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Cairns three years on: The latest from theSPACE

It’s now been three years since theSPACE took on the gargantuan task of setting up a startup ecosystem in Far North Queensland.  Since then, we’ve had three Startup Weekends and visits by high profile entrepreneurs, but its still too early to claim victory in the battle to institute a thriving, self-driven startup community.

Let’s take a brief look at where things are at, and where they need to go.  

JCU confirms sponsorship for Emerging Entrepreneurs program

Our Emerging Entrepreneurs program kicked off in July of this year, with nine high school students from five schools learning lean startup principles.  

And in exciting news for the Cairns region, James Cook University has recognised the importance of educating our students in entrepreneurship, and has recently come on board as the official sponsor of the program.  With support from JCU and commitments from a growing number of local schoolsEmerging Entrepreneurs is positioned for an extensive rollout across the region in 2016.  

It’s a nice reminder that from little things, big things can grow.

“One of the biggest roadblocks for startup founders involved in our programs has been finding the time to devote to their project outside of their existing commitments,” theSPACE’s Damian Zammit said.  “Generally speaking, students have far more time on their hands than adults with families and full-time jobs.

“If we can get students involved in the incubator and plug them into these budding startups, they can not only bring a complementary skill set, but even more importantly, they will have the time to devote to the project,” he said. “Our hope is that by engaging our young people and setting up this synergy we can get more Cairns startup ideas all the way through to commercialisation.”

Silicon Beach Cairns launches

Silicon Beach launched its Cairns chapter with a successful networking event in August,  attracting over 40 new members and counting.

The informal ‘beer and pizza’ event brought together like-minded individuals keen to explore emerging tech opportunities, including coders, hustlers, successful business owners, would-be entrepreneurs, and some who were just curious about the whole scene.

A few of the attendees at the August launch of Silicon Beach Cairns, which enjoyed an impressive turnout. Photo: theSPACE Cairns

A few of the attendees at the August launch of Silicon Beach Cairns, which enjoyed an impressive turnout. Photo: theSPACE Cairns

Josh Anthony of Brisbane-based River City Labs skyped in to the event to introduce the River City Labs Accelerator, which is run in partnership with Telstra-backed muru-D.  Silicon Beach attendees were given the opportunity to pitch ideas for the chance to win a fast track through to the program’s final selection round.  

The event also saw the announcement of the next round of pre-accelerator program Startup Basecamp, which is run by theSPACE in conjunction with ilab.    

The Basecamp program aims to better prepare participants for ilab’s Germinate accelerator program.  Coaches help participants to better validate their ideas and practice their pitches, in order to be in a stronger position when it comes time to apply for the accelerator.

Previously run for only four weeks, September’s Basecamp will be eight weeks long, following feedback which indicated that four weeks wasn’t long enough to allow for a pivot and the development of new ideas within the program.  

Next steps

Following the recent announcement of the Queensland Government’s Advance Queensland initiative, we can only hope that some of the substantial funding that has been earmarked for supporting startups will make its way into the hands of local entrepreneurs.  The assistance certainly wouldn’t go astray.  

Zammit is excited by some of the recent developments in Cairns, but admits that for him and theSPACE cofounder Troy Haines, the work has at times been an uphill battle.  

Troy and I can see that things are definitely starting to click, but we’re not quite there yet,” Zammit said. “We still have a lot of work to do to attract more investment in startups, to attract international talent to Cairns as well as finding and utilising locally available skill sets, and to continue building an environment where locals with great ideas have a greater chance of achieving success.”  

“But we’re excited to be seeing interest from some bigger players, and from a wider cross-section of the community.

About Karen Ross