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For the past ten years, Tech23 has been a national showcase of the best of homegrown deep tech. Each year, Tech23 introduces a fresh cohort of 23 young tech companies from all corners of Australia and connects them with the right people in the startup ecosystem.

Aussie founders tend to idolise overseas tech superstars when navigating the waters of the startup scene. But what lessons can we learn from our fellow founders back here at home?

Once upon a time…

Tech23 was born in 2009 in a very different climate: it was the middle of the Global Financial Crisis and accelerators did not even exist!

Since then, the Tech23 stage has been graced with 207 alumni. In the past decade, we’ve seen the Australian startup scene grow rapidly thanks to the creation of university programs such as Monash University’s The Generator, the University of Melbourne’s Melbourne Accelerator Program (MAP) and the University of Sydney’s Incubate. Plus, Cicada Innovations — founded in 2000 — has continued to find new ways to push Aussie startups forward.

Commercial tech startup hubs, including BlueChilli and Telstra’s muru-D, also played a huge role in the scene’s growth. The era of angel networks soon followed, resulting in the rise of ‘smart money’ (where seasoned entrepreneurs invest in other entrepreneurs).

The proliferation of these various platforms has completely changed the game for young techies. It’s made the competition climate tougher but, at the same time, the risk it takes to start is relatively smaller and the support ecosystem is stronger than ever.

What have we learned?

At Tech23, the focus is on the kind of tech that makes your brain hurt. Naturally, the founders of those companies are more ‘technical’ than ‘business-minded’. You could assume that once their business takes off for funding, they usually pack their bags and go onto their next intellectually stimulating adventure — and some do, for sure!

Yet many of the Tech23 alum founders stay. Is this a good or bad thing? Are they able to capitalise on the momentum that drives the passion of their company? Or do they struggle to develop the business and leadership skills needed to manage their company as it grows?

Just last week, we headed to Blackbird Ventures’ event Sunrise Island, where we were able to attend a workshop led by an alumnus from the very first Tech23 in 2009 — Didier Elzinga. 

Unlike everything else in a startup, you don’t pivot your culture” — Didier Elzinga, Culture Amp co-founder and Tech23 alumnus, reflects.”

After ten years leading the employee-engagement tech platform Culture Amp, Didier spoke about how he’s been able to cultivate a culture that truly works for his team. Didier believes this culture has played an integral part in his company’s wins — including its $70 million+ capital funding round led by Blackbird Ventures and Atlassian co-founders two months ago. Beyond just being a ‘techie’ founder that gets a company up and running in its early stages, a founder needs to create values that actually mean something. Often this can be prompted by asking yourself, “why will you not give up?”

The power of stories

Looking to Microsoft, Apple and Atlassian, we can see that tech companies are often driven by the passion of their founders — who are usually developers by trade. Their IP, uniqueness and innovation is what shapes their brand and instills confidence in their team; consoling the tough questions of “What happens if this doesn’t work? “What’s our backup plan?”

As stories are everything (something Tech23 concentrates on!), the best person to tell a company’s whole story — problem, solution and potential — is a founder with both a strong vision and knowledge base.

Though the presence of the founder in the early stages of a company is undeniably crucial, it is standard practice for them to leave once ensuring the company has enough equity until at least Series B. Some move to a CTO role, some will be incentivised to stay put for a few years post-acquisition, and others will jump from startup to startup to dive deeper into other types of tech that excite them.

The magic of Tech23 lies in recognising the importance of connections and conversations in attracting smart capital: that is, investments from those who can add value by surrounding you with the right people and advising you on how to build your company the right way with the right tools.

With education and a skilled workforce being two of our nation’s largest exports, the future of Australia’s innovation landscape lies in the goodwill of its people and how they help each other. The best lessons and experiences come from the people you meet and the connections you make as a result. This is exactly what Tech23 is all about. By giving 23 of the brightest tech startups a chance to tell their stories, Tech23 fosters the connections that will shape Australia’s future.

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