoderDojo; Generation Innovation; as well as various meetups; brand launches; investment nights; etc. We’ve been home to dozens of entrepreneurs who worked from SPARK and played a role in creating a vibrant, energizing community. Of course, none of this would have been possible without the support of Sunshine Coast Council, countless volunteers and a general sense of enthusiasm across the Coast for meaningful collaboration.
So what’s prompted this move? As many of you know, I’ve been planning and designing a national accelerator program for some time now and the reality is that the overhead represented by a physical space is way too high and not, I believe, necessary to run a successful innovation program. Innovation is not about a single location. It is about leveraging human, intellectual, financial and physical resources to maximum effect. For those of you who remember back to the formation of SPARK BUREAU, you may recall that us taking out the space on Ocean St. was part of our bid to land the muru-D accelerator program on the Coast. Once we committed to putting forward a competitive bid, we had to commit to the space and once we committed to the space… well, next thing you know you’re signing leases and fitting out and the rest is history. We achieved some great successes in this model but it’s time to evolve further.
That leads me to my role at SunCentral. Since mid 2016 I have been serving as the Entrepreneur in Residence for the Maroochydore city center project. I will be continuing in this role in a more formalized capacity. My focus in this role and KPIs will remain largely unchanged although slightly expanded going forward. I will also continue to champion economic and community development activities in support of Sunshine Coast Council as a member of the Knowledge Industries and Professional Services task force and as an active participant in and proponent of the $1M Advancing Regional Innovation program.
Speaking of regional innovation, remember the aforementioned national accelerator? Stay tuned in the coming months for more on Laneway, a community accelerator program powered by Australia Post, Telstra, and KPMG with local support from SunCentral and Sunshine Coast Council. Laneway is fully collaborative, public private partnership to pair Australia’s most dynamic regional cities with the world’s most innovative entrepreneurs. In 2018, the Sunshine Coast will be the pilot site for Laneway’s first cohort of scale-up companies.
What’s next for SPARK? At this stage, I cannot answer that but I will continue working with Tony and Glenn to ensure a smooth transition. I’ll be looking to identify ways to learn from what we’ve achieved over the past two years and seek opportunities to collaborate with others in pursuit of our mission to “maximize the economic and social impact of innovation on the Sunshine Coast”.