Mark Paddenburg, CEO of the Innovation Centre Sunshine Coast, was one of the fortunate community leaders selected to join the second Startup Catalyst Mission to Boulder, Denver and San Francisco with 20 other participants this past March.

According to Shark and Startup Catalyst Founder, Steve Baxter “the objective of the US mission was to explore successful models and programs that provide catalytic support to startups, while building global awareness, discovering best practices and building strong global connections, all to better support the startups in our regional communities.”

“The Catalyst objectives, epic itinerary and related opportunities were a huge motivation for me personally and as CEO of the Innovation Centre Sunshine Coast (IC), to join the mission,” said Mark. “The quality of meetings and insights have been extremely valuable as the IC Board and I are in the process of expanding our accelerator programs, adding new partners and enhancing services based on world’s best practice. The IC has just celebrated its 15 Year Anniversary, 200th member milestone and like all successful organisations, we need to continue to push the needle on innovation.”

There were a total of 32 official events and meetings across seven full days with half the week in Colorado, and half in California. The meetings included accelerators, co-working spaces, investor groups, tech giants, startup entrepreneurs, university startup hubs, maker groups, and a range of pitch events. There were also a number of group workshops and facilitated discussions on every aspect of startup community building and founder support.

The first stop, Boulder, Colorado lies in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and is the home and birthplace of TechStars (known for starting Startup Weekends and driving business innovation), and with a population of just over 100,000 people (30% of which are students of Colorado University), it has one of the highest per-capita rates of startup participation in the world. We have much to learn and there are some strong similarities too.  Like the Sunshine Coast, Boulder has a genuine sense of community, strong lifestyle benefits and is a leading example of how successful startup communities can be built in regional areas.

“Ever since I started my role at the IC in 2012, Brad Feld’s book Startup Communities (based on the successful Boulder, Colorado model over the last decade) has been an inspiration to me” said Mark.

“After a long meeting with the co-founders of TechStars, I also had the opportunity to meet separately with John Beadle, Director of Startup Weekends (Global) at Techstars,” said Mark. “He was super impressed by USC’s leadership, particularly by encouraging students to participate in the annual Startup Weekend Sunshine Coast events (held since 2014) with the added incentive of securing a credit towards their undergraduate degree.”

”We also met with the founders of one the world’s best startup accelerators – BoomTown (MOU to be developed), and we were briefed on Galvanize – a contemporary facility that is rapidly filling the ICT (Information and Communication Technology) skills gap for the tech sector. Galvanize offers a condensed 24-week action-oriented capacity building program with 89% of students securing a meaningful IT job before they graduate. It’s certainly a model we need to look at – particularly USC and TAFE.”

Joining Mark on the mission was Anne Lawrence from Sunshine Coast Council’s Economic Development Agency.  Both representatives met with Patrick Rea, Founder of Canopy, one the best Agribusiness Accelerators in the world. The meeting helped establish new connections in the medicinal cannabis sector, providing insights on how the Sunshine Coast can benefit from this new industry and also informed how the IC’s Food & Health Accelerator Programs can be improved. One of the newest IC members is Medifarm, licensed by the Commonwealth in 2017 to cultivate, manufacture and distribute medical cannabis. They have just completed significant capex and are just about to plant seedlings at their secret location on the Sunshine Coast. There will be a number of exciting milestones and educational collaborations in 2018 including hosting a national Medical Cannabis Symposium on the 6th of July at the IC for medical practitioners and specialists.

The second-half of the mission took place in San Francisco, and the associated Bay Area, home to Silicon Valley, the epicentre of startup activity, where an estimated 27,000 startups and 15,000 investors operate in an area roughly equivalent to the Brisbane-to-Sunshine Coast region, and with a population of roughly seven million people. Some of the top startup accelerators, incubators, co-working spaces, maker spaces, investor groups, and founder support groups are located in this region, making it the ideal location to visit and learn.

According to Mark, “The Sunshine Coast has proven to be a place where innovation lives and entrepreneurs thrive and the recent US experience has convinced me that the Sunshine Coast can become an even bigger hub for successful startups. The region already has a strong reputation as an entrepreneurial hotspot but we do need to ensure our startup programs and pathways are more globally connected, world standard and laser focused on the success of startup founders.”

“Innovation is a global sport and talent is the new currency,” said Mark. “The competition for talent is fierce and as a region, we need to nurture our own talent pipeline, address the digital skills gap asap and attract the best talent possible so our startups can be globally competitive. To scale up the IC services, we are keen to hear from corporates and philanthropists that share the IC vision.”

“My key advice for local startups going to the US,” said Mark. “Would be to set-up meeting schedules well in advance, utilise LinkedIn and Skype (for connections pre/post meetings), pitch succinctly and focus on how you are scaling up, then ask for feedback (not investment).  You need to build the relationship before the transaction will happen balanced with relentless follow-up that day — and be grateful and appreciative.”

“Startup Catalyst CEO Aaron Birkby and mission co-leader Eleanor Carey delivered an action-packed, highly valuable mission that I am still processing — a mission that created new friendships, lifelong connections, lasting impressions and a total mind shift which has strengthened my resolve to drive positive changes at the Innovation Centre and USC,” said Mark. “We also saw examples of other global pathways and support for local entrepreneurs including the Austrade Startup Landing Pads and also benefited from an update on the Advance Queensland startup programs which was very insightful.”

Read more about Mark’s personal experience on the mission here. Other related IC mission posts and photos available at IC FaceBook page and #SCLeaders18 on Twitter.

A full list of the collaborative learnings captured by current and past Startup Catalyst Mission participants are listed here. Thank you to Leigh from the Beach City team who interviewed over 70 talented people that we met, using live and engaging short-form video format here.

The mission was partly funded by Advance Queensland, which is a Queensland Government initiative to support startups and innovation. Under this funding, twelve regional Queensland participants were selected (via a competitive application process) to receive sponsored places on the mission.