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Somerset embraces start-up revolution

Nick Nicholson | October 2017

Somerset College is embracing the age of the entrepreneur this week with an inaugural event that has revealed some surprises for senior staff at the school.

The Somerset Celebration of Entrepreneurship Festival kicks off in Southport tonight (October 9) with a Night on the Sofa featuring Queensland’s Chief Entrepreneur Mark Sowerby at Study Gold Coast’s Student Hub.

This will be followed by a series of free workshops, sessions and events with 15 entrepreneurs from across Queensland at Somerset’s Mudgeeraba campus on October 10 and 11, culminating in Pitch Night at Bond University.

The festival is expected to draw up to 6000 primary and senior students, as well as community participants, eager to get a hands-on perspective on what it takes to build a start-up venture.

Among the headline speakers will be incoming Queensland Chief Entrepreneur Steve Baxter, a shrewd dealmaker in his resident role on Shark Tank and an avid supporter of tech start-ups through his innovation hub River City Labs in Brisbane.

While festival chairman Dane Oman has been buoyed by the overwhelming response from entrepreneurs, schools and members of the public participating in the festival, he says the biggest surprise from this inaugural event has come from within the Somerset school community.

“We’ve discovered during the year that we have some 10 students at Somerset who are currently running their own businesses that we didn’t know anything about,” Mr Oman says.

“That’s exciting to see in light of the many entrepreneurship programs we’ve introduced in recent years.

“Hopefully their Somerset experience will be enhanced by the Celebration of Entrepreneurship, giving the students an opportunity to meet some of Queensland’s best entrepreneurs. It can really open doors for them.”

The Celebration of Entrepreneurship builds on Somerset’s success hosting the annual Celebration of Literature, which is now in its 25th year and recognised as Australia’s largest writer’s festival for children and young adults.

“The Celebration of Entrepreneurship is really important in light of how the world is changing and how we can best prepare our kids for the future,” Mr Oman says.

According to the 2016 Australian Innovation System Report, start-ups less than two years old accounted for 1.2 million new jobs in Australia between 2005 and 2011, or the equivalent of 90 per cent of net positive job creation.

Mr Sowerby, who founded private equity group Blue Sky Alternative investments more than a decade ago and grew it into a business with more than $3 billion in funds under management, describes entrepreneurship as ‘a real career path’.

“For school kids today, it will be about creating their own jobs,” he says.

“It’s great to see schools getting on board teaching entrepreneurial skills. We need kids that can play business for Australia.”

Steve Baxter, a start-up millionaire who founded internet service provider SE Net and PIPE Networks before selling them in major industry buyouts, has developed a reputation for success in the tech start-up space for more than two decades.

He is an advocate for preparing students early to tackle the digital economy, including creating a mindset for success.

“With the right skills, these kids will be capable of building a global business from anywhere, but business success depends on more than tech skills,” Mr Baxter says.

“Entrepreneurship is about dreaming big, giving it a go and backing yourself to build your own business.”

Somerset College has had a strong focus on entrepreneurship programs for a number of years, with students as young as nine taking part in sessions with entrepreneurs.

“We have had a program for a long time where year five students run a pop-up shop and that’s been very successful for a long time,” Mr Oman says.

“Kids grasp the concept of money and making things for sale very early. We just adjust the way we deliver that message depending on the age group.

“Our year sixes are doing the national Club Kidpreneur program and I’m amazed at the way they’re absolutely into it even on a Friday afternoon.

“The challenge of entrepreneurship is that it’s an interdisciplinary field and that has been exciting throughout the year. The message we want to get across is that it’s not just a business department thing, because scientists and lawyers are also entrepreneurs.”

Among the entrepreneurs addressing the inaugural Somerset Celebration of Entrepreneurship are:

  • 2016 Young Australians of the Year Nicholas Marchesi and Lucas Patchett, who founded Orange Sky Laundry
  • The 2009 Best Job in the World winner, Ben Southall 
  • Queensland Young Australian of the Year, Taj Pabari, a 17-year-old Brisbane-based inventor
  • Alisha Geary, founder of indigenous active wear brand Faebella
  • Fabienne Costa, founder and creative director of Brisbane-based YCL Jewels, will be another drawcard for the Festival

The Festival is open to all students and members of the public. Click here for the full program.

 

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