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Young entrepreneurs of the world, unite!


You don’t have to be a Vulcan to grok the good stuff that can come out of an international mind-meld as big as Global Entrepreneurship Week. Matthew da Silva sits down with the organisers and profiles some inspiring young entrepreneurial attendees.

Nahji Chu sees her Vietnamese catering business as a good model for enterprising Asians.

“It’s like: ‘Yeah, look what this lady’s done, what she’s made of her life. How she’s gone back to the basics. She’s doing what she does anyway and what we would’ve done in Laos or in Vietnam. She’s not afraid to do that.’

“That’s why I can do that, because I’ve become so Western. I’m confident in my Westernness. I’m going to get so Asian now!”

We’re sitting outside Nahji’s tuck shop in busy East Sydney with Matt Jones, an ex-artillery officer and MBA who owns Social Alchemy, which will again host Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) in Sydney.

According to Jones, an idea is only the kernel. Inventing a better mousetrap does not, by itself, equate to entrepreneurship.

“The small business will have its business objectives in mind and will get those working,” he says. “And it might use entrepreneurial devices in order to achieve that. But that will get to a certain steady state. Whereas an entrepreneur will say, ‘How is the best way we can leverage resources beyond our control at this present time.’ And that’s the real key. It’s making something work with resources that aren’t presently in your control.”

“Entrepreneurship is the art and science of the startup,” adds Jonathan Ortmans, president of GEW.

Ortmans reports to Carl Schramm, head of the Missouri-based Kauffman Foundation, which developed GEW in partnership with a government-backed youth initiative, Enterprise UK.

The proportion of 15 to 19-year-old Australians not in employment, education or training (‘Neets’) has risen from 21.6 to 24.2 percent since 2003. Neets are prevalent in all developed economies, but engaging youth is not just a government problem.

“People in most countries stand up and say, ‘We think small business is important,'” says Ortmans, remembering when, as Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, Prime Minister Gordon Brown kicked it off. “But he went a step further. He said, ‘We have to foster a culture of enterprise here.'”

Research done by the Kauffman Foundation has found a connection between economic growth and high-growth entrepreneurs.

“It’s these entrepreneurs, ultimately, that have grown our economies over the last 30 years,” says Ortmans.

GEW lights a spark under the youth employment star ship through mentoring — allowing young people to talk with savvy businesspeople — and competitions. From humble beginnings, it now resembles Star Trek’s United Federation of Planets. Last year, more than three million people took part in over 25,000 events in 78 countries.

“It’s about individuals knowing they can have an impact on the world,” Ortmans says. “It’s about their human dignity.”

‘Partners’ attend GEW events and help to develop young people’s ideas. Some partners are guided by their organisational mission, which can include helping people in their communities to realise their potential. But there are other benefits, too.

“It’s an excellent opportunity for a partner to look at their product or process innovation, look at new markets and get some feedback on products,” says Jones. “It generates brand awareness around what their actual story was and how that relates to other people.

“By having that community approach, by sharing, by exercising trust, by putting it out there, there’s great opportunity for partners to build their own value and supply chain with other partners, and realise opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t see.”

To participate in Global Entrepreneurship Week, held from 16 to 22 November, visit www.unleashingideas.com.au.


Richard Myers, 20, co-owns HWS Hosting

We’re a web host and I personally do website development as well. We started hosting in May 2007 as a small reseller and now we own all of our own hardware.

Previously I’d met some of my best clients through networking events, networking weeks. The people you meet there are so passionate for new entrepreneurs, for business in general. They’re gold, they really are.

Personally, it’s helped to take my business from a very small back-bedroom business to now. We’re a three-person partnership; we’re hoping to push the best part of 20,000 pounds [Sterling] in turnover this year which, last year, I wouldn’t have even believed was possible.

Matt Jones, 41, owns Social Alchemy, Australian host of Global Entrepreneurship Week

I set it up on the back of a Churchill Fellowship — looking at social enterprise — to the UK and the US in 2005. Before that I was really provoked by an experience that happened in East Timor, where I was serving with the Army. I saw a need in the development of that country that wasn’t being met. You want to talk about high unemployment rates?! In East Timor at that stage, and I think it’s probably similar today, they’re right up there around 60 to 80 percent.

There was not a base for understanding how to take ideas beyond just a primary market. I was completing an MBA at the time and interested in ideas around corporate social responsibility and how that actually played a role beyond just reputation management. So I formed Social Alchemy, looking at three things. One was that disruption is inevitable. Secondly, engaging in dialog is necessary. And thirdly, there’s always a hidden potential.

Lang Leav, 29, owns Akina & the Secret Society of Button Fetishes

I run a fashion label. But I also do a lot of other things. I do books and I sell art works and I have exhibitions and things. So I guess what I really do is I’m a storyteller. I create stories and I just put them onto things.

I met Matt through [the] Churchill [Fellowships] because he’s president of the Churchill Trust. And he sort of just kept in touch and introduced me to all these other projects, various things that he’s involved in. And I’ve seriously never met anyone so passionate about entrepreneurship. I think he’s instilled that into me a bit. Because I never thought of myself as an entrepreneur. I thought of myself as a creative, artist person.

Of course, it’s always really inspiring just hearing people just speak about what they’ve achieved. Because when you’re doing this on your own, it’s really hard because I’m here by myself and I’ve been doing this for the last six years now. Day after day I’m in my studio and I don’t have that much connection with the outside world unless I go to networking things like this.

Genevieve Yan-Coulbourn, 50, WHK Group, author of How to Start a Business With No Capital

I’m a chartered accountant in practice. What I did realise is that there are lots of resources for people with resources. That is to say, I make rich people richer. But there are virtually no resources for people with no resources. And to me it was a fundamental problem. Somebody referred me to Matthew’s event and I turned up. I thought that this was exactly what was needed.

It was just adding back, giving back to the world. Just supporting people who have a great idea, and supporting people who want to support Matthew. You know, business is about skills and it’s not just vocational training, it’s not just technical skills. And some people know it, and some people can pay for it, and other people want it but can’t afford it.

Michael Cao, 23, past director of Young Leaders Network

I’ve been involved with a couple of projects. One of the most recent would be the Young Leaders Network, which is a not-for-profit connection that develops exceptional young leaders. We get together all the leaders of all the clubs and societies, student council leaders — basically any not-for-profit organisation that’s run by youth. We host networking events so that the leaders can meet each other and connect and share information and prevent the siloing of their information.

Yes, I certainly did get a lot out of last year. The speakers were amazing and I had an opportunity to really network with some very bright and well-connected people. I guess I expect the same thing this year. I’m in Melbourne this year, so it’ll be an interesting crowd. I hear the entrepreneur scene is more active than in Sydney.

Nahji Chu, 39, owns misschu, a catering business and Vietnamese tuck shop

I’m not sure what [Global Entrepreneurship Week is] offering but I’m sure there’s tricks I can learn. As an entrepreneur, I’m always prepared to take on new ideas. Basically, I’m going along to find out what I don’t know. There’s new ways of doing everything and I want to learn if there’s anything new that you can teach me to grow my business in a non-conservative or a non-done way.

I’m going along to find out what I’m missing out on.

David Ralph, 25, co-owner of Kakawa, hand-made chocolate and confectionary, East Sydney

Jin Sun is the head chocolatier. It was her dream to open up a chocolate shop and I really encouraged her to do [it]. She’s always wanted to have her own business and we don’t really want to work for anyone else any more.

I think [I want to go to Global Entrepreneurship Week] just to get the experience because it’s our first business together. You don’t know what to expect. We don’t know how busy or how quiet we’re going to be. But we both believed in our products. I believed in Jin’s products. I think she’s a great chocolatier. I think she’s a great entrepreneur.

Rowena Foong, 32, co-owns High Tea With Mrs Woo with her sisters Juliana and Angela

Even though making clothes is really our passion, from doing this business for eight years now we’re really interested in lots of different kinds of seminars and how other people approach [combining] the creative business with business. We’re always open to attending a lot of different things.

You’re seeing it from a different point of view of someone doing different types of businesses not in this field. You see all the cross-over and you get to understand that we’re pretty much all in the same kind of predicament. You can talk about things. It makes for interesting discussion.

Rachel Beaney, 22, Uthinc Speakers Bureau

We connect people who want a speaker with our speakers. All our speakers are social innovators. They’re young people with very exciting ideas.

I’m planning to be involved this year. I worked with Project Australia and we’re launching our Speakers Bureau at Global Entrepreneurship Week.

It would just be a great opportunity to meet like-minded people, people who are also interested in innovative ideas and the kinds of things our speakers have to say.

Obviously it’d be great to get some publicity for the Speakers Bureau. Half the speakers’ fees from the Speakers Bureau go to incubator funds for Project Australia, which is launching not-for-profit projects in Australia.

Zara Choy, 32, co-organiser, Global Entrepreneurship Week

Before, I’d only thought of myself as employed. When I attended the Week, it suddenly opened up a world where I could steer my own ship. Before I was a web developer — I still am at the moment, I do freelance work — but now I know that I can create my own business and develop something in an area that I have a passion for.

I’m looking at getting onto something that has more social impact. It’s something that I have always felt very strongly about. So I’d like to work more with people and with social change. I see entrepreneurship as a vehicle for that.

I saw the opportunities that [working with Matt] could bring to people, in the same way that it did for me, and I just wanted to support what he was doing for the community. Over the last year, since the last Week, I’ve heard about how he sees the entrepreneurial scene in Australia and opportunities for people to come together and problem-solve, provide solutions to big issues around our time. All this is achieved through entrepreneurship and innovation and looking at things as collective problem-solving opportunities.

We’re looking at things at many different levels. At the individual business level, yes each person creates change in their own sphere of operation. And still just running a small business they can look at how their business impacts the larger picture. So we’re talking about areas or social entrepreneurship here where things are not just solely profit-oriented, where there’s a consciousness of ‘How am I affecting my environment, how am I affecting my social scene?’

And then, on a different level, on a larger level, there’s industry and government involved. And that’s where a lot of opportunity exists to create conversation and dialog around things that will really make the entrepreneur scene in Australia flourish.

Matthew da Silva writes feature stories to fulfil a dream after working in communications and technical writing roles for two decades. He grew up in Sydney, lived in Japan for nine years and now lives on the Sunshine Coast, in Queensland. He blogs daily at Happy Antipodean.

Illustration: HikingArtist.com