Teaching small businesses to think like startups

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Teaching small businesses to think like startups

Can small businesses benefit from applying tech startup techniques? A federal government-backed pilot program in Cairns is looking to find out.

Tech startups have a number of excellent tools at their disposal when it comes to building highly scalable, fast-growing businesses.

These range from business methodologies like lean startup, through to software development practices like agile. These techniques teach aspiring entrepreneurs to create a minimum viable product first, and then improving it based on customer feedback.

Compared to other types of organisations, the startup community also places a strong emphasis on building an ecosystem to support aspiring entrepreneurs, including co-working or co-habitation spaces, innovation hubs, incubators, accelerators and events.

Are there lessons small businesses can draw from startups on how to go about developing and implementing new technologies that can help them grow and reach new markets? And should startup hubs do more to open the door to other small to medium enterprises (SMEs)?

These are the questions Cairns’ startup hub theSPACE is looking to address at its Innovation Weekend on October 21 to 23. The structure will be similar to a traditional startup weekend, except with a focus on existing small businesses with existing ideas, challenges and intellectual property.

According to theSPACE ‎co-founder and CEO Troy Haines, the event is being run with support from the federal government’s Entrepreneurs Infrastructure Program, and will serve as a pilot that could potentially be rolled out in other regions across Australia.

“People talk about startups and innovation. SMEs have resources including an understanding of their market, physical resources and staff. The one thing they often lack the time and know-how to innovate, but they’re low-hanging fruit if we can get them going in the right direction,” Haines told BIT.

“This is an iteration of what we see as an important place in the market, where SMEs need help around how to more effectively innovate. The reality is that they’re time poor doing just the daily grind that they don’t have the head space to look up and think creatively.

“The value of a startup weekend is that it’s almost like pop-up ecosystem that happens over the course of a weekend, and we want to develop that popup ecosystem over existing SMEs to see how it goes.”

The main focus of the event will be a hackathon where up to 10 local small businesses will be invited to pitch an idea to local coders, designers and business development people, who will then work over the course of the weekend to solve a real-world business challenge they face.

“We’ve targeted a number of businesses, and then prior to the Friday night we’ll meet with them for 15 to 20 minutes to refine their idea, opportunity, problem or whatever they want to present to make sure it’s going to fit within the context of the event,” Haines said.

“[On the Friday] we’ll have an icebreaker where the 10 businesses present their idea, and from there teams will form with a mix of coders, designers and business development people. They’ll work with the team over the course of the weekend to build out the challenge or opportunity they have.

“And then on Sunday, instead of final pitches (because what’s being worked on could be sensitive), we’ll have final presentations about what they’ve learnt over the course of the weekend.”

The weekend will also include opportunities for the small businesses to learn about emerging technologies and startup methodologies.

“On Friday night we’ll have a showcase of drones, 3D printing and virtual reality demonstrations, with IoT [Internet of Things] and beacons set up throughout the building, and so forth,” Haines said.

“We’ll have some training sessions over the course of the weekend on agile planning, market validation and that sort of thing to give them some fundamental skillsets and tools within the innovation space.”

About theSPACE

Founded in 2012, theSPACE is a self-funded hub serving Far-north Queensland’s diverse startup community.

“I’d had some level of success with an online travel business that I built and managed for six years and sold in 2012. Then there were other ideas I was working on – some were a success and some were outright failing,” Haines said.

“I started looking around my broadly into the world, at where ideas were being effectively commercialised. You look at places like Silicon Valley, we started modelling what they were doing regionally to help build out our ecosystem here.

“Because I’ve got a family down here, I couldn’t move anywhere else so we wanted to do it here. So we spent the past four years building an ecosystem, connecting stakeholders, developing a community of entrepreneurs, and running events.

“It takes a village to raise a startup. And we’re self-funded. Primarily we’re entrepreneurs building the infrastructure we need so we can build high-growth, scalable ideas.”

People interested in participating in the event can find out more on theSPACE website.

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