Brain drain: why young entrepreneurs leave home | via SMH

by Asher Moses

“WE’VE created crack for women,” says 20-year-old entrepreneur Nikki Durkin of her online fashion startup 99dresses. The trouble is, Australian financiers don’t want to get the habit. Ms Durkin’s aim is clear: “I want to build a billion-dollar company.” But she says Australia won’t let her, so she’s joining thousands of other Australians pursuing their dreams in the US. Over in Silicon Valley, failure is celebrated and seen as a chance to learn, but Ms Durkin, who grew up in Sydney, had the opposite experience in Australia when she had to shut down her site to tweak her idea. 

“In Australia failure’s seen as a bad thing . . . generally I think it’s a bit of tall poppy syndrome happening,” she says. Ms Durkin has been an entrepreneur since she was 15, when she was pulling in $500 a week designing and selling t-shirts online. Now she’s developing 99dresses – an “infinite wardrobe” allowing people to trade clothes with each other.

Ms Durkin has just spent three months in Silicon Valley being mentored at the number one startup accelerator in the world, YCombinator. Out of about 60 entrants, she was a favourite among the venture capitalists. She’s about to close a round of funding and move to the US.

There are more than 65 technology startups in Silicon Valley that were created by Australians, and this number is growing rapidly. Many who feature in a major video series launching on on Monday are highly critical of both the government and the venture capital industry in Australia. They say Australia is asleep at the wheel and risks being left behind.

“They’re moving to the US, they’re getting a green card, and they’re not coming back,” says Matt Barrie, the Sydney-based CEO of global online outsourcing site

As Facebook prepares to go public tomorrow at a valuation of up to $US104 billion, the opposition communications spokesman, Malcolm Turnbull, says figuring out why Australia earns so little of its GDP from its own ideas is “the issue that keeps me up most at night”.”It keeps me up at night because I think we should do better. It keeps me up at night because I don’t have any straightforward answers to it,” he says. 

The Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, refused a request for an interview and did not respond to questions. “They’re just not listening to us, we’re all just jumping ship and going overseas and putting offices there as opposed to trying to work within our own country,” says Eddie Machalaani, 33, who with Mitch Harper, 29, created e-commerce platform BigCommerce.

Australia ignores its innovators at its peril. “Mitch and Eddie might be the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs and that’s something that the country can really celebrate,” says Larry Bohn, the US venture capitalist who invested $15 million in BigCommerce. According to the Aussie expat network Advance, about 15,000 Australians work in the San Francisco Bay Area alone – a large portion working for tech companies. Mr Barrie has been an external lecturer at the University of Sydney for 10 years. “Pretty much all of the top guys from every year of my class . . . are actually in Silicon Valley right now doing companies.”

Only $120 million – out of $1.8 trillion funds under management in Australia – was invested by Australian venture capital firms last year. US investors are picking up the slack. “We’ve invested slightly over $100 million in Australia in three companies – Atlassian, Ozforex, 99Designs . . . and there is no upper limit,” says Richard Wong, a partner with the large US venture capital firm Accel Partners. Adrian Turner, an Australian entrepreneur who has lived in the Valley for the past 12 years, says if Australia doesn’t invest in technology-based businesses in parallel to capitalising on the commodities boom, we’re “going to be left behind globally in a way that’s irreversible”.

“There’s a whole range of things that has to be done and part of them is incumbent on the private sector, part of it is incumbent on the government. Right now both parties are absolutely asleep at the wheel.”

WeTeachSydney: Startup and Business Speed Teaching | Thursday 17 May 6:30pm


After a SOLD-OUT event in Melbourne, WeTeachMe is bringing its Startup and Business Speed Teaching event to Sydney!

Come along to a soiree of networking and brain-picking conversations for the startups and businesses on the prowl for that umph of inspiration that will take your startup to the next level. Join us in Sydney’s startup institution, Fishburners, and let the churning of killer ideas begin.

Are you on the look out for strategies and tactics to make your startup a smashing success but lack the expertise in areas like sales, accounting or financing? We will team you up with field experts that specialize in startups and can whip you into shape with their advice. In our speed teaching workshops you will get the chance to network and find an adviser, a mentor or just like-minded people interested in entrepreneurship.

With classes ranging from “fundraising” to “low cost marketing for new business ventures”, there will be crowdpleasers for new-comers as well as tailored advice for the needs of your startup that will make sure everyone walks away choc-full of ideas and practical tips on how you can make things happen; from implementing your new marketing plan to boosting your sales.


Social Startup 48 | Application open until 13 April


SS48 is a weekend event where passionate and like-minded people come together to build and launch enterprises that create a positive social impact. Participants will include developers, marketers, entrepreneurs, creative-minded people and more. Teams will focus on a social issue and develop the business plan and strategy required to solve it. Along the way, teams have the opportunity to build networks and learn new skills, and there will be mentoring and guest speakers to share their wisdom as well. The event is $30 for the weekend incl. lunches, dinners, morning/afternoon teas and snacks. 

Date: 4-6 May

Location: Queen Street Studio,

Applications close on 13 April. For more information, check out


Let’s talk Business | City of Sydney event series

Let’s Talk Business is a seminar series for small business operators comprising four educational and networking events held monthly on a Tuesday from 6 pm to 8.30 pm in Sydney CBD.

Since 2008, the Let’s Talk Business series has provided a hub to foster new business in the city of Sydney; An environment for entrepreneurs to share compelling new ideas for growing their business, to learn from successful business operators, to connect with experts and peers in an informal environment and to gain practical advice and real tools to enable action.

The program features high-quality presenters and case studies, followed-by networking drinks and canapés. Let’s Talk Business is programed and produced by The Events Agency on behalf of the City of Sydney Council. 

To book tickets and find out more go to

10 Disruptive Tools For Every Generation

As the web rapidly transforms the way we consume knowledge, here’s a quick look at innovative tools, programs, and startups that are rapidly changing how we learn.

As the web rapidly transforms the way we consume knowledge, here’s a quick look at innovative tools, programs, and startups that are rapidly changing how we learn.

Code the Next Facebook!

“Many public-school children seem to know only two dates — 1492 and 4th of July; and as a rule they don’t know what happened on either occasion.”  – Mark Twain

 Startup technologists are the new rockstars to be emulated, which means learning how to write code is finding its way into the changing educational ecosystem more and more.

The Academy of Software Engineering: NYC’s newest move to become a stronghold of young technical talent is slated to deliver cutting edge curriculum for students focusing on software engineering, design, and technology.

Code Now: This program is quickly gaining traction as it aims to develop the next generation of disruptive technologists, focusing on foundational computer science skills for underrepresented high school students.

Codecademy: Learn to write code online and at your own pace, through a series of interactive tutorials and lessons. [Read our full story here.]

Hungry Academy: In a recruiting masterstroke, Living Social will take you from “0” to “10101…” in a rigorous 5 month program, (upon signing a commitment to work for Living Social for a year that is).

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Also read: 7 ways to start learning how to code right now for free and 5 more ways to start learning how to code right now for free.

Build a Company!

“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education”  – Mark Twain

Upon graduating high school, my parents presented me with an option: either go to college, or use the money they had saved up to do something else (start a business, travel the world, learn to fly helicopters, etc). I went to college*. You don’t have to.

E[nstitute]: This 2-year apprenticeship program is set out to provide a legitimate alternative for traditional higher education by turning startups and small businesses across New York City into classrooms. [Read our full story here.]

Thiel Fellowship: 2-years + $100,000 + mentorship and connections with some of the heaviest hitters in Silicon Valley = a high probability of success.

EverFi: This startup focuses on delivering the critical life skills of financial literacy through a series of interactive courses and games… (and it’s 100% free for K-12 schools).

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Become a Modern Day Know-It-All & Handy Man!

“It is noble to teach oneself, but still nobler to teach others — and less trouble.“ – Mark Twain

Finally, the tools for servicing the largest market segment yet, the rest of us who want to stay sharp or learn something new, no matter what age.

Skillshare: The ultimate peer-to-peer experiential learning platform. Learn (and teach!) how to do everything from writing code to hanging a shelf properly in your house.

Udemy: “The Academy of You”. Quite simply, this platform allows you to take and build online courses on just about anything.

Khan Academy: The groundbreaking platform for alternative online learning. With a vast aray of bite sized YouTube videos, Khan boils down everything from art history to the Paulson Bailout.

Udacity: After his CS221 class went viral, Google Fellow Sebastian Thrun of Stanford launched a platform that combines the direct instruction of Khan Academy with the interactivity of Codecademy.

MITx: In the Fall of 2012 MIT will offer a variety of its courses for free online. Sound like MIT OpenCourseWare? It’s not. It features interactive instruction, online labs, and individualized assessment, giving anyone the ability to earn certificates from MITx.

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*NOTE: I had an awesome time in college.


DJ is the CMO of iStrategyLabs, focusing on new venture creation Grandstand while also developing the various community focused programs that iStrategyLabs champions. DJ is a co-organizer for the DC Tech Meetup, the founder of Colonial Entrepreneurs, and is a DC Ambassador for Sandbox, a group of 600+ inspirational leaders from 45 countries, all under the age of 30.


The New Rules Of Innovation: Bottom-Up Solutions To Top-Down Problems | Co.Exist: World changing ideas and innovation

by Arnie Cooper

In his new book, Vijay Vaitheeswaran argues that we’re thinking about worldchanging innovation all wrong: It’s not going to come from where we expect it.

The world is currently standing “on the cusp of a post-industrial revolution.” So writes Vijay Vaitheeswaran in his new book, Need, Speed and Greed: How the New Rules of Innovation Can Transform Businesses, Propel Nations to Greatness and Tame the World’s Most Wicked Problems, out March 13. Vaitheeswaran, a 20-year veteran correspondent for The Economist and adviser to the World Economic Forum, wrote the book, he says, as a way to inspire bottom-up solutions to top-down problems like resource depletion, climate change, and growing income inequality. We spoke with Vaitheeswaran about the importance of disruptive technologies, social entrepreneurship, and embracing China’s rise.

Co.Exist: As you point out in your book, modern humanity has arrived at the first phase of an unprecedented “innovation revolution,” yet many are being left behind. Why is that and what are we gonna do about it?

Vijay Vaitheeswaran: First, I think it’s a wonderful time to be alive. Shockingly, this might be the best time to be in the bottom billion because of transformations like mobile telephony and micro-credit. But it’s getting much harder to be in the middle class in places like America. The principal reason for this, I think, is that educational systems are increasingly out of touch with the needs of the ideas economy. The current education system that our and other countries developed was suited to the industrial revolution, a one-size-fits-all model for education that treats people as commodities. But we’re in an innovation age where creativity, individual initiative, willingness to think out of the box and disrupt established business or even lifestyle patterns is much more important than simple manual tasks that produce the next widget. So I think the great challenge for developed economies like the U.S. is to reinvent education. The challenge for each one of us is to keep relearning how to learn.

You alluded to the growing income disparity in this country. How do you counter the growing sentiment that capitalism itself is responsible for our economic woes and government is the solution?

It’s fashionable today to say that capitalism is to blame for our problems–especially things like the middle-class squeeze. Or to say that China is eating our lunch and blame overseas competitors. We live in a dynamic world. We’ve always had overseas competitors as we were to countries like Great Britain before us. And capitalism is the greatest engine of wealth creation and improvement of the lives of ordinary people that the world has ever known. So I will actually argue that we need more capitalism, not less, but that we need a better kind of capitalism. One where we go from “greed is good” to “greed for good.”

Rather than the Wall Street style of capitalism with perverse incentives that rewards an industry that sucks up a lot of resources while producing little social or economic value, i.e., the Wall Street banks, I want to see us reward the productive economy: entrepreneurs and innovators who are combating the wicked global problems we have like climate change and pandemic threats and so on. We should give more rewards to capitalist entrepreneurs and the new breed of social entrepreneurs who are motivated not only by money but also by social capital, by wanting to do good by society.

So what should the role of government be in all of this?

I think government has an absolutely essential role in enabling the innovation future, but it’s different from what we’re seeing right now. I think the wrong role is industrial policy, that is government bureaucrats deciding which industries are strategic, picking technology winners, subsidizing specific companies with favored kinds of technologies–even if they’re attractive or cuddly like solar energy. And history shows this. China’s new breed of state capitalism is a very dangerous and pernicious way of approaching the role of government by funding state-owned enterprises that in effect crowd out the private sector and hog up the credit that’s available. These businesses are not subject to anti-trust laws so they prevent a level playing field for private enterprise, be that domestic or foreign. The right way forward for government is to level the playing field by funding, for example, government and academic R & D. That’s a role for taxpayer money. It’s also making sure there’s a proper rule of law among other things like bankruptcy laws. We have the best bankruptcy laws in the world since they enable a culture of risk-tasking, entrepreneurship and failure, but also a second chance. These are very important pre-conditions for innovation to flourish.

So which of the Presidential contenders offers in your view the most hope for innovation?

It’s hard to say there’s an innovation candidate. I would offer one note of caution though: This mindless China bashing or denunciation of trade and rivals overseas coming from all the candidates, ignores basic economics. Innovation is not a zero-sum game. And China rising does not mean America has to decline. On the contrary, you can see this as a rising tide that will lift all our boats, just as the rise of Japan was a peaceful and prosperous endeavor that made America richer as well. To close our market and enter into a trade war is a beggar-thy-neighbor policy that would make everybody poorer, especially a trading nation like the U.S. that depends on open markets.

You devote some time to Clayton Christensen’s notion of disruptive innovation.

I think we’re entering a disruptive age in the global economy. There are phases in economic history and we’re entering one in which we have many mature industries in the U.S. that are in desperate need of renewal. The auto and steel industries are great examples. I think that we’ll even see the Googles–the Internet 1.0 industry–being disrupted by the social media industry and the wave of big data. That’s an industry that knows how to deal with disruption and famously argues that you have to eat your own lunch rather than have your competitors eat it. I think that kind of mentality needs to be more widespread among the traditional heartland industries like medical devices or traditional industrial products. If they don’t reinvent their business models to be more frugal and cutting edge in terms of technology and customer needs, guess what? The Chinese, Indians, and Brazilians are going to do it and they’re going to do it cheaper and maybe even better. So the disruption is coming; the only question is whether the disruptive innovators are going to use forks or chopsticks.

Regarding energy, you counter those who say the best way to move toward a clean energy transformation is through government initiatives like the Apollo lunar mission.

The idea of a moon shot to solve the climate and energy problem is actually a dangerous idea. Here’s why: Talking about getting a man on the moon in a decade, costs be damned, was a wonderful way to galvanize a nation towards a goal and, yes, it got the country rallied; it got lots of kids interested in science and engineering. However, the challenge of bringing affordable clean energy in a sustainable way to 7 billion people around the world is the exact opposite problem of sending a rocket to the moon once, regardless of cost. Getting to the moon was a national security issue better suited to a top-down government approach where costs don’t matter and national pride was really at stake. But we need a markets-entrepreneurs-consumers business model to solve this problem. You could fill textbooks with the number of white elephant projects that government has tried to fund in energy. I understand the appeal of wanting a rallying cry, but let’s not confuse that with how we’re actually going to solve this.

One obstacle is the growing numbers of non-believers of climate change.

I’ve written a couple of books on the topic and it disheartens me to see the anti-science arguments gaining ground in recent years. We know there’s a finite quantity of fossil fuels in the earth, whereas the energy from the sun is infinite. So it’s just a question of getting renewable energy costs down which is starting to occur rapidly. Again, what we need more of is a level playing field. The external costs are not incorporated into the price of burning coal or oil, so the dirty polluters get a free ride putting clean energy at a disadvantage. My radical proposal is to abolish all subsidies for energy, including solar and wind–so no subsidies for anybody. The biggest losers would be nuclear and coal–not the wind or solar guys. So environmentalists are wrong to lobby for subsidies because they’re getting a few crumbs off the table. It’s the big dogs who actually end up with the meal. Instead they should argue for policies like carbon taxes or trading systems that make dirty energy pay its way at a fair price.

You devote a lot of space to the quintessential techno-optimist Ray Kurzweil’s singularity theory, yet you don’t hold much stock in it?

I’d put it this way. I think the trends identified by the techno-optimists are actually right. If you stick to the facts, we are really entering a new golden age. But discovery doesn’t always lead to value creation. Once it enters the marketplace and changes our lives for the better, and you can find some sort of business model or societal value, then it’s innovation, not just a gadget or clever thought. Now we have not only Moore’s Law, but an even faster rate of expansion of genomics, considering how costs for sequencing the genome are collapsing. And if you look across the range of health, energy, and other areas, you not only see exponentially growing technologies but a convergence of these techs leading to new paradigms for personalized medicine that were unimaginable 10 years ago. So we can look forward to a wonderful few decades ahead where wonderful new industries will be formed. Whether this will transform humanity into a post-biological era is to me a bit more spiritual and mystical so I’m not gonna go down the road of the Singularitarians as they call themselves. But I think the facts on which they base their arguments leading to their inspirational thinking are certainly undeniable.

What about the other end of the spectrum, the eco pessimists like Paul Gilding who in his TED Talk last month questioned the notion that technology is going to prevent us from enduring some really tough times ahead.

Human advancement has always been a great race between development and degradation, between progress and regress or chaos and so I don’t posit that technology is going to solve all our problems. On the contrary, I acknowledge, in the “Need” part of my book, the argument that we live in an era of wicked global problems and tremendous challenges, opposed by the rise of the BRIC economies, by the growing population and the urbanization of the species. But to suggest we’re all going to hell in a hand basket misses the other half of the equation. The problems themselves stimulate a response and this is where The Club of Rome and other pessimists from the 1970s got it wrong. There are huge challenges with water and other resources, but the other side of the ledger is the innovation piece of the puzzle. When we have scarcity, you trigger investment, innovation. This is because development is a dynamic dance. Straight-line trends don’t actually last in real life; rather, you end up with dynamic responses. And that’s the beauty: markets, policy, and society responds. So Guidling’s concern is legitimate, which is why I’ve written a book arguing that the other half of this great race–the solutions part–needs to be done with far more vigor. In a sense my book is a call to arms for embracing a vision for innovation that is much more ambitious or disruptive and more democratic. If we can get 7 billion brains involved in solving these problems, then I think we have a lot better chance of succeeding using the new tools of innovation, than if we simply stick with business as usual.