Brisbane Business News Young Entrepreneur 2009

Written on the 10 February 2010

Brisbane Business News Young Entrepreneur 2009

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In a city that lends itself to enterprise and creativity, it was only logical that we were inundated with applications for the inaugural 2009 Brisbane Business News Young Entrepreneur Award. It was also no surprise that the quality of the candidates was high, but only the best could be finalists and only one company could win.

THEIR median revenue was $5.3 million last year, growth was 45 per cent and their average age is just 34 – they are Brisbane’s top young entrepreneurs.

Plucked out of a vast talent pool by the lucrative opportunities the river city presents, they are both home-grown and imported, their businesses locally-nurtured and exported. As Griffith University professor Andrew McAuley says of his new home, having moved from the UK recently:

“There’s so much energy going around this place and SMEs are very important in this part of the world – there seems to be an ability to make things happen.”

His assessment is straightforward and it goes to show that our perception of Brisbane is not some self-promoting prophecy, but the upbeat attitude is tangible to the newcomer. Talent attracts talent.

So while many of the candidates this year came from abroad, either as kids or as adults who recognised the money to be made here. Our winner Bevan Slattery came from Rockhampton.

Slattery started PIPE Networks (PWK) with his mate Steve Baxter in 2002 with the goal to make enough revenue to go fishing every Friday, but his desire to bring a more competitive landscape to the nation’s telecommunications infrastructure outweighed his will to catch fish in the end.

Baxter got offered a job with Google and last year Slattery endeavoured to build a $200 million undersea cable from Sydney to Guam. Completed just recently, it now has the potential to double Australia’s international internet connectivity.

QUT Professor Per Davidsson says PWK is far from your average start-up, with the important goal of boosting Australia’s internet affordability, which lags behind the rest of the world.

He says the undersea cable is a hugely risky investment because of possible dependence on political decisions, the presence of large competitors who can afford losses, as well as the threat of further technological breakthroughs and other potential entrepreneurs who could come on the scene.

“But on the upside, the few winners among ventures like this can get enormous returns. Ventures like this can benefit society by pushing competitors and politicians even if they fail in winning the market for themselves.”

Hot on the heels of PIPE Networks for the top award this year were a number of finalists who exhibited qualities to be celebrated. Scott Geiszler and Anthony Russo of Pizza Capers have shown the panache to take on a market with very large dominant players, but found their niche with a nutritious product and an aggressive growth strategy.

Then you have Wayne Ormond from Refund Home Loans, who McAuley noted was ‘bold, brave and creative’ in what he has done, particularly succeeding in the financial sector when the world was in financial crisis.

But this is just a sample of the innovative ideas and businesses that Brisbane’s young entrepreneurs have to offer.

While the top three are well-established now, it is encouraging to see that the three fastest growing businesses in the group are also run by the youngest who are in their 20s – notably Don McKenzie from Stream Group, Andrew Northcott from Labour Solutions Australia and David Eastes from Vroomvroomvroom.com.au.

Davidsson says it is the ‘blissful ignorance of obstacles’ that can work to the advantage of a younger entrepreneur, until they get to the stage where they can network with a track record that opens doors.

He cites the case of Outliers author William Gladwell, who found that you need to be in a narrowly young age window to be among the spectacular entrepreneurs within a technology.

What Davidsson admires most about entrepreneurs is their ability to take risks rather than safe employment, with a relentless attitude in finding ways to realise their vision, which often requires stamina over considerable periods of time.

“Entrepreneurship is not an individual sport though. Successful entrepreneurs work with and through other people – they identify, cultivate and use the competence of others rather than trying to do everything themselves.”

It is a sentiment echoed by many of the go-getters profiled in this edition, combined with an insatiable drive for success on the back of measured risk and a thirst for change.

In the words of Hotmail co-founder Sabeer Bhatia: “A good entrepreneur never gives up.”


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