Learning from the London locals
Professor Rowena Barrett, 28 June, 2017
“London is open for business!”
If we heard it once, then we heard it many times whilst on the London leg of the European StartUp Catalyst Mission (16 times at one event alone!). Despite the lack of clarity given by the UK election, nervousness about a hard or soft Brexit and terror attacks in London - after our week at London Tech Week, and through associated meetings, those of us on the mission were left in no doubt that, yes, “London IS open!” (You too will be left with no doubt about this when you read the Medium articles Aaron Birkby and Peta Ellis wrote about their experience of the StartUp Catalyst Mission.)
London is a city where entrepreneurial technology ventures are flourishing. Not just homegrown ones, but some of the world’s biggest such as Amazon, Facebook and Google are all in and undergoing expansion in London. Google, for example, is building a landscraper (that’s what a really tall building deliberately laying on its side is called: a really long, but not so tall, building) to house their staff. The landscraper will be next door to Kings Cross station. It is deliberately positioned in a creative hub inundated with students, who will walk past it on their way to class at the University of the Arts, in an effort to entice them and trigger future career aspirations.
But it is questionable why any new entrepreneurial technology venture would want to rent their own office in London, as co-working spaces are popping up everywhere. You could work out of Google's Campus London or any of the other hip spaces dotted around Silicon roundabout in Shoreditch. Or you could move into one of WeWork’s 19 (yes 19!) locations in London. Membership gets you access to an array of business resources and the option to move around their many international locations. But WeWork is just one of the co-working space providers. Some of the team visited Plexal, at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, which offers 60,000 square feet of co-working space. Plexal opened during London Tech Week but they say they’ll be full by Christmas!
Another provider of space, resources, assistance and quality kit is RocketSpace. They run the Australian landing pad in San Francisco but have just opened in Islington, right next to the Angel tube station. RocketSpace are more than just a co-working space; they offer events, expandable offices and the most gorgeous social area in an old bank vault in their building’s basement. RocketSpace are heading to Australia next, with Eagle Street rumoured to house Brisbane location.
But while space is important, London offers much more than that, as the Aussie entrepreneurial ventures that have moved there acknowledge: history and culture are a given. There are technology meetups, (we heard there were 500 meet-ups on Blockchain alone in London), conducive government support and policy, corporates willing to invest in entrepreneurial talent and run accelerator programs, and talented human resources, including plenty of young Australians, looking for that new opportunity.
Despite all these attributes, success in London is not guaranteed. It is important to remember the shorthand ‘divided by a common language’ that my husband and I use in our combined Australian-British family, to explain the things we don’t understand about each other’s approach to life! For Australians, that might mean moderating their directness, whilst remembering not to swear in the office! There’s never a need to prefer Marmite over Vegemite, but there is a necessity of acknowledging the cultural niceties of doing business in the UK. For Queensland firms wanting to take that step, Trade and Investment Queensland (TIQ), Austrade and the UK Department of International Trade (DIT) provide support to facilitate the move.
Perhaps you’re wondering why I joined the StartUp Catalyst Mission, given I’m not a technology entrepreneur, looking for a job in a technology firm in London or an investor? At QUT, I lead the School of Management in the QUT Business School. Understanding entrepreneurial ventures is key to both the research and teaching and learning agendas in the School of Management. The research undertaken by the Australian Centre for Entrepreneurship Research (ACE) helps us understand the nature, needs and impacts of early state startups, while our teaching programs focus on developing entrepreneurial competence. More importantly, the School of Management is key to QUT’s emerging entrepreneurial focus.
We know university is a staging post in an individual’s life. It’s the place where human, social and cultural capital is built and banked for use in later stages. Exactly how those capitals are combined and used is up to each individual. Increasingly, we’re seeing our students want to use their different forms of capital in the context of entrepreneurial ventures. Part of my role is working with others to ensure we have the curriculum, research programs, events, space, resources and culture to enable that possibility. QUT has some amazing assets to do this: for example, being able to work with Advance Queensland to bring the MIT Bootcamp to town or running the only creative tech accelerator, fund and start-up space in the country at Creative Enterprise Australia (CEA). And if creative tech isn’t your thing, how about robots? QUT bluebox is running Australia’s first robotics accelerator program where teams can choose to work on their own robotic thing or on Pepper, Softbank’s cute humanoid robot.
Our aim is to provide outstanding learning environments and programs that lead to excellent outcomes for graduates, enabling them to work in and guide a diverse and complex world characterised by increasing change. Entrepreneurship and innovation across teaching, learning, research and engagement are critical to this aim, but we acknowledge we are still newcomers to building students’ entrepreneurship ambition. My participation in the StartUp Catalyst Mission highlighted some things we need to concentrate on. First and foremost is continuing to work with others in the entrepreneurial ecosystem across Brisbane and Queensland. We then need to keep the entrepreneurial activities coming. Late last year we opened The Foundry spaces at Gardens Point campus. The Foundry in D, the larger of the two spaces, is a co-working space and is used to host events, meetups, talks and mentoring sessions. Angela and Graham have been employed as The Foundry Community Managers and are keen to get as many people as possible aware of and connected to The Foundry.
A key lesson I took from London is that we need to celebrate our entrepreneurial talent. We’re beginning to do this and you’ll see at the forthcoming QUT Outstanding Alumni Awards our acknowledgement of entrepreneurial alumni. We are also about to launch an alumni survey to identify how and where entrepreneurial value is being created, whilst using the information we gather as insight for the ongoing development of our courses and programs.
The most important piece of learning from my participation in the StartUp Catalyst Mission is that QUT is just one small part of the Brisbane, Queensland, Australian and global entrepreneurial ecosystems; but although our part is small it is critical. Alongside discipline skills and knowledge we need to instill entrepreneurial confidence and competence in our students so that they can solve problems and make a difference in the world.