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Talent Unleashed award winners met with Johannesburg entrepreneurs as part of their time with the Branson Centre. Image courtesy of Kit Kriewaldt.

Lessons from the Richard Branson Centre

Liquid State CEO Philip Andrews is back from a global tour of entrepreneurship, which culminated in a week at South Africa’s Richard Branson Centre for Entrepreneurship and highlighted Australia’s place within the global ecosystem.

As part of winning the Digital Content award at Talent Unleashed earlier this year, multi-platform publishing company Liquid State was one of two Australian teams to attend the Branson Centre in Johannesburg. Coinciding with Global Entrepreneurship Week 2014 in November, Talent International’s event saw winners from Hong Kong, Sinagapore, New Zealand, Australia and the UK mix with local mentors and startups.

Andrews highlighted three key takeaways from his experience, first being the commonality between global businesses.

“It was good to see that the fundamentals of good entrepreneurship are the same whether you’re building your company in Soweto in South Africa or Brisbane in Australia,” he said. “And that’s understanding what the client needs, being able to match that with the product you’re putting together, being able to convert initial interest, and then being able to scale.”

“So all of those key things were just kind of echoed in discussion, even though it was a completely different environment.”

Secondly, and counterintuitively, Andrews highlighted how different environments grow different businesses; for example, much of South Africa’s tech infrastructure is relatively lacking compared to Australia, meaning their entrepreneurs have to work with discontinuous electricity and slower internet.

“So you find a lot more low tech companies, or companies that are actually being entrepreneurs in trying to supply some of that infrastructure; micro wifi hotspots throughout a range of areas that normally don’t have access to the internet,” Andrews says. “It was interesting to see quite a difference in terms of access to technology and what that means to the type of companies that grow.”

Thirdly, scoping South Africa and coming off other business trips to Germany, France and the UK helped give Andrews a broader perspective on Australia’s startup scene. Describing the Australian scene as neither mature nor lacking in support, Andrews says that support for tech startups is growing but a greater focus on mentorship is required for us to catch up with international markets.

“We still need to mature, we still need to build up our depth of mentoring expertise; we still source a lot of mentors from overseas” Andrews said. “I think it’s a matter of time and a matter of seeing [homegrown startups] going on to international success before we see that depth of expertise [given] back to the ecosystem.”

Finally, on how the trip will impact his company, Andrews believes that building networks is inherently important for growing a “global small business” like Liquid State, which can only benefit from new, international connections.

“Someone said to us while we were there, it’s kind of a kitsch saying but ‘your net worth is your network’, and that’s exactly the scenario for when you’re building an international business,” Andrews said. “You’re never sure if the next person you meet or next hand you shake is the one that’s going to provide you with a way of building your business in a different, smarter way.”

Talent Unleashed award winners met with Johannesburg entrepreneurs as part of their time with the Branson Centre. Images courtesy of Kit Kriewaldt.

As part of their time with the Branson Centre, Talent Unleashed award winners got to meet with local Johannesburg entrepreneurs. Images courtesy of Liquid State.

About Chris Woods

Chris Woods (@tophermwoods) is the Tech Street Journal's Editor-in-Chief. He lives in Brisbane, has worked in places like Sydney and New York (State of), and will someday update his media-news blog.