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Here’s How UWA Students And Faculty Are Helping Transform Perth Into A Start-up Hub

Western Australia may be known for its rich resource industry, but its coastal capital harbors amazing opportunities for start-up entrepreneurs


Tue Aug 30 2016

An MBA provides the perfect sandbox for budding entrepreneurs, grounding them with fundamental knowledge of how businesses work and testing their competence in the same way running their own company would.

It should come as no surprise then, that we’re seeing an upturn in entrepreneurship-focused MBAs and on-campus innovation. The MBA program at The University of Western Australia is very much a part of this trend, aided by the blossoming start-up scene in Perth, the state capital.

From the first gold rushes in the 1880s, to the more recent booming minerals industries, Western Australia has relied on its natural resources, reflected by the abundance of minerals jobs in the region. However, entrepreneurship is fast-becoming an alternative career choice for MBA students at UWA, spearheaded by the courses and facilities on offer at campus.

Their Entrepreneurship and Innovation specialization, run by Professor Thierry Volery, gives students the ability to manage uncertainty and develop their own products and strategies.

“I want to increase awareness of entrepreneurship as a career option and give them the tools to succeed”, he says. “This year we’ll also be offering a study tour to Silicon Valley for our Full-Time Intensive MBAs to provide a strong practical dimension to our course.” It's having a proven impact on his students, as well.

“Professor Volery’s unit was one of my favorites during the MBA”, says Natasha Rogers, an MBA candidate at UWA. “I wanted to consolidate and enhance my life experience, though I ended up gaining much more than that. I felt I could share my life experiences with the other candidates and Thierry, who inspired us a great deal. He was instrumental in focusing our critical thinking when considering our entrepreneurial goals.”

UWA also work closely with the start-up community in Perth, with outside investors playing a key role in mentoring students. Natasha Rogers attracted the mentorship of a senior partner at KPMG for her start-up, Clubs Combined.

“As an entrepreneur, the UWA MBA program offered a supportive learning environment and a range of units encouraging critical thinking and analysis, crucial to someone developing a small business.”

Evan Cunningham-Dunlop’s first taste of entrepreneurship came at the age of ten, when he undertook his first job washing cars. “I came to UWA to ground myself in the fundamentals of business”, he says. Having completed his MBA at UWA, he now guest lectures there while running his own digital marketing agency Living Online and mentoring start-ups in Perth

“Although I think starting a business is the best way to ‘learn’ entrepreneurship, there’s also a huge amount of value in undertaking an MBA. I took the Entrepreneurship and Innovation unit at UWA, which provided me with a crash course in some of the more important lessons of entrepreneurship.” In addition, Evan found that all of his MBA units gave him foundational skills he now draws upon on a daily basis.

So, what does the future hold for entrepreneurship in Australia?

Though Natasha Rogers is excited by new entrepreneurial opportunities in the region, she feels that Australia could do more to welcome people like her, the older entrepreneur wanting to step in for the first time. “With Australians living and working longer than ever before, I believe there is a growing niche here”, she says. “Despite this, the future looks very bright for Australian entrepreneurs.”

“We’re living in a tremendous era of opportunity for entrepreneurship in Australia”, says Evan Cunningham-Dunlop. “Never before have the barriers to starting a scalable business been so low. I’m constantly impressed by the level of hustle, intelligence and ingenuity that are coming out of this country. I’m proud to be a mentor at UWA’s Bloom Labs, as well as a number of other leading start-up accelerators and entrepreneurial programs in Australia. At the moment I’m mentoring the team from VeriVote, who are building a new electronic voting system based on Blockchain technology. The fact that we’re still filling out paper ballots in 2016 makes this area ripe for disruption.”

“The big thing here is that the resource boom is fading, so we will have to find new ways to adapt and innovate and entrepreneurship will become more important as a result”, says Thierry Volery. “Luckily, Australians are resilient, and have the ability to reinvent themselves. Therefore, I’m confident.”