When you hear the word entrepreneur, so often people imagine solitary individuals, working away in isolation to come up with something unique and disruptive. But in reality, innovation is the ultimate team sport. Finding a community of like-minded people can be critical to an entrepreneur’s success.
This is abundantly clear when you walk into the UTS Hatchery – home to the university’s budding entrepreneurs-in-the-making. The Hatchery is a practical, hands-on design thinking program aimed at encouraging entrepreneurship amongst UTS students, through workshops, mentoring and connection to a vibrant community of likeminded students and industry. Hatchery+ is their accelerator program, supporting early stage start-up ventures founded or co-founded by UTS students and alumni.
After meeting a few of the incredible Hatchery students at our recent LadyProblems hackathon, we decided to spend some time getting to know the team and students involved.
Catherine Raffaele, Olga Rogacheva, Lena Zhang and Annette McClelland sat down with us to share their stories and explain why community is critical to success.
“If you have an idea and you know there’s a market for it; go for it!”
Annette McClelland is a current MBA student at UTS, with a Bachelor in Communications and three years of experience at a not-for-profit organisation under her belt. She’s also an entrepreneur.
Although both her parents started their own businesses, Annette never thought she’d be running her own tech startup, let alone Tekuma, a drone control system and the only hardware startup in Hatchery+.
So what kickstarted her decision to start a business? Annette credited the supportive community for creating an environment and opportunity she couldn’t miss.
“A few months ago, I got involved in the Hatchery program at UTS, which is an extracurricular, design thinking program that teaches entrepreneurial skills and mindsets to students. I really enjoyed that experience – enough so that when my co-founder was working on commercialising his thesis, I said ‘why don’t we apply to Hatchery+?’ After three years of working at a not-for-profit, I was kind of looking for something new to work on, something to learn from.”
“The support was there with the co-working space and the mentors, the opportunity was there and I couldn’t say no to being in a like-minded environment to really learn things, which is what I’ve been trying to find a space for during the last 18 months or so.”
Annette’s startup Tekuma, is a drone control system that allows individuals to fly a drone with one hand – integrating the camera operation and navigation control. This system is more intuitive for the user, easier to pick up and makes drone operation more accessible for the everyday person.
Annette says creating Tekuma has been an empowering experience.
“The ability to take a problem and solve it for so many people… something that hasn’t been looked at in so many years. I mean, this control system hasn’t changed dramatically since World War II. So building something, which no else seems to be looking at and then seeing customers see the ease of use and to have more people feel that they could actually fly a drone which they didn’t previously.”
So what’s her advice to others considering the startup journey and applying to SheStarts?
“You have to make a plan and it’s gonna take a lot of work, but all in all it’s the most rewarding thing you’ll ever do if you put your mind to it. Just be determined to get out there!”
“Entrepreneurs sticking together is the primary factor in their survival.”
For Olga Rogacheva, founder of Medipros, being around other people going through the entrepreneurial journey has been crucial through the highs and lows of developing a startup idea.
Olga and her co-founder have pivoted their Hatchery+ idea a number of times, with their startup now focused on addressing mental wellbeing in the workplace.
“We came across this idea just recently participating in AngelHack’s LadyProblems hackathon at BlueChilli. We pitched the idea, and received overwhelmingly positive feedback, and because our previous project was wearing out we decided to explore that alley.”
Olga said the support of the community at the Hatchery made it easier to make these changes and accept when it was time to pivot.
“It is important to be surrounded by like-minded people when you are on the path as tough as entrepreneurship. I guarantee you, what is happening to you has definitely already happened to someone else, and the opportunity of drawing on that experience is priceless.
“Being understood and speaking the same language – ‘entrepreneurial talk’ – is important as well. And of course I have to mention ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know’. You would be amazed at how many connections you can make when you start networking with like-minded people. You will get opportunities you have never thought about before, or get the response to the exact need that you currently have.”
“You do not have to do this alone.”
Catherine Raffaele, doctoral researcher and startup founder of Brilliant Society and Hack the Panel, thinks creating support networks and communities helps to broaden the current definition of what an entrepreneur looks like.
“The wonderful thing about things like SheStarts and LadyProblems and AngelHack is that they’re really creating these explicitly welcoming spaces.
“It says, ‘This is actually for you’… it says ‘this is what an entrepreneur looks like’.”
Catherine believes this is crucial in debunking the very narrow definition of what an entrepreneur looks like.
“Being able to have models of people who have experiences that more closely match your own and being shown ways of how they’ve been able to deal with things, or how they’ve been able to implement things, is really, really useful.”
Catherine’s advice for anyone with an idea: “Recognise that no, you are not alone and in fact…these spaces and these networks are actually now starting to develop. So seek them out and find people who are really your peers and those who are really interested in supporting you, because they are out there.
“It’s being able to realize that we are all trying out stuff and that we can learn from each other so we don’t all have to make the same mistakes. We can actually learn from other people’s mistakes, and they can learn from our mistakes.
“The world needs your ideas, the world needs your voice. Because we are definitely stronger together.”
“It creates an environment where you can push yourself and grow.”
Having like-minded people around you is also useful when it comes to decision making, according to Lena Zhang, founder of Sephene. Lena said the community within the Hatchery+ program helped her make decisions quickly when she didn’t have complete information.
“Without a lot of mentor support and also a workspace, I don’t think I would have been able to make a decision so fast. It’s definitely it’s a huge, huge factor that helped me quickly make the move and start my own business.”
Sephene is an integrated fashion marketing platform to help Australian fashion and lifestyle brands connect with Chinese consumers.
The peer-to-peer learning opportunities in Lena’s community at work and at Hatchery+ also helped her to become more tech-savvy.
“I don’t fully understand the technology part of things. Before Shanghai, I was always in creative or digital [but] not the coding side of it.”
Lena said talking to others and having the chance to seek help with the technical aspects of the startup made a huge difference.
“Once you’ve passed that hurdle, you feel yourself grow so much. I think that’s the beauty of entrepreneurship and it’s also a part of life. You always want to challenge yourself with something new, so do not be afraid of not knowing enough in tech, because there will be people who are ready to help you.
“As long as you have a plan, write down what you don’t know, challenge each one of them and overcome each one of them. And you will become semi-tech savvy!”
If you have an idea for solving the world’s biggest challenges and creating an incredible tech-enabled business, there is still time to apply to SheStarts. Do you want to follow the journey of the founders? Subscribe here and do not forget to follow us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.