Supporting startup founders through quality education programs, to create a more vibrant ecosystem is an important goal for LaunchVic CEO Kate Cornick.
It’s a struggle Cornick is familiar with, having previously led workforce software startup Rision through a period of growth and its launch on the Australian Stock Exchange.
“I’m very grateful for that experience. It taught me a great deal and has allowed me to have compassion for what founders and employees experience working in startups,” she says.
She describes running a startup as the hardest and the most rewarding job she’s had, but admits that while in the thick of it she “didn’t engage with the startup ecosystem.”
“People think it’s a glamorous industry, but the reality is that running a startup is incredibly hard work and many people involved in the startup community feel they don’t have time to go to events or engage and collaborate with others in the sector.”
Now as CEO of LaunchVic, Cornick has focused her energy and expertise on giving people the means to engage more fully in Victoria’s growing startup ecosystem.
“We have a lot of stakeholders across the sector that are working really hard, but there is more to do to make connections across the sector. LaunchVic is playing a huge role in enabling people to form those connections,” Cornick says.
Cornick says Victoria is ideal for startups
“It’s an exciting time to be in the startup community and Victoria more broadly. We have great people, fantastic research capacity, a strong investor community and a strong market within a wealthy country.
“I like to say that we have all the right ingredients to make a phenomenal cake rise, but we need to mix those ingredients better,” Cornick says.
LaunchVic does so by funding programs that help people from diverse backgrounds to be more effective entrepreneurs (such as women, people with disabilities, young people and seniors). It also helps boost accelerators, co-working spaces, shared labs and creative facilities.
Backed by A$60 million from the Victorian Government, LaunchVic began in 2016 and has since delivered two funding rounds, supporting 26 diverse projects.
“We were very purposeful in that we had a broad opening in our first two funding rounds, which allowed us to successfully map the ecosystem, understand what people were doing and understand Victoria’s economic landscape,” Cornick says.
New strategy unveiled to attract and support founders
Insights gained have been combined with feedback from the startup community to shape a revised operating strategy announced by LaunchVic at the start of June.
Issues identified during consultation included the fragmentation of Victoria’s startup ecosystem and hiring challenges for scaling startups.
Over the next two years, the new strategy will see LaunchVic focus on four work streams: diversity and inclusion; capability and excellence; leveraging key strengths; and channel development.
The commitment to diversity will include specific funding opportunities for migrants and refugees.
“Migrants are under-represented, but have enormous potential as startup founders. It’s also about leveraging our strengths in Victoria—we are a very diverse community and we have an opportunity to build on the skills of that community and lead through inclusion,” Cornick says.
Driving capability and excellence a high priority
Cornick says that while accelerators are important, future LaunchVic programs will look for ways to support existing founders in advanced stages of growing their business.
“There are different cycles of a startup. As a business scales it becomes a depth issue—if you’ve secured investment and grown, usually the skills gap is less around technology and becomes more around operations such as your management, finance, HR or marketing.”
Cornick says facilitating a more mature startup community may help overcome employment challenges. This can be done by changing perceptions of startups among skilled workers and improving the capacity of founders to attract and retain teams that can grow with the business.
“Startups grow up. They might grow from two people to 20 to hundreds, with profits that grow from zero to millions, to hundreds of millions. It’s those businesses that are at the critical point of scaling that are looking for talent,” she says.
Making Melbourne known as a hub for health
LaunchVic’s new operating strategy also sets out an intention to define Melbourne as the startup hub for health, in the same way that London has become known as the ‘Fintech City’.
“The sector we felt had the most potential is health and wellbeing. We have very deep research and technology assets and a very strong health technology startup community, especially around sports tech.”
“Melbourne also has a very strong healthcare system and strong export opportunities to the Asian market in relation to health, so we will be giving more thought to that and doing more work in that area.”
Taking effect immediately, Cornick says LaunchVic’s revised operating strategy would ensure it is on track to meet the needs of the ecosystem and address market failures so there are higher quality and more successful founders and a stronger investor community.