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What Canberra needs are champions and cheerleaders (and can you stop that bashing, please?)

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Stop this Canberra bashing, will you? It’s not merely the home of politics. And, you Canberrans, it’s time you began to take a little more pride in your identity!

That is some straight talk from Anna Pino, the newest, and probably the stoutest, evangelist for the national capital’s entrepreneurial culture.

“Canberra is not generally seen as the poster child for startup communities. However, under the cover of a public service town beats the heart of a buzzing, and rapidly growing entrepreneurial community that does things a bit differently,” she said.

Pino runs a business incubator called Lighthouse Business Innovation Centre Limited, which last year assisted more than 600 Canberra startups, early stage and high growth businesses.  But, she believes the entire city to be a larger, natural incubator. Such are its strengths and synergies with government, research and industry.

Pino cites the following examples:

  • Windlab, a spinout from CSIRO that develops atmospheric modelling and wind energy prospecting tools
  • Connecting Spaces, which was seed-funded by the Commonwealth’s Department of Innovation (DIISRTE) as part of the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS)
  • Locata, which has developed a new radio-location technology that gives precise positioning in many environments where GPS is either marginal or unavailable for modern applications.
  • Aspen Medical, which was spun out from defence and provides immediate healthcare services to remote areas or regions of high demand throughout the Pacific region, South East Asia, America, the Middle East, and the United Kingdom.

Having said that, Pino admitted Canberra is different from Sydney or Melbourne. And, yes, it lacks a large investor community.

“Anyone who has done business in Canberra or has had a branch office located here will attest to the fact that Canberra is a different place to do business,” she said. “The startup community here also operates quite differently and the businesses that support entrepreneurs are themselves having to innovate in order to meet the market need.”

That is why, Pino says, the traditional accelerator and incubator won’t work in today’s Canberra.

“…the incubator needs to be flexible enough to fulfil the role of investor, mentor, social connector and broker of relationships,” she says. It also needs collaborate within the local community and across borders, she added.

“Canberra is a highly entrepreneurial and creative community but this tends to be a little underground. The incubator will aim to change this by involving the broader community in the development of local enterprises,” Pino says about the role Lighthouse is assuming.

“But we have a long way to go to change the culture of a town that doesn’t really talk about itself…What we don’t have are the champions and the cheerleaders. Canberrans are not good at making a noise about what they do,” she told Anthill.

Talk up your town, Canberra. That might be the only way to go!

(Image from the Virtual Reading Room at the National Archives.)

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