UNSW Startup Games - session 1 - 03The UNSW Startup Games is a skill building program for an elite group of entrepreneurial students of UNSW to develop the ability to take their ideas into reality. The studentare from different faculities including computer science, engineering, medicine, psychology, design, industrial arts, business, and photovoltaics. It is co-ordinated by Joshua Flannery at New South Innovations and facilitated  by Bart Jellema, a serial entrepreneur himself having started tjoos and now zeromail, who has been an active member in the Sydney startup community. He has run the Silicon Beach Drinks for that last four years and is involved in Startmate, a mentoring program which invests in the ideas of Australian business and gives them the tools to take it to Silicon Valley and pitch.

The week before the program started, Bart encouraged all the teams to curate their online presence on their blogs, twitter and especially Facebook. Networking is essential part of entrepreneurship. On the Thursday before the official start, the group met at Silicon Beach Drinks and met with other local entrepreneurs and those just starting out. Apparently this real face-to-face networking is still a vital part of networking for budding entrepreneurs.

The games officially started on Saturday, 6th April in a UNSW lecture theater. Bart introduced himself and gave some background on how he got started. He finished high school but did not go to university. He noted that the smartest people in society are encouraged to enter a profession such as medicine or law, however, he urges smart people to become entrepreneurs so they can change the world.

Participants were then invited to introduce themselves from the front of the class. Bart guided the class to customise the learning outcomes for the program by asking participants to indicate by show of hands who was familiar with different topics. Each learning outcome was written up so that Bart could highlight the essential parts and customise the program depending on where the participants were currently and what they were interested in. Some of the themes included lean startup methodology, financials, finding mentors, incubators, pitching to investors, risk, focus, face-to-face communication, presentation skills, and social networking.

Before the lunch break, Bart asked us to identify people in the startup community (local and abroad) that participants would like to meet. I was assigned Peter Diamandis who runs the X Prize Foundation, an organisation which offers large cash incentive to encourage inventors to solve grand challenges like space flight, better medical devices, and genetic deciphering technology. A current challenge is called “Archon Genomics X PRIZE” which will ward $10m to someone who can build a device which can sequence 100 human genomes within 10 days. The challenges are always specific just beyond our current grasp but if solved with lead to exponential technologies. A previous challenge included an fast and effective oil cleanup method. Peter founded Zero Gravity Corporations which inspires people to work towards space flight – it has actually been covering zero gravity flights since 2004 and Space Adventures which has announced the plan for sub-orbital and flights to the moon. The “Tricorder X PRIZE” sounds like something out of star-trek – it is a small device that would better diagnose and treat patients.  After the break the participants had to give a presentation of what they had found out about their assigned person of interest. Other people of interest included Eric Ries, and Steve Blank.

The next game involved picking two random words, turning them into a .com and then pitching it to the group which was a lot of fun. This sort of drill puts people far outside their comfort zone, they have to spontaneously improvise a business from those two words and pitch it to the group. People were encouraged not to think about it too much and just come to the front to pitch for a few minutes. This highlighted just how much talent and creativity there was in the room. It gave an opportunity for those less confident to shine.

At the end of the day, the group continued to a local establishment for “speed networking”.  We found a quiet spot in the bar and put together several tables. What followed was a cross between speed dating and networking where each person two minutes to get to know the others better.

The program was promoted as a way to build your skills, meet people and have fun in the process. So far the program has far exceeded these expectations. I’m eagerly anticipating what’s coming up next.

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Australia has the most innovative entrepreneurs in the world, but they often migrate to Silicon Valley to bring their ideas to life. Entrepreneurs are the secret to Australia’s future success. But, students often leave university without the skills or contacts to start their own business. In addition, many students are encouraged to pursue traditional careers and do not have the skills or courage to pursue their dreams.

New South Innovations (NSi) at the University of New South Wales have aligned with Australian start-up luminary Bart Jellema’s to create the UNSW Startup Games, to support students in bringing their idea to life.

Bart Jellema, a pivotal figure in the Australian start-up scene, rose to fame in 2011 when his startup, tjoos.com was purchased by Internet Brands. Since that time his personal mission has been to nurture the Australian tech startup community.

In this program selected students learn from experienced entrepreneurs how to brain storm, build prototypes, network, form teams and much more.

Some of the companies that have emerged since starting this program include: StartupGenie, a system for help startups find resources to do it right; Ezybaba, a database of reliable factories in China with profiles of the owners, licensing, and system of trust; Pegasus, an advanced helmet with inbuilt communication system and head-up display; and Pokomote, an advanced smart pet feeding system that allows owners to check on their pets and feed them via internet video.

This Saturday 25th May, 2013, the remaining teams will be pitching their ideas to a panel of investors that they had to organise, friends, fellow students, and members of the Sydney startup scene. Entry is open and it is free to attend. We encourage those interested to come and support their entrepreneurial students.

As part of the UNSW Startup Games, facilitated by Bart Jellema who is the co-founder of Australian startup zeromail, we were randomly assigned to teams and supported to create a new startup. Bart observed the teams over a few weeks and devised exercises and drills for team members to build their skills and potentially build a viable start-up that could be pitched to investors. According to Bart Jellema, what he looks for in budding entrepreneurs is the ability to show up, be on time and do the work. He also has a special affinity for technical people who have a sense for hacking a solution with limited sources and under conditions of extreme uncertainty.

So far the program has been a profoundly enjoyable learning experience. We have been pushed outside our comfort zone and given tasks that require us to showcase the kind of skills and capabilities that are form part of the DNA of an entrepreneur.

The question is, can an entrepreneur be made or are they born that way?

As a participant of the UNSW Startup Games and psychology student, I’m (Scott Coleman) a strong believer that people can model exceptional people and given dedicated practice anyone can learn the patterns of behaviour that make up an entrepreneur. However, there are certain patterns that set exceptional entrepreneurs apart from the average performers in the same niche. While I acknowledge that people can model the skills of exceptional people. When making a decision to select my own co-founder, you must set the standard very high.  It is an uncertain world out there so I personally am looking for an exceptional co-founder who is better than anyone else in their niche. They must demonstrate that they can model the best of the best. They must also have a strong technical skill and be able to perform in novel situations.

Investors like other are subject to cognitive bias and often have to make decisions with limited information. Experienced entrepreneurs and investors often through around the idea that ideas change but people don’t.

I’m most interested, like many investors and venture capitalists, in identifying brilliant technical people with great ideas and ability to make things happen with limited resources and under conditions of uncertainty. Time has shown that these people are most like to succeed in web startups. They are able to operate with little money and can get things done. They are interested in what works. They can outperform their peers, are decisive and can identify solutions that others cannot see. This insight normally comes from experience and technical expertise.

It is also very important that tech co-founders are a great at networking. This is something that Bart has encouraged the UNSW Startup Games participants to engage in from the start. He invited the class to Silicon Beach Drinks each Thursday night and even took a few lucky participants to a StartMate function. Successful entrepreneurs can inspire people to jump on board on an idea, even purchase products that are not yet complete.

Any team must be grounded and have an deep understanding and passion for the problem that is being solved. It is vital that you can step into the shoes of the people that this startup is solving. Australian Venture capitalist firm Black Bird list three characteristics they are looking for in the teams they found: 1. “domain expert who’s stumbled across a better way of doing something you’ve been doing for years” 2.  “a technical founder who’s experimented with a product and learned how to do something new” or 3. someone with a “a unique understanding of a particular demographic.” Vitally the co-founder must be able to describe why we will outperform 99% of people in the domain.

For me, and this is shared by newly create Australian Venture Capital fund Blackbird ventures, technical founders must have an affinity for hacking – that is to operate with little money and higher level of uncertainty. This point has been reiterated constantly by Bart Jellema throughout the Startup Games. Bart strongly rewarded participants who could produce prototypes and wireframes. He wanted to see how teams could perform when given tasks with little or no preparation too. He constantly set tasks which simulated a high level of uncertainty.

Lean startup methodology

Co-founders must adopt the principles of lean start-up. This is essential to limit waste, test assumptions about the business. The lean start-up methodology ensure that a business is built in a way that is repeatable and scalable. Founders must be responsive to feedback.

An important part of the lean startup methodology is to identify and test the assumptions in the business model. The lean canvas is a great way to do this. A guiding light is found in Dave McClure’s post about metrics he uses for 500 startups.

Optimum size of team and passion

How many people should be in my team? Studies of successful start-ups show that teams of two are most likely to succeed. Single founders are also successful. Above all there must be a chemistry between the founder, co-founders and the investors. Above all the co-founders must be extremely passionate about the solving this problem as well as be responsive to feedback.

Find following some notes I took for the UNSW Center for Innovation (CIE) course on entrepreneurship and innovation (STRE2010). It was also recommended by Bart Jellema, founder of Zeromail.com who is facilitating a program called the UNSW Startup Games in 2013 which is sponsored by New South Innovations.

Notes:

Make Meaning in Your Company

Don’t Write a Mission Statement, Write a Mantra

Get Up and Get Going!

The New Business Model

Weave a MAT and Outline Your Priorities

Know Thyself and Niche Thyself

Make a Great Pitch

Who to Hire

Lower the Barriers to Adoption

Seed the Clouds and Watch the Sales Grow

Be a Mensch

Funding Choices

How Do You Find Evangelists?

How Do You Find Soul Mates?

The Career Path to Becoming a Venture Capitalist or an Entrepreneur

Experience Is Overrated

People that inspire me and would like to meet (Name, what made him/her famous, question I would ask):
1. Steve Blank, creator of lean startup methodology, Question: how can I apply lean startup methodology to my business?
2. Keith Rabois, angel investor in: Xoom, LinkedIn, yelp.com, YouTube, Question: how do you decide what startup is worth investing in?
3. Scott Banister, angel investor in: PayPal, Facebook, Uber, Zappos, Question: what sets apart excellent startups from average ones?
4. Ron Conway, angel investor in: Google, AppNexus, Ask Jeeves, Question: what sets apart excellent startups from average ones?
5. Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn; Question: how did you traction for linkedin with so many competitors?
6. Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia; Question: How did you get Wikipedia going?
7. Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, Question: what made you decide to give away all your money to charity?
8. Jack Dorsey, the founder of Twitter; What made twitter stand out from the group? How did you get initial traction?
9. Mark Pincus, the co-founder of Zynga; what is your strategy for creating games that people like to play?
10. Kevin Systrom, the head of Instagram; how did you negotiate the sale of instragram to facebook? How did you ensure the right value?

I had to write a short piece in my impression of leadership for a recent course at University of New South Wales. I thought I would useful to post it here for myself and others to read. I’ll be writing much more interesting content in the future related to psychology, coding and startups which is my current passion.

By leadership I mean the ability to capture and maintain the attention of individuals and groups and inspire them to achieve individual and group goals. I have come to this definition through my own experience, together with my education in psychology and training.

To engage in effective leadership, one must understand how people think, feel and decide. It is essential to understand the weaknesses and strengths of individuals and find how they can best form groups and teams, how they can form outcomes and goals that are acceptable to themselves, their team and the world at large.

I admire my father when he was in a leadership role. He knew how to give instructions which forced a person to learn for themselves. He would not just tell them the steps or instructions but would give them just enough to make them think and figure it for themselves. He would make minimal necessary suggest at seemingly just at the right time – that would be worth modeling.