How to be a ‘techpreneur’
Adam Brimo clearly has a bit of get-up-an-go about him. In 2010, about the time he was graduating from the University of NSW, he started the Vodafail website for disgruntled Vodafone customers, and, two months later, filed a report summarising 12,000 complaints about the mobile carrier to the ACCC.
In 2011, he co-founded Mijura Software, which provides task management software for businesses.
We know what we’re doing is the best way to teach and learn.
Then, last year, he co-founded Open Learning, an online platform that allows universities, businesses and individuals to deliver courses in a way that encourages engagement, sharing and collaboration.
”A lot of people deliver online learning but they focus on content,” says the 25 year old.
”We know what we’re doing is the best way to teach and learn.”
Persistence is the quality that technology entrepreneurs – or techpreneurs – need most, Brimo says. ”If you are someone who thinks things are going to come easily, starting a business is going to be a big wake-up call.”
He has no doubt that he benefited from studying at UNSW, which claims to be Australia’s leading university in producing technology start-ups over the past 15 years, based on an analysis of CrunchBase, a tech company database.
Associate Professor Maurice Pagnucco, head of the School of Computer Science and Engineering, says UNSW fosters entrepreneurship, which these days, in the world of technology, is within easier reach than ever.
A techpreneur doesn’t even need any serious computing machinery to bring a good idea to fruition.
”It’s all in the web or in the cloud,” Professor Pagnucco says.
”You just need a laptop.”
UNSW’s commercial arm, NewSouth Innovations, used to be all about commercialising research, but increasingly offers advice to students with start-up ideas.
The university also offers techpreneurs with links to the university access to Venture Space, a rent-free and low-rent space for start-ups. Plus it hosts start-up pitching and networking events.
The majority of UNSW’s techpreneurs are computing and electrical engineering graduates.
But if you want to start a business, building a multi-disciplinary team is important, Professor Pagnucco says.
”Our school focuses on strong technical programming skills, but you need people with business skills, marketing, graphic design and so on. You need a complementary team of students.”
Allan Aaron, director and general partner of the venture capitalist firm, Technology Venture Partners, says having a high-quality team with commitment, knowledge and a willingness to listen to advice is often the critical factor for start-ups.
If seeking venture capital, techpreneurs need ideas that are original and have the potential to become significant enterprises, Aaron says. He also believes a technical degree is of more use than a business one.
”I’d rather have someone that’s studied a technical degree with a view to doing a postgraduate qualification in some sort of entrepreneurial or business discipline,” Aaron says. ”You need an appreciation for the impact of technology and delivering technological change.”
The right sort of person could study technical and business degrees at the same time, Aaron says.
Brimo, who studied for five years to obtain his bachelor of engineering (software) and bachelor of arts (politics), says embracing a university’s extracurricular activities is also important.
He sat on committees and set up a society, a newsletter, and a networking event for students.
”It gave me experience in starting things,” Brimo says. ”Obviously the world outside is a lot bigger and I have to learn a lot more. But the skills I learnt at university have gone a long way.”
Brimo has also benefited greatly from networking at UNSW, not just in terms of advice, but investment. ”We have a number of angel investors … one I met at an UNSW alumni event,” he says. ”The university network is great.”