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Why SA entrepreneurs need to feel the love


Adelaide entrepreneur Marcus Bailey rocked the boat this week with his frank comments about the challenges of doing business. Today, he writes about how the culture can change, and highlights some green shoots that have emerged in the past two years.

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I made the decision four years ago to start my own company. For the first 24 months I spent every single day wishing I hadn’t.

The stress of starting my own company was unbelievable. Most of my thoughts were about how I was going to tell people that it didn’t work out. Twice I started interviewing for jobs because I was sure the next month would be the last. I feared going to social functions in case people asked me how my company was going.

I started discussing my experience with every business owner I knew – all of them had pretty much the same experience.  It gave me such a confidence, such energy. I never looked back.

This week is Entrepreneurs’ Week in Adelaide. Some people may look at entrepreneurs and feel inspired, some jealous, some agnostic; me – I feel pure respect. The act of starting your own company, employing people, leasing premises, trying to grow, failing, getting back up again, building momentum, failing again and then building gradual success is bloody hard work. It’s certainly not for the faint-hearted – it takes a certain someone to stick at it.

This July marks two years since The Engine Room was launched by me and serial entrepreneurs Leigh Morgan and James Sargent.  Leigh, James and I wanted to rally around entrepreneurs and help out a tiny bit on their journey. A large part of the motivation for starting the group was that I just wanted to see other entrepreneurs not have to go through what I experienced or at least feel like there was a lot of support if they ever needed it.

In the first 24 months of The Engine Room we’ve had some great successes and some failures which we’ve been open about – we launched an entrepreneurs’ education academy but had to scrap it after only a few people signed up. We also launched a growth fund but to date haven’t made an investment. Our biggest success has been finding more than 900 (912 to be exact) Adelaide entrepreneurs and wrapping our arms around them and running some really cool networking events. We’ve managed to build an army of passionate entrepreneurs who think what we do is amazing and that gives us a real buzz.

When we first created The Engine Room I had no idea just how many entrepreneurs were out there in Adelaide. We cheekily set ourselves an audacious goal of 1000 members and we are very close to getting there.

A lot of our time is spent talking one-on-one with entrepreneurs – some have been really eager and wanting to be pointed in the right direction, some have been having their challenges and don’t know where to turn, and some just want a chat.

My wife, Angelika, who up until recently was The Engine Room’s event manager, could not believe how passionate James, Leigh and I are about helping entrepreneurs. It’s funny, when you hang around entrepreneurs you want to create your own mark on the world – Angelika now has plans to start her own company.

To date we’ve run 14 events which have included six major ones open to all our members. The others have been boardroom lunches, education sessions and guest speaker events. The feedback we get after each event is really positive and inspires us to plan the next one.

Given all our events are free we rely totally on sponsors and supporters. We are incredibly grateful to our sponsors.

The highlight of our first 24 months was a government function with every minister and chief executive in the room. Our members couldn’t believe it but I loved introducing the entrepreneurial energy to the government who have been receptive to working with a lot of The Engine Room members.

So what’s next for The Engine Room?  One thing for sure is that the need to support Adelaide’s entrepreneurs is a lot greater than what Leigh, James or I could have ever predicted.

I’m not backing away from my criticism of the “tall poppy syndrome”. That culture can and must change because our future depends on supporting our biggest risk-takers – entrepreneurs.

Marcus Bailey is co-founder of Adelaide corporate advisory firm Fortis Ago, and co-founder of The Engine Room.

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