The Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2022

How La Trobe University is Accelerating Startup Success

Victoria’s ascent as a startup ecosystem owes much to its universities’ R&D prowess. La Trobe University, based in Melbourne, produces not just innovations but also founders skilled in bringing innovations to market.

La Trobe’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship suite of programs speaks to everyone, from students contemplating startup life to new founders seeking validation for their technologies to SME owners in the thick of scaling up. Its influence — in the form of startups launched, skills developed, and connections forged — is felt in Victoria, throughout Australia, and around the world.

Thinking Global From Day One

Australian entrepreneurs in particular need a global attitude from day one. With a small domestic market, many startups scale by designing products and strategies for international customers and by building international networks. La Trobe’s Global Markets Accelerator program, which ran through 2022, exemplifies how the university is able to help export-minded founders learn the ropes and make the contacts to do business abroad.

The program, sponsored by AusIndustry, drew on experts in the ecosystems of India, Southeast Asia, the countries of the APEC and the EU, and the United Kingdom. Following an eight-week feasibility study, participants advanced to a six-month immersion in their chosen markets, which included the invaluable experience of time spent on the ground. There nascent founders embedded with one of La Trobe’s premier innovation partners: the Innovation Factory, a rapidly expanding tech hub in Indonesia; IMEC, the number-one university-linked accelerator in Europe; and Tech-Hub, an Indian ecosystem that has worked with more than 1,800 national and international startups. International coaches, expert professionals, and interns provided by La Trobe also supported the founders.

Startups left the accelerator with informed, country-specific strategies and with the contacts — potential customers, distributors, investors, board members, and employees — required to execute on them. All 14 Australian startups in the program’s first cohort developed solutions to universal problems, including a virtual-reality system for lonely seniors and a platform where education providers can recruit teachers quickly. All 14 substantially grew sales in their chosen markets, even amid the turmoil of a pandemic.

“Our coaches ensured we had rock-solid foundations,” said one Accelerator participant. “As opportunities started to present themselves, we were required to pivot and adapt. We are looking forward to seeing what we can achieve because of what we have been exposed to.”

Nurturing Local Innovation

Closer to home, Startup Central Victoria — whose second cohort is ongoing — comprises a series of free events and programs helping founders seize opportunities and leverage resources in the City of Greater Bendingo and five other local government areas. It launched in 2021 with a Regional Opportunities Forum that attracted 57 aspiring entrepreneurs intrigued by such promising local sectors as robotics, Agtech, and small-town revitalization. A hackathon divided entrepreneurially curious participants into teams, provided them with mentors, and challenged them to design startups from scratch, sharpening skills and developing new ones in the process.

Startup Central Victoria also offered an online Accelerator for 15 startups and scaleups. That program “has given me the space to think about how I can grow our graphic design business,” said Rebecca Rose, from Castlemaine. “I have felt very supported, and it has inspired me to become more active in the region instead of relying on our Melbourne-based clients.”

La Trobe supports not just entrepreneurs-in-the-making but also established ones struggling to survive. When COVID-19 closed down or slashed revenue at many local small businesses, La Trobe swiftly recognized that digitization could be a lifeline. In concert with several partners, it rapidly developed a free, online program, COVID-19 Industry Response, for business owners eager to adapt their business models, incorporate new technology, and upskill themselves and their employees in preparation for the digital future. The program ran four times and helped 1,500 entrepreneurs. “I enrolled hoping that I would get at least one new skill,” said one participant, from an agriculture company. “I got skills, confidence, and a feeling of I'm not alone.”

Building Community

The keystone of startup ecosystems is community: passionate founders and their creative teams supporting, advising, and collaborating with one another. La Trobe’s newest program provides just that. It brings together the university’s aspiring entrepreneurs with like-minded founders at Fisbburners, Victoria’s number-one coworking space and hub for tech startups.

La Trobe Fishburners Founders Hub is a 100% virtual community where founders on the same journey learn from both company-building veterans and one another. Connections forged here will power some of Australia’s next great success stories. “Being a part of a connected ecosystem is at the heart of startup success,” said Nicole O’Brien, CEO of Fishburners. “We are incredibly excited to be joining forces with La Trobe and its ambitious University City of The Future development. We can’t wait to work together to connect and support entrepreneurs across Victoria.”

The startup journey must begin somewhere. At La Trobe, it’s with Student Pathways to Entrepreneurship. For those excited by the prospect of starting or joining a new business, this ongoing program is an introduction to the ecosystem and its disparate members. Through workshops, programs, events, and internships, students prepare for careers in this creatively engrossing domain.

“The internship … has been great to practice and transfer my skills and experience into a new industry,” said one student who found placement at an Edtech startup. “The team made me feel so welcome and has been great learning about a new way of working.”

La Trobe’s relationships with industry provide additional ballast for its innovation and entrepreneurship programs. Partner companies co-locate on La Trobe campuses, collaborate on R&D, and support the university’s workforce and startup development efforts. The resulting networks of established and emerging innovators are transforming this community and the world.

The opinions expressed in this sponsored article do not necessarily reflect the views or position of Startup Genome.