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Selling entrepreneurship at Startups in Parliament

Last week, local startups, mentors, and investors came to Parliament House to talk about how Queensland could support and encourage entrepreneurship. As one of the startup representatives, I had five minutes to outline my story and my ideas. It was great to see some friendly faces in the audience, but the speech was aimed at the MPs and Directors-General.

Because events like this affect the whole startup community, and since we couldn’t all be there, TSJ has published the speech transcript.

My name is Kit Kriewaldt, and I’m from Liquid State. We’re a tech startup in the South Brisbane electorate. Liquid State is on a mission to eliminate paperwork. Our product enables bosses to give their staff access to up-to-date documents and information anywhere, any time, via their smartphone or tablet.

The history of Liquid State is a gripping tale, easily worthy of a feature film, but tonight I’ll just share some highlights with you, along with my perspective on how policy makers and startups can work together to achieve great things.

It was lucky there were four of us when the company began in 2011, because back then, the Brisbane startup community was very small. There was hardly anyone we could meet with who had launched a global technology business here and could offer us some tips.

The real eye opener came in 2012, when Liquid State was the first company accepted – from a field of more than 300 worldwide – to participate in Startupbootcamp Berlin, which is an accelerator programme for startups. The four of us moved to Berlin to take part in the three month programme.

In Berlin, we had access to people who simply weren’t available back home: experienced company founders and entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, experts in law, accounting, business, all of them ready, willing, and able to provide advice to a young company.

When we returned to Brisbane at the start of 2013, I was thrilled to see that startups were beginning to attract more attention here. Twitter had just bought a local Brisbane startup, and everyone was hoping this would be the start of our very own Silicon Valley.

More than that, Brisbane City Council had become an advocate for startups, too. They launched the Digital Brisbane initiative, which included workshops, events, and grants for young entrepreneurs. Brisbane is now the only city other than New York to have its own Chief Digital Officer.

That’s not just a piece of pub trivia. That simple fact invites the right kind of upward comparison. More than money, though, Digital Brisbane put a spotlight on local startups in an unprecedented way.

Running a visiting entrepreneur programme has meant startups in Brisbane can get access to, and advice from, experienced international founders – many of whom are Australian expats. By talking more about startups, the Council got people thinking “maybe the exciting stuff doesn’t always happen overseas.”

This local PR came at a perfect time for Liquid State, because we were now looking for outside investment. Investors opened their doors to us in 2013 to an extent they never had before, thanks to that PR buzz and, since being chosen for Startupbootcamp, we could now say Liquid State was “number 1 in Europe.”

That line is just as effective in a pitch to investors as it is in a cosmetics commercial. We were able to raise funds through a combination of local angel investors and a Commercialisation Australia grant.

Later that year, we became the first recipient of the Lord Mayor’s Business Award for High Growth Startups. In 2014 we received another accolade: the Talent Unleashed Award for Best Digital Content Platform, as judged by Virgin’s Richard Branson, and Apple co-founder, Steve Wozniak. We’re now a team of 7, and our focus for this year is increasing our customer base in Europe and UK.

From my perspective, government, more than any other organisation, has the power to be an effective advocate for startups. Initiatives like Digital Brisbane lend legitimacy to startups and encourage people to get involved, whether as a founder, investor, advisor or employee.

Awards give startups credibility as companies, which they can often struggle to find in the early stages. Don’t underestimate the benefits of talking publicly about startups. Government advocacy for local startups has helped create thriving tech hubs in Berlin, LA, Stockholm, and London. We can do it here, too.

It’s even better when public advocacy can be combined with engaging startups commercially. A typical tender process can involve so much preliminary work over a sustained period of time that many startups simply don’t have the resources to compete. We’ve certainly had that experience over the years.

The SME Participation Scheme, introduced in Queensland by the Department of Science and Innovation, is a big step forward. For a startup to be able to supply their government is the ultimate vote of confidence.

I urge every one of you, if you’re looking for a solution to a departmental problem, to look first at the offerings from local startups and see if you can engage them through the SME Participation Scheme.

The Scheme is a great first step, and we need to keep simplifying complex administrative processes to make it easier to start and run a startup in Queensland.

Kit Kriewaldt is an entrepreneur and strategic communications specialist. He loves to talk James Bond, cocktails, and psychology – focusing particularly on decision making and consumer behaviour. He is also Chief Marketing Officer of digital communications platform Liquid State.

Photo: DSITI.

About Kit Kriewaldt

Kit Kriewaldt is an entrepreneur and strategic communications specialist. He loves to talk James Bond, cocktails, and psychology - particularly the topics of decision making and consumer behaviour. He is also former Chief Marketing Officer of digital communications platform Liquid State.