A Dangerous Idea: The Self Start Nation

by ericknight

Alan Noble is a classic start up entrepreneur. In his early years he got experience in one of the world’s largest tech companies, NEC, in Japan. He then left for Silicon Valley, starting up Netmind from scratch. He exited in 2000, selling the company to Nokia just as the dot com bubble burst. He is also an Australian.

By his own admission, Alan’s career is not without its bumps. He now heads Google Australia’s Engineering team and was deeply involved in the technology behind Google Wave, which was commercially unsuccessful. But it is failure, Alan told me over breakfast today, which breeds success in the world of entrepreneurship. Australians, young, fresh out of University and eager to change the world, could do a lot worse then go into business for themselves and just have a go. Not all change comes from political activism.

I fear we might have lost something of this instinct to create something from nothing in Australia. We’re too happy to let others carry the can. I was interviewed by the ABC about my views on Australian innovation yesterday. The interview will be broadcast at 7.30am on Radio National on the Saturday Extra programme and I’ll be on with Alec Cameron, Dean of the Australian School of Business. They were keen to press this point: what can government do to fix the problem. But is government the audience for this message? I’m inclined to say, in the end, no.

The government can help create an attractive investment environment – tax breaks for start ups, incentives to drive private investment into angel investing. But in the end, it requires the scientist with the kooky ideas to network with the great business brain to produce an Australian company which can lead with world.

This is not a hypothetical. Some are already doing it. But unlike our sportsmen and actors, the successes of our great entrepreneurs are rarely broadcast. Sure, we know the big business guys. But what about the small guys – those who strive from small beginnings to be the next Mark Zuckerberg? Telling their stories shows young guns how the job is done. The Americans do this exceptionally well. The British do as well – the TV show Dragon’s Den is a huge success. I’d like the ABC to start an Australian equivalent of Dragon’s Den which shows the go-to-exit on taking good ideas to market.

That, in the end, is the dangerous idea behind my Festival of Dangerous Ideas appearance tomorrow. Australia is a nation of self-starters. But we have lost that of late. And we should not just wait for the government to start it back up.

I have a piece in the Australian’s Entrepreneur magazine today on how small businesses and entrepreneurs can change the world for the better. See the hard copy.

I have another piece for Fairfax App customers today on how our investment culture can drive private investment in our best and brightest from the bottom up. Read it here

You can also tune into Radio National tomorrow here, or better still wait for the Festival of Dangerous Ideas which will be broadcast nation-wide at some point to discuss the future of Australian industry – here. The pessimists point to the cliff at the end of the mining boom. The optimists are busy building the ladders from the bottom up.

On a not entirely unrelated point, I was on ABC The Drum on this Wednesday defending the freedom of speech, which includes with freedom to make mistakes. You don’t have to agree with someone to acknowledge their right to state their view. Click here to watch it.

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