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Australians need to push up

07 June 2012

Are we the lucky country or losing our edge? Business guru Wendy Simpson takes up the topic.

The ‘she’ll be right’ attitude well known in Australia for its ‘cruisy’ appeal is one we slip into often and almost without knowing. 


If Australian businesswoman Wendy Simpson’s theory is correct, the tyranny of distance, our awareness of our physical remoteness from the rest of the world, has made us both strive to close the gap as much as possible and in any way possible, as well as settle back into the casual lifestyle we know lurks just below the surface of staying alert and getting ahead.

“This country needs a certain sort of leadership and I think it’s what people are asking for at the moment,” says Wendy in a recent interview with Ruby about the new Venture Catalyst group Springboard Enterprises she launched in Australia in May. 

“We know ourselves as a nation and unless we have someone out there saying come on team let’s go for it, let’s do this, we will just coast along, cruising rather than driving forward.”

Wendy, who spent several years in the telecommunications industry at a time when it was undergoing the massive change of deregulation, and was also instrumental in the introduction of mobile phone and Internet technology in the Asia Pacific region including taking the Internet to China, believes our fear of being a long way from everywhere has always had a pro-active effect on us: “We saw the potential of the Internet to bring us closer to the rest of the world. Having worked globally, I know Australians are interested in going out and seeing what others are doing. 75% of Americans don’t have a passport, but Australians are out there and because of that we’re not a people that need to learn a lot of fundamental new thinking. We’re innovative early adopters with the poor habit, once we’ve mastered something or overcome some piece of adversity, of sitting back.”

“Getting it,” only to sit back and lose our edge is not enough. Instead says Wendy: “We need to be asking ourselves how do we get even better.”

Wendy uses the upcoming Olympic Games as an example: “Here’s a global athletic competition where you intentionally benchmark the sporting capabilities of countries against one another. I wonder whether we can develop some way of benchmarking ourselves on innovation against other countries. Maybe it’s through patents or the amount of companies that reach a certain level of maturity or assets or something… but we need to benchmark ourselves to keep ourselves up there, otherwise we’ll find ourselves losing our edge and falling behind.”

Wendy believes Springboard Enterprises (which among other things gets women entrepreneurs and their business ideas investor ready) will tap into new areas and create new benchmarks, increasing and fostering our know-how and its development. Women entrepreneurs need to consider something other than being the 100% owner of a small enterprise.

In the past the way to get capital for growth was to approach the Venture Capital community, but Wendy says there are other new sources making inroads: “Traditionally, large corporations had their own research teams investigating and developing new business opportunities or projects. Usually the researchers were on staff and the executives were out finding the business. Corporations now want partners. They want a minority stake and to have some input, IP, collaborative teams, etc, but essentially what is happening is the research is outsourced and the major corporation funds the partially owned business. 

“One of the ways entrepreneurs make money is by selling. Corporations, unlike Venture Capitalists, are not looking for deal after deal. They are looking for entrepreneurs with whom they can work on a specific project or piece of research and invest in that. It’s happening in life sciences (drug companies) and in technology companies and even with marketing companies, where corporations want to work with a partner marketing company on projects rather than having dedicated departments that require being fed,” says Wendy. 

The other new money coming in to the market, especially in the US, is from baby boomer women and men who are no longer working fulltime. These are people with reasonable levels of wealth, who don’t want to sit at home playing bridge or lawn bowls, says Wendy. They’re very well networked and come together as a syndicate to make sizable investments in companies owned by women that need capital to grow and are ready for the next step. They also contribute not just cash but knowledge to these women entrepreneurs.

It’s not about charity, explains Wendy. The business has to prove it’s sustainable, that it will provide a proper return on investment.

An Australian woman, Stephanie Hanbury-Brown, began one group in the US, Golden Seeds. It’s an investment firm dedicated to “delivering above market returns through the empowerment of women entrepreneurs and the people who invest in them”. In 2011 Golden Seeds Angel Network was the third most active in the US with 10 new investments, 10 follow-ons, and $10million invested.

Springboard is developing similar links and pools for women entrepreneurs in Australia.