The Startup Catalyst experience — one-year reflections and advice to my past self
Just over a year has passed since I went on the Startup Catalyst trip to the US. As a new cohort of leaders prepares to fly over this weekend, I reflect on the impact the program has had on my life over the past 12 months and consider what I might say to my past self, knowing what I now know.
For background, Startup Catalyst is a program that takes startups, investors, corporates, tech-savvy youth, and innovation leaders to international startup hotspots including Silicon Valley, Europe, Israel, and Asia. My trip in 2017 was with a cohort of leaders who support entrepreneurs and innovation programs. My reflections at the time are captured here and focus largely on my role at the time of managing Fire Station 101, the Ipswich local government innovation hub Fire Station 101.
I was keen to learn from other’s perspectives both from people we visited as well as other leaders in the cohort. The Startup Catalyst trip included 10-days in Boulder, Denver, and Silicon Valley, and to make the most of being overseas I added two weeks to go to Kansas City, Toronto, Seattle, and Vancouver.
On reflection, three conditions helped me realise outcomes from the trip:
- First, the novel environment and experience of doing something new opened me up for learning new perspectives.
- Second, the community of trust in the cohort allowed me to get even more insights from other’s perspectives and challenge my views through feedback.
- Third, having a shared background and focus created a strong bond among the cohort, facilitating shared vision and collaboration.
The impact of the trip was significant, even though there is not one specific connection or experience to which I can attribute a change. I took the trip looking to validate the strategy developed for the hub in Ipswich and test the underlying local government business model. I returned with the start of an idea to help all hubs and models be more effective across Australia, particularly in regions outside metro areas.
Because of the trip and connections I made in Kansas City, I returned to the US a few months later to attend an innovation leader’s conference at the Kaufmann Foundation. The connections and insights inspired me to focus further on how we map and measure the outcomes of our collective investment.
My attention focused further on measurement, and my conversations, networks, and writings followed suit. Eventually, this led to me handing over management of Fire Station 101 to others as I took up my current role with the State government measuring the innovation ecosystem, while also building a platform to help hubs and programs be more sustainable.
This series of events would not have happened if not for Startup Catalyst. Like much of life’s winding journey, I could not predict the series of events that led me to mapping and measuring the innovation impact of a nation.
Beyond the impact to me personally is the impact we are seeing between leaders across Queensland. A year later, a dozen conversations happen between the different people in the original cohort each week. Each of us can ask for input or support and bounce ideas off each other at any time.
My own journey is not unique, in that each of the leaders have since continued to create outcomes in their areas at local levels and collectively build capability in the state’s and nation’s innovation ecosystem. New programs, hubs, and startups have emerged for an exponential impact on entrepreneur capability and capacity. In my travels across Australia since, I continue to bump into Startup Catalyst alumni from different programs who are leading outcomes across the nation.
Advise to my past self
The new cohort includes incredible leaders who have an amazing depth of experience. Even though I had my run last year, I admit to being slightly envious of the time they will spend together, lessons they will share, and inspirations they will bring back into Australia.
A few people in the new cohort have asked if there is anything they should know before they go. Rather than advice to others or pointing to specific places to visit as the schedule is well catered for, I figured I would reflect on what I might say to my past self a few days before I left:
It’s about the relationships. The relationships you build with your cohort are the most important part of the trip. These are the leaders who will be changing the Australian innovation landscape for decades to come. And they’re just good people. You will gain as much if not more from their reflections as you will from the information you are presented with.
Be the student. Ask questions, listen more, share opinion less. Write down the assumptions you want to test, and then be open minded to other perspectives.
Create networks for others. You can rapidly expand your network in your areas of focus. This is not just for your benefit, but you are creating pathways for those you lead back home. Make as many connections as possible with the intent of creating networks for those back home.
The difference you want to make. You will return with your perspective and vision expanded. The trip is a unique opportunity to take a mile-high view and add new ideas to your toolkit. Take time to capture how and where you want to apply yourself when you return and the story you want to tell with your life. Test this with your cohort as they do the same to see what you can do together. Collectively, you will change the world.
Leave nothing behind. The days are long and schedule full. Make the most of every minute, say yes to new experiences, and share them with others. Look after yourself, while leaving nothing on the table.
Pass it on. Even as you return, identify those who you want to share the experience. We need more good people doing amazing things of we are going to make a positive impact in the world. Startup Catalyst is a unique experience to achieve this by breaking down assumptions, expanding perspectives, and building connections and long-term relationships.
Thanks to Startup Catalyst and Advance Queensland, to Aaron Birkby and Peter Laurie for incredible facilitation, to an amazing Startup Catalyst cohort and friends. I look forward to hearing insights from the new cohort 12 months from now.