Australia has a relatively small population so we need to be successful in industries where a small population isn't a disadvantage. Mining is one such industry, technology is another. It's possible to build very large technology companies with only a small team. An incredible recent example is Instagram which was acquired by Facebook for US$1b when it only had 13 employees. At the larger and more profitable end of the scale, Apple earns a very high US$1.35m revenue per employee and also happens to the largest company in the world by market capitalisation.
With this in mind, earlier this year Alan Noble and Sallyann Williams from Google organised for a small group of people involved in the tech startup space to come together and see how we might be able to help build the tech startup ecosystem in Australia.
We've had 4 catch ups now and Google have engaged a consulting arm of PWC called "the difference" to assist us. While we're still working through the best approach we're getting the beginnings of an action plan together. The key issue that we all keep coming back to is education. While other issues like those I outlined last year leading up to the Prime Ministers' Forum on the Digital Economy are important, education is the most critical for the long term growth of a tech startup ecosystem. We need more people studying computer science and to a lesser extent courses related to the business side of entrepreneurship. These are the key people who will start technology companies, and they're also critically important hires for building and running them.
So how do we encourage and facilitate more people studying these courses?
- We need to inspire school students to want to study these courses. This needs to start from primary school but is particularly important in year 10 when students are choosing their final year subjects that often lead to what they'll study at University.
- We need to engage parents and have them view the technology industry as the industry of the future so they encourage their children to study these courses.
- We need to improve the curriculum in High School and University, particularly in computer science courses. We need more students to have experiences like our CTO and co-founder Mike did in High School, which helped encourage him to study software engineering.
- We need to help develop and particularly market some of the great computer science education courses that exist outside the school and University curriculums so that students who are particularly passionate about software engineering know they can take courses in their own time.
We're still working through whether there are other issues that might be as important as education. The above list of the ways to encourage and facilitate more people to study tech startup related courses is only a very early one, and we haven't even started planning targets for what we want to help the industry achieve, nor how we'll do that. So we'd love your feedback! Please share your thoughts in the comments. We'll also be looping back and involving a lot more people in this process so if you're passionate about aims similar to those outlined above, and would like to be involved as we progress this please also let me know in the comments.
The group consists of:
- Alan Noble - Head of Engineering, Google
- Bill Bartee - Southern Cross Venture Partners, Blackbird Ventures, (and Shoes of Prey board member!)
- Iarla Flynn - Government Relations, Google
- Matt Barrie - CEO, Freelancer
- Matt Dawes - Government Relations, Google
- Michael Fox - Shoes of Prey
- Niki Scevak - Founder StartMate, Founder HomeThinking.com, Blackbird Ventures
- Sallyann Williams - Program Manager, Google
- Peter Bradd - CEO and Founder ScribblePics, Founder Fishburners