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No clutch: SA's economy needs to be driven by courage


The local economy is looking up but we won’t take the next steps without Adelaide’s bright new business stars being backed to take risks, writes Stephen Mabbs.

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No clutch, pedal to the metal or whatever you may like to call it – Adelaide’s start-up community needs to be confident to take the plunge and become job creators to ensure we continue to reshape and grow our economy.

Adelaide has done so many things right in the past five years. From the transition from old to advanced manufacturing, to embracing renewable energy, to locking in a pipeline of work in defence, we have pushed ahead even though a dark cloud hung over our heads. But now we’re facing the trap of thinking it will all just happen from here.

The spotlight now moves from government-backed initiatives and public-funded projects to Adelaide’s start-up community. There is an air of confidence and positivity in the business community and Adelaide’s start-ups are starting to emerge in various industry sectors and break the shackles of years of economic malaise.

If ever there was a city and state that needed to encourage more business start-ups it’s Adelaide. All the ingredients are there but as we have experienced in this state before, unless we get on the front foot and claim the space someone else will swoop in on all our hard work and claim the spoils.

Location is extremely important when you chose to start a business. Surrounding yourself with like-minded people and ensuring you have an adequate market to satisfy your service delivery is crucial. The question that still often surfaces is whether Adelaide is indeed a good place to create a start-up.

We have to try new things and not be overly cautious or overreact when things don’t go to plan.

When we started Escient in 2016 we could have chosen anywhere in Australia, yet we chose Adelaide. The three founding directors are not originally from Adelaide, but we always knew that this was the place to set up and trial our ideas.

The old adage that if you can make it work in this city, you can make it work anywhere in Australia is true today. While this statement no doubt highlights some of Adelaide’s shortcomings as a true business epicentre, it also highlights that South Australian businesses have to work just that little bit harder than our east coast counterparts to make their ideas work. This is a perfect attribute to make Adelaide Australia’s start-up capital.

So why chose Adelaide over other capital cities?

Firstly, the size of Adelaide makes its start-up community well organised. In order to create a flourishing ecosystem of start-ups, there needs to be an innate understanding from all levels of business and government about what is being done and how it is being implemented. Once there is this understanding, true collaboration can happen.

When we founded Escient, we knew that it was a tough market but we really stood up and took notice of the recent investment in the start-up community and, again, we felt if we could test and refine our offering here then we could look at expanding. Two years later we have 80 staff in offices in Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne with a Brisbane office set to open in early 2019.

The advice that I would provide to government at any level is that to succeed in a new economy, ideas need to be tried out, so don’t be afraid that some of them might not work. We just need to pick up on this quickly, pivot and go again.

While the challenge is now set for private business to take control and set the direction of the business community, government still has a vital role to play in providing opportunities to the start-up community to try out their ideas in an environment that not only promotes success but is one without fear of failure. Starting a business is scary enough so people that are willing to put everything on the line and give it a go should be rewarded and allowed to flourish.

The culture we have created at Escient is based on three guiding pillars – creativity, courage and selflessness – and I think this also rings true for Adelaide. We have to try new things and not be overly cautious or overreact when things don’t go to plan. There has to be a willingness to give things a go and encourage people that it’s okay if it doesn’t turn out as expected or hoped: the people behind the best start-ups have failed many times over but still had the opportunity to learn from their mistakes, refine their product and relaunch.

To finish I will come back to the ‘no clutch’ analogy. I learnt this a long time ago from my father who was a professional motocross racer. His ‘no clutch’ approach to racing ensured his domination in the sport. Adelaide needs to take a ‘no clutch’ approach to its start-up community. No clutch, courage and a whole heap of creativity are what is needed and who knows, maybe Adelaide will be envied the world over not just for its liveability and lifestyle but also for its business environment.

Stephen Mabbs is the CEO of Escient – a South Australian business and digital advisory firm founded in 2016.

Escient was ranked at 85 in InDaily’s SA Business Index for 2018.

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