Four years since launching, UTS Startups has just accepted its 1,000th startup, but why does this matter and why is it critical to the future of universities?
As technology improves, transaction costs decline, and we end up with a larger number of smaller companies. This macro trend is undeniable and will increase from here, changing the career pathways available to students.
These same technologies are giving individuals without privileged backgrounds the ability to produce solutions to problems they never could before, and to distribute these solutions to the world, providing a scale and diversity of opportunities that has never existed before.
Tech-enabled entrepreneurship doesn’t just make sense at a macro and individual level though, it’s increasingly the preference of young Australians.
Five years ago 39% of UTS students reported “wanting to start or join a startup”. Last year, 57% of new incoming students reported wanting to pursue a startup for themselves, and 8.8% of the 45,000 active UTS students report currently running their own startup.
Two focus areas
So how is UTS responding to the increasing opportunity, need and desire for entrepreneurship?
Amongst many university entrepreneurship programs, UTS Startups is unique in its focus on two areas:
First, using our community of over 500 active startups to show realistic pathways to self-employment through role-modelling.
Whether this is through visits to 100 schools each year addressing year 9 and 10 students, or workshops for 5,000 UTS students each year, or displays and content for 2.5 million people passing the busiest street corner in Sydney, in all cases we are working to ensure examples are realistic, relatable and honest so people can make informed choices on what they’re able to do.
Second, using the community to drive peer learning for startups we support.
I can’t stress how strongly I believe in peer learning as the most meaningful kind of support entrepreneurs can receive. People need to learn from the people they want to become, and can become.
We leverage 250 desks of free space to bring the right people together, continuous events to bring the right people together, direct introductions to bring the right people together and cohort-based programming to bring the right people together.
And in a rapidly-changing world, these rapid feedback loops matter.
Every day some UTS Startups community members will progress more than others, but those doing well become the examples to inspire new startups, the hosts for interns, and the mentors to help new startups learn. This provides a fast and effective feedback loop for guiding new entrepreneurs through their current operating environment.
For example, in 2015 the average age of Australian startup at their first investment was 1.5 years according to Crunchbase data.
By 2021 that average had grown to 3.2 years, showing a significant decline in early-stage funding. Luckily, we are able to show hundreds of examples of bootstrapped startups that are thriving in this environment, and thousands of people then start companies that aim for early revenue instead of early investment.
As a side note: this stat illustrates the importance of not focusing on funds raised across startup communities. I care about the number of paid jobs created for our students, their impact on the world around them and their own learning experiences.
It takes a startup village
Across those areas I’m very pleased with the results we’re achieving, and I’d say these results can only occur in the university environment we are operating in.
I’ve supported entrepreneurs through a large not-for-profit (Fishburners), a large corporation (Westpac) and now through a large university, and I am constantly amazed by the incredible leverage UTS provides to do this work effectively.
Nowhere else could we have 8,000 students turn up each year with more than half of them already wanting to pursue entrepreneurship.
Nowhere else could we have access to incredible spaces adjacent to the Sydney CBD and at the heart of the Tech Central development, facilities like Protospace and Tech Lab, very strong industry connections and a broad range of research capabilities (over 1,000 PhDs in our engineering faculty alone).
Nowhere else could students be supported through incredible learning pathways from leading faculties in Engineering, Business, Arts, Social Sciences, Design, Architecture, Building, Law, Health and Science, along with a unique Transdisciplinary School bringing students from all faculties together for things like the Bachelor of Creative Intelligence and Innovation.
Nowhere else could we support the number of startups we do without charging any fees or asking for equity. Thanks to the university’s support, we are able to offer this to all startups with a current or past UTS student on their founding team, and all we ask in return is for help inspiring and supporting younger entrepreneurs.
Nowhere else could 950 UTS students be connected easily to our startups in the last year alone through internships and in-subject projects, providing real-life learning experiences for students and a valuable talent pipeline for growing startups, which then enabled those startups to create 450 new paid jobs last year.
Nowhere else could we so easily engage with 100 schools each year to deliver our school programming, with the desire to pursue entrepreneurship from those students increasing from 5% of audiences before our workshops to an average of 30% of students afterwards.
Did I mention our network of over 200,000 UTS alumni?
They’ve also been incredible supporters of our startups, and that instant connection of having studied at the same institution is a valuable initial connection for many.
Perhaps most importantly, I love the consistency a university environment provides for this work.
UTS Startups has a giant organisation behind it designed to last for hundreds of years, so every time our model improves it really can improve for future generations as well.
As we cross the threshold of our first 1,000 UTS Startups I couldn’t be more proud and thankful for the team here, for our community, and for the university making all of this possible.
I’m deeply excited for how quickly the next 1,000 UTS Startups will be launched, and how our increasing capacity will enable future generations to determine their own way of working through technology-enabled entrepreneurship.
If you’re a current or past UTS student with a startup, we welcome you to join UTS Startups, just head to startups.uts.edu.au