Struggle Street: The Australian Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

By Christopher Murphy, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program

2013_03_01 MBA (30%) 264There has been much conjecture about the 2014 Commonwealth Budget – with university fee deregulation, Medicare co-payments and changes to fuel excises well reported. One of the biggest losers under the budget, which has so far avoided widespread media coverage, is the Australian entrepreneur.

Close analysis of the budget papers reveals that the Government has scrapped programs such as Industry Innovation Precincts, Commercialisation Australia and the Innovation Investment Fund. This has had the effect of draining almost a billion dollars from Australia’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Admittedly, the Government has not yet released details of its Entrepreneur’s Infrastructure Program – but this initiative is likely to pump $484 million into Australia’s entrepreneurial ecosystem – far less than the funding removed by the budget scalpel.

In April this year (prior to the 13 May budget delivery) StartupAUS released their Crossroads report. This report outlined that Australia’s entrepreneurial landscape was hopelessly devoid of Government or corporate sector investment. This report merely highlighted widely held views that Australia’s economy is undiversified, and remains exposed to international market shocks. In his 13 May speech, Treasurer Joe Hockey espoused that “complementary investment” was the key to diversifying Australia’s economy. Investment in Australian entrepreneurs can be that complementary investment. As we enter financial reporting season, it is clear that Australia’s heritage industries, such as commodities, mining and banking are a safe bet for investors – but it is time to shift the conversation away from financial return and address how we can work together to future proof the Australian economy.

Notwithstanding huge funding cuts, it is not all doom and gloom for us entrepreneurs. There is speculation that the Government may finally address the Employee Share Option Program (ESOP) in Australia. Well known Australian entrepreneurs, such as Dave Greiner and Ben Richardson from Campaign Monitor; as well as Jodie Fox from Shoes of Prey, and Ash Davies from Tablo have welcomed this news with nervous trepidation. In 2009 the then Labor Government implemented some controversial changes to the ESOP, making company shares issued to employees taxable upon issuance. This made use of the ESOP as a recruitment tool almost impossible for Australian early-stage-startups.

With a high Australian dollar and an almost non-existent appetite for high-risk investment, it is hard enough for early-stage-startups in Australia. Even with an MBA from the University of Sydney (an enviable degree!) it is a tough gig for those of us who want to solve problems and use our technical expertise to develop innovative solutions. The reality is that entrepreneurism is a key driver of economic growth. It creates social prosperity, and promotes innovation. Both the Government, and the business community, need to develop a more in-depth understanding of the realities of entrepreneurial life in Australia. Hopefully, the future leaders of Australia who are enrolled in the University of Sydney MBA program (some of whom are nearing completion) already have, and will continue to develop, a detailed appreciation for the Australian entrepreneurial ecosystem; and will support its growth however they can.

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Parenting, work and an MBA: Overcoming the barriers and achieving success

By Renee Connellan, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program

USBS070513-151 - R2“I don’t know how you do it, Renée!”

I can’t tell you how many times people have said that to me in the past 18 months. The challenges of working full-time, raising young children as a recently single parent and studying simultaneously are very real. But for anyone who believes that it can’t be done and, more importantly, that it can’t all be done well, I can assure you that is a myth.

I won’t sugarcoat it – there are sacrifices to be made, but to be honest, they’re not as tough as most people suspect. I saw the adjustments and rebalancing I’ve been through as an opportunity to take stock of what is important, and very quickly identified what was – and wasn’t – adding value to my life. This helped me to refine the view I had of what is most meaningful to me, helped me redefine my goals, and showed me a much clearer path to achieving the success I wanted.

I discovered that, for me, success is partially about realising my personal and professional goals, without compromising my values. But, most of all, success is about being a great mother to my kids and being a role model that they can trust and rely on, always.

There is a perception that children get in the way of achieving more in your career, like they form an invisible barrier that prevents women taking on more responsibility outside the home. For me, that perception could not be any further from the reality.

My children are not an excuse for me not to try. Instead, they are my greatest enabler, inspiring me to find the extra drive and motivation that it takes for me to not only finish the MBA, but to continually strive to perform to the absolute best of my abilities.

Surrounding yourself with people who want you to succeed is so important, particularly when you’re trying to balance your commitments. Embarking on further studies and fitting it all in with a family does require a supportive network around you, made up of people who are able to provide a loving and stable environment for your children when you’re working or studying.

Wearing such dramatically different hats from day-to-day – and sometimes minute-to-minute – can feel a little disjointed. But, with practice, it’s easy to become fluid at making the adjustments.

These transitions are made easier by knowing that each and every part of my life is aligned with my values. I can be myself consistently, regardless of whether I’m being Renée the breadwinner, the student, the mother or friend.

As with all aspects of life, we all get better with practice – and our mistakes and failures along the way can be turned into successes of the future… as long as we’re learning.

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Leadership Practice and Development

By Anna Hynek, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program and coach for the unit ‘Leadership Practice and Development’

DSC_1025 (2)What it is like to be a coach for the core unit of Leadership Practice and Development?  Really rewarding. Facilitating positive learning experiences for students in their first MBA class has been one of the most rewarding undertakings so far in my MBA at the University of Sydney.

I began my University of Sydney MBA with this transformative, challenging and energising class. There couldn’t be a better way to start a top business program. From the first weekend, students were engaged in experiential activities that facilitate the development of their self-awareness and leadership skills. The unique teaching method is one of the reasons I chose the University of Sydney Business School. I emerged from the experience with increased self-awareness, self-efficacy and self-confidence in my ability as a leader of people.

So, I enthusiastically leapt at the opportunity to be a coach as I wanted to help create that incredible experience for others. While being a student of Leadership Practice and Development is different to being a coach, I have found both to be rewarding and fulfilling experiences that have had direct impact on my professional life. As a student, growth is found through self-reflection, engaging in repetitions of activities, practicing with other students in the safety of the MBA and then practicing the new skills in life. As a coach, growth is found in facilitating another person’s experience, being present in the moment to ask the question that might lead to a person’s evolution and to offer advice. I also took advantage of being able to listen to different sections of the class again. I honed strong facilitation skills and reinforced leadership skills learned as a student in the class.

The close friendships I have formed are hands down the most incredible part of being a coach. I enjoyed the chance to get to know the two incoming cohorts, comprised of over eighty new diverse, intelligent and interesting students, in a way I never would have just taking a class together.  And I hold in high esteem and friendship the remarkable group of talented, smart and dedicated coaches. I feel very lucky to have had the chance to get to know each of them and work closely with them over the last year.

This journey, like the decision to return to school to study for an MBA, is not without its challenges. The selection process was competitive – we submitted an application, including an essay and if selected, were invited to interview. The time commitment is large, probably equal to a full class. There is time spent training, preparing materials, in and outside of class days, as a coach. And there is the challenge of navigating something new and unchartered.

But I would do it again in a heartbeat. The return can only be measured in a different kind of currency not discussed in Data Analytics – the currency within oneself that values continuous learning, challenging oneself to improve, connecting with all kinds of different people and above all, values the opportunity to be part of a smart, dedicated team that is constantly creating an incredible educational experience for everyone in the room.

Special thanks to a dedicated, inspiring group of fellow coaches – Allison Way, Angus Edwards, Anita Mitchell, Georgia Knox, Kellie Rigg, Maurya Reider, Marc Armitage, Mark Carrick, Mike Jenner, Satish Ayyalasomayajula and Willis Gray.

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PwC Case for Change Challenge

By Dr Thommy Arena, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program

Thomas ArenaIt’s always easier to join the dots when you reflect back on a journey. Our PwC Case for Change experience was a gradually unfolding success, sustained by our team’s collaborative spirit and our shared commitment to prepare a valuable set of solutions to future-proof Tranby Aboriginal College.

Key learnings from our MBA program, and particularly the rigorous group-work, were pivotal in the formation of our team and our belief that we could achieve this task. Good leadership is about clearly identifying our own strengths and unique currencies. Great leadership is the awareness of our own gaps; then it becomes the mutual identification of colleagues who can add their complementary expertise to maximise effectiveness. My team mates Willis Gray, Jessica Hughes, Christopher Murphy and I were already endowed with the knowledge that our diversity of expertise was a valuable asset to apply to our common charitable interest in the welfare of Tranby.

Meeting the dedicated staff and students of Tranby unfolded into an invaluable exchange. With our preliminary report in-hand, their executive team warmly welcomed us as highly regarded confederates. Their students generously shared the cultural distinctiveness of their personal stories which helped uncover the millimetre differences that result in successful graduates. We gradually learnt that Tranby’s greatest assets were their outstanding students and their preservation of indigenous traditions.

Here I’d like to acknowledge and thank our staff and classmates for their support and peer-feedback as we prepared for the final presentation. On the night, we compared notes with other highly impressive teams but remained quietly confident. By this time, our personal areas of expertise were matured, our content had been rigorously distilled and we were set to deliver a four-person presentation with seamless transition. Our aim was to produce the most valuable set of mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive recommendations.

In their feedback, the judges acknowledged each team’s vigorous commitment to meet the specific expectations set by PwC while also presenting professional solutions to the Tranby Executive. In the final analysis, we delivered a robust roadmap to promote student success stories, form strategic partnerships and achieve financial stability. When stacked-up together, the resulting compilation of diverse strengths enabled our team to reach the fruit on the highest branches.

I’m extremely proud to have been part of such a diverse foursome that were successful at harmoniously maximising our combined effectiveness to help others to succeed. When you join the dots of our achievement in this prestigious consulting competition, you will see the underlying principles of our MBA, which have equipped us with the skills to administer our learning into practice.

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PwC Case for Change Challenge

By Willis Gray, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program

2014-07-31 PwC Case for Change Winners Team Blue Sky ColourOften some of the most rewarding activities one can do are those that aren’t expected.  When the opportunity to participate in the PricewaterhouseCoopers Case for Change Challenge came up, reason was placed to the side. Amidst an already hectic work, family and study schedule, myself and three MBA students – Thommy Arena, Jessica Hughes and Christopher Murphy – embraced what little gaps we had left to make this a priority.

Yes, we are competitive, yes we wanted to do something that had a social impact and yes we wanted to showcase the calibre and talents of the Sydney MBA program.  But most of all, this was a fantastic chance to develop ourselves and deliver in a space in which none of us had any professional experience.  And that we did by using each of our life experiences to date and many of the lessons we’ve learned in the MBA.

The unit ‘Leadership, Practice and Development’ undoubtedly developed our mindset on how to work with each other at an optimum, and give each other feedback, both developmental and through recognition.  This was particularly evident at 4am the morning of the final, sitting in the boardroom of our wonderful campus pushing out our presentation and managing to keep our whits about us when all you want to do is stop.

‘Critical Analysis and Thought Leadership’ taught us that having an option is critical, and then to develop and co-create that into a powerful message was a big part of our success.

But what did I find the most rewarding out of all of this?  Apart from working with Jess, Thommy and Chris, it was the chance to sit at Tranby College (the client) and spend an afternoon meeting staff and students.  Yes we talked a lot, but most importantly, we listened: we listened intently, made sure we understood what they were saying and experiencing and what their issues, motivations and drivers were.  Once we reflected on this, our solution back to them became so very clear and made all the difference.

I would personally recommend this activity to anyone who is interested.  No, you don’t get points for it, no you don’t get a grade for it, no you have to do it on top of everything else, and because of that, the experience is so much sweeter.

(Photo Left to Right: Willis Gray, Thommy Arena, Jessica Hughes, Christopher Murphy)

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Top Tip(s) for Emerging Leaders

By Anita Mitchell, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program and BOSS Emerging Leaders MBA Scholarship Recipient

2014_06_06-3 MBA Nancy Anita Omar (0520) 100%

As I sat there staring at my copy of the Australian Financial Review, the banner line seemed to speak directly to me: “Are you Australia’s Top Emerging Leader – Apply Now” it read. Staring at it with some consideration, my initial thought was that the application process would take a lot of effort and I figured I sure wouldn’t win the competition, so why bother?

Over the next week, that ad kept following me around (kind of like buying a new car and suddenly seeing the same model everywhere you look). So I put together my application and three months later I was very surprised to have won the competition. I was slightly daunted, but mostly excited to be commencing the new Sydney MBA program.

So, what is the point of my story, you might ask? Well, it is a true reflection of my philosophy of just “Get Stuff Done” or GSD for short. GSD is my motto and guides me in my approach to my work. Put simply, my theory is that most people put off attacking the hard stuff. However, I’ve come to realise that if you do the challenging tasks first, you clear your day which can help make yourself a more productive worker, as goes the theory that was popularised in Brian Tracy’s book “Eat That Frog”. Once you have mastered GSD, it becomes quite addictive. At work we even have GSD days in my team where people are allocated a specific time and space to get things done without distraction.

When faced with difficult or complicated tasks, especially ones which I don’t enjoy doing, I strive to attack them as my first priority. By giving things a go and asking for help along the way, I’ve discovered that you gain momentum and avoid procrastination.

Looking back at the Emerging Leaders competition, think about how many people would have missed out on winning the competition just because they didn’t enter; even if they were extremely talented and capable.

Fortune favours the brave and those that give it a go!

This philosophy has served me well over the years. It has led to my proactive attitude towards committing myself to extra tasks at work that no-one else was bothered with or were too scared to attempt. It has also meant that I have delivered every task given to me, with extra time to spare. Fulfilling these tasks in such a way has gotten me noticed and I became a “safe pair of hands” and someone that was known as “going above and beyond”.

So stop reading this and find that item on your to-do list which you have been putting off. Just spend half an hour working on it because once you get the ball rolling, you’ll be half- way there to reaching its completion. So, go on, what are you waiting for??

Find out more about the Sydney MBA, and how to apply for the BOSS Emerging Leaders Scholarship.

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eMBAssy – A University Association Like No Other

By Hugh Simpson, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program and Marketing and Communications Manager, eMBAssy

Hugh SimpsonOver the last 18 months in the MBA program, I have come to know some of the most amazing people from a range of different backgrounds. There are very few university associations where you have the chance to mingle with entrepreneurs, fire-fighters, professional sportsmen, primary school teachers and the usual corporate types who are all the best in their respective fields, motivated and will provide encouragement for you to succeed.

In the last week, the MBA program reached a number of new milestones and I was really pleased to see the University of Sydney MBA Student Association, eMBAssy, launch it’s new website and social links.

As part of the hard working team at eMBAssy, our aims are to take the learning beyond the lectures by building a sense of community, or esprit de corps, that students can feel proud to belong to.

When we started in the program in 2013, we knew that building this community would be up to us, the students. eMBAssy is not just a social club, it is much more and will be delivering professional development events and networking opportunities that will create long-lasting relationships that ensure we have the most successful graduates.

The website and social links may seem to be fairly insignificant, but it will form the backbone of the way we communicate, not only our brand to the public, but also keep students and Alumni informed and involved, especially once the University of Sydney MBA has it’s first graduates in 2015.

When I left the Navy in 2010 after 10 years of service, one thing that lacked in my new civilian life was the camaraderie of a community that was more altruistic in its aims. Through eMBAssy and the MBA program, this sense of a community is growing and I now feel empowered and inspired to achieve my goals.

Visit eMBAssy’s new website at:
Follow us on:  Facebook  |  Twitter  |  LinkedIn  |  Google Plus

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