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Data & Insights 3 min read

Where opportunity lies for startup success

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Ian Boyd

May 12, 2022

Turning a business idea into reality is one of the most rewarding things an entrepreneur can do. Whether it’s winning new customers, making your first hire or closing a fundraising round, there are countless milestones to look forward to along the startup journey. But, of course, it’s not without its challenges. Which is why it’s a good idea to learn from those who’ve paved the way, like Pauline Fetaui.

Pauline is the General Manager at River City Labs, a startup incubator in Queensland’s Fortitude Valley. As a program that champions tech entrepreneurs, River City Labs is nurturing the next wave of emerging business – something Australia is in no short supply of.

According to Xero’s Where opportunity lies research – a new report that explores entrepreneurial growth – small business creation is surging. Over the next decade, we predict there’ll be 3.5 million new business registrations, contributing over a million jobs, and $60 billion every year to our economy for the next decade. So to help these aspiring (and existing) entrepreneurs, we asked Pauline what it takes to make it in the startup world.

Stay laser-focused on your mission

As a home for tech innovators and entrepreneurs, River City Labs has helped some of Australia’s brightest startups skyrocket to the big time. In turn, Pauline has seen what it takes to make it in the tech world. What do they all share in common? A relentless determination to make their dreams a reality. She says, “To be successful as a startup, you must be completely obsessed with a problem, understand how you can build – and deliver – a solution to it, and determine whether a market is willing to pay for that problem to be solved.”

Lean in and learn from your community

Learning from those who’ve come before you is a wise career move, no matter what industry you’re in. But in startup land, Pauline says it’s essential. “Many of the entrepreneurs, founders, investors and partners in our ecosystem are generous by nature; every conversation or connection formed is grounded in helping each other succeed. Whether it’s sharing what pitfalls to avoid or connecting you with potential clients, partners, investors and brand ambassadors, industry relationships are invaluable,” says Pauline. “Develop a keen curiosity in what people in your sector are building and why. Otherwise, the startup journey will be a lonely one,” she adds.

Explore different funding options

There are over 750 active grants available to business owners in Australia, many of which were created to help startups thrive. These vary across states and can often be a smart funding option for an early stage business. However, there are a few things to keep in mind before applying.

Pauline says, “Depending on who or what organisation is funding the grant, we’ll often ask our [River City Lab] members to evaluate whether the application process will be worth the end result. For example, some grants take three to four months to secure – which is a major distraction when your business needs your full attention. But if the outcome is truly worth it, go for it. Just remember that it’s a tough gig to pursue grants.”

She also suggests looking into accelerator programs. “Elite programs like Startmate and Skalata Ventures offer funding opportunities, as well as access to mentors and other entrepreneurs who are just starting out. In many cases, strategic support can be just as valuable as capital,” explains Pauline.

Be resourceful when scouting talent 

The fight for talent in the tech and startup sector has been an ongoing battle for some time now. But pandemic restrictions, like closed borders, have made it even harder to fill specialist tech roles. To put it bluntly, Pauline says it’s “Tough as hell” to attract and retain team members right now. So what’s her advice? Learn to sell your vision. “Networking and talking – lots of talking – can open so many doors in this industry. The trick is to inspire others to come on a journey with you, and that happens when you’re genuinely passionate about what you do,” she explains.

As well as making connections with industry pros, Pauline encourages entrepreneurs to teach younger talent the ropes. “Look to universities and other industries, or take on interns. You have to be gritty and resourceful to build the right team,” she says.

With more entrepreneurs than ever bringing their business dreams to life, the years ahead – despite continued bumps in the road to pandemic recovery – hold plenty of opportunities. And with the right drive, mindset and connections, startup success might just be yours for the taking.

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