Ahead Of The Game – EPISODE 7: Prof Noel Lindsay (Entrepreneur Education Part 2)
Welcome to Ahead of the Game, a podcast brought to you by KMT Partners. I am Andrew Montesi. We’re continuing our theme of entrepreneurship education with Professor Noel Lindsay. Professor Lindsay heads up entrepreneurship at the University of Adelaide as Pro Vice chancellor of entrepreneurship, Director of the Entrepreneurship, Commercialisation and Innovation Centre and Academic Director of the University’s Singapore Operations. Despite his qualification and achievements, Professor Lindsay initially dropped out of school to pursue business, which would provide a hands on foundation for his academic work later in life. We talk about his story, as well as the role of the universities in entrepreneurship, global entrepreneurship trends, creating ecosystems, the global export of his eChallenge program and ThinkcLab incubator and much more.
This podcast is brought to you by KMT Partners. KMT is a leading accounting and wealth management advisory firm in South Australia, assisting you to emerge, renew, grow and build resilience in business, things which are essential to this podcast series. For more information, visit kmtpartners.com.au. Enjoy our interview with Professor Noel Lindsay.
Andrew Montesi: [00:01:17] Professor Noel Lindsay, welcome to the podcast.
Noel Lindsay: [00:01:19] Right, thanks. Good to be here.
Andrew Montesi: [00:01:22] First question off the top, what role do universities now play with entrepreneurship?
Noel Lindsay: [00:01:28] Well, I think universities have become recognised as an important part of the community. They always have been, mind you. But they are there to serve the community there. From that perspective, they are there to meet the community’s needs and to work with the community in any way they can. So, entrepreneurship is an important part in working with communities, engaging with communities, engaging with industry are all very, very important. Indeed from 2018 in Australia, universities need to demonstrate that they are having some sort of impact in the communities that they operate in. Some funding will be attached to that as well.
Andrew Montesi: [00:02:26] Obviously entrepreneurship is disruptive in its nature. Has entrepreneurship affect universities in the same way in terms of the approach and the style and the way particularly fundamentals around business is taught?
Noel Lindsay: [00:02:43] Yeah, I mean there’s a couple of things there. I think entrepreneurship has developed in the communities, governments. Industry has become more and more aware and appreciative that entrepreneurship is not just about startups, starting up businesses. That entrepreneurship is just as relevant to bigger businesses. It’s relevant to governments. It’s relevant, not only from a business point of view, it’s relevant from a social point of view. Social entrepreneurship is a very, very big area there. So, for universities embracing entrepreneurship, these sorts of factors have been going on in the marketplace. Entrepreneurship has gone relatively high profile now throughout the world. People are recognising just how important it is. So, universities are embracing entrepreneurship. In Australia, well at this university, we are the first university in Australia… The University of Adelaide is the first university in Australia to be credited as an entrepreneurial university. It got dual credits also credited also as an engaged university there. I think my position as Pro Vice Chancellor Entrepreneurship, I don’t think there’s any Pro Vice Chancellor Entrepreneurship in Australia. But that’s just this university has embraced entrepreneurship very, very strongly. We have a very comprehensive strategic plan entrepreneurship Adelaide, which outlines our strategies for developing entrepreneurship in this university and in the communities that we touch.
So, while the University of Adelaide has a strong commitment on entrepreneurship. You can see it happening in other universities, not just only in Australia, but globally and in other universities as well. There’s a friend of mine who said, entrepreneurship, flash in the pan, but 20 years in the making sort of thing. It’s been developing for a long time. I think now people have become fully appreciative of its importance.
Andrew Montesi: [00:05:03] Absolutely. So, in terms of your own team and without asking you to reveal the entire strategy in detail, but what are some of the key goals that you and your entrepreneurship team at the University of Adelaide are looking to achieve?
Noel Lindsay: [00:05:20] Sure, overarching what the university wants to achieve in the entrepreneurship space, there’s two things that are really important to us that are reflected in our mission and vision. That is about generating social and economic benefits in the communities that we operate and that we touch there. So, using entrepreneurship to improve the social systems there, but also the economic benefits there as well. So, not only locally here at the University of Adelaide, we have both a local national and international aspects to our entrepreneurship strategies. That comes by way of both the software, the software being our education, entrepreneurial education and mentoring programs, as well as the hardware which is the physical incubation and innovation hub facilities, both in Adelaide and elsewhere. So, at the University of Adelaide at least, we have an integrated approach, I like to think of a holistic approach to entrepreneurship at this university.
Andrew Montesi: [00:06:42] Yeah, absolutely. So, in terms of the themes around entrepreneurship, we spoke to Professor Fredric Kropp just before and just talking about perhaps some of the misconceptions around the word, the perception of the dropout and just start, embracing failure and all that sort of stuff. Whether it’s perception or not, are there tensions that exist with what people perceive entrepreneurship to be and the role of universities in that?
Noel Lindsay: [00:07:11] Yeah, I mean I think going back maybe 10, 15, 20 years ago, people would look to set up a business to become an entrepreneur if they couldn’t get a job. Now though, it is a real career option. So, I have a 15 year old daughter. She’s very bright, at high school at the moment. She wants to have her own business. That’s her aspiration. But she’ll study at the university. She will study commerce and law. But it’s not necessarily to become an employee. She has a passion, a vision for her venture. So, her university education will become just a means to an end. This is with universities, the role that they play, because it’s regardless of whether you want to become an entrepreneur or an intrepreneur, the intrepreneur because large corporations value entrepreneurial employees. The sorts of education experience universities give is changing. We have to make sure that the experience, what our students walk out the door with at the end of the day is enough to give them flexibility. So, you may start out and you want to be an engineer or an accountant or a lawyer, whatever it is. But those fields are changing. So, you need to be able to make sure that while the technical skills are important, you need to make sure they’ve got these other softer skills, being able to think the entrepreneurial way, understanding how to be innovative and what it should do, how to solve problems, design thinking, creativity, all those sorts of things need to be embedded I believe, I think that’s not me, educators around the world are important to equip graduates for the future. But core to this, I think it is having an entrepreneurial attitude to things, whether you want to set up your own business or whether you want to work for somebody else. Universities are a key to delivering this.
Andrew Montesi: [00:09:31] Reflecting on your own journey, I read that you dropped out of high school at one point.
Noel Lindsay: [00:09:36] Yeah.
Andrew Montesi: [00:09:38] Does it seem interesting or I guess the fact that you are now in this position kind of leading the charge of education when it could have been quite different?
Noel Lindsay: [00:09:47] Yeah, I dropped out of high school in year 11 to set up my first business. That became a roaring success. Then it went broke because while the quality of the opportunity was excellent, my experience of knowing how to run a business properly was lacking. So, the business fell over. But that was the best thing that could have happened to me because it taught me an important lesson. I had to learn more about businesses, how to run them. So, I went back to high school overnight and studied, and went onto university to do a commerce degree and then a PhD in commerce and the like. Then became an insolvency practitioner looking at winding up companies. So, getting a very good understanding of what made companies go wrong, but also then working in the area actually with some of the banks who wanted to try and save their investments, and looking to turn those companies around it that was salvageable. So, that taught me a lot about business.
So, the insolvency part is just the other side of the coin to starting a business, and getting good insight into what’s got to be there for a business to be successful. It doesn’t guarantee it, but some key things. It’s really quite simple. It really comes down from an investor point of view. I used to be involved in the venture capital industry. Investors look basically at the quality of the opportunity and the quality of the entrepreneurial team behind it there. It’s not rocket science. But there’s a lot more that goes in behind that. With my experience, with my first business failure, dropping out of school, then going into business failing, getting some insights into what made businesses tick. It was useful for me. I wouldn’t recommend it to other people though. I think it’s so competitive now that you need to get a good education. So, I’d be recommending all teens to see high school through, but it gives you options and go to university if that’s what’s for you, or go to a polytechnic or do a trade, I mean different people have different skillsets there. But having an entrepreneurial attitude, an entrepreneurial approach to life and to business I think is really key to being successful no matter what you want to do.
Andrew Montesi: [00:12:31] So, that obviously applies to family businesses as well, which I think it’s an interesting time for family businesses. My perception in terms of whether some feel like they are entrepreneurs, some don’t. Does a typical owner of a family business, a lot of clients of KMT, how do they take some of these concepts and apply it into their own life in business?
Noel Lindsay: [00:13:00] Well, family business is the most complex form of business, because not only do you have to deal with the business side of things. If it’s a family business, you also have to deal with the family dynamics there. So, what may be relevant from a decision point of view, from the business point of view, it may go against what the family really wants to achieve. In some instances, there’s been some studies to show that family business can have, on the one hand, certainly the ones that have been listed on some major stock exchanges in the world, where they had a higher success rate than the non family businesses. One of the reasons have been put up for that is that families sometimes take a longer term perspective to things. So, they want to be able to pass the baton down to future generations on. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be entrepreneurial. The fact that if you’re not being entrepreneurial, then you’ve got a greater chance of failure. Indeed, many family businesses fail in the first generation. That’s what the research shows. So, entrepreneurship, thinking in an entrepreneurial way is a way of actually sort of future proofing your business there. So, you want to have a growth curve that is relatively steep rather than oner is that is relatively shallow. A major, if I can just finish off with this that often families want to keep the business in the family. When it comes down to resourcing, the family can only provide so much in the way of resourcing. If the business is built around a very strong opportunity, it may need other injections of cash, high injections of cash, and the family can’t provide that. So, sometimes, not always, but sometimes family businesses get held back because they want to keep the equity in the family. But the business has got greater potential than what it’s currently doing. So, having a family business can be both a strength and a weakness, having family members involved.
Andrew Montesi: [00:15:22] Likely Cooper’s is a very interesting case study of a family business. I’ve read into their story a fair bit in terms of things that they did with interesting share structures to be able to keep family members involved and upscaling family members, sending them out to work for other organisations until they hit a certain age and learn the required skills before they are allowed back in. It’s just a fascinating space to grow a family business.
Noel Lindsay: [00:15:49] Yeah, I mean there’s always, with family businesses particularly, is they grow and you get into multigenerational. Their cousin can source for them as they sometimes refer to it, once you get to the third generation. There is that some of the family members don’t necessarily want to be in that business. So, they may be looking to get out. If they had the control to sell their equity. So, there may be good reasons to try and keep it in the family. So, there are arrangements often come into play, particularly is you get into more multigenerational family businesses.
Andrew Montesi: [00:16:31] As someone who travels extensively, I’m interested in your thoughts and insights around entrepreneurship trends globally. Some of the deriving factors in the growth of entrepreneurship. Yeah, what are some of the things that you’re picking up from around the world.
Noel Lindsay: [00:16:49] Yeah, I mean it’s not rocket science. I mean entrepreneurship is growing and universities have a strong role to play. There’s no doubt, but also other facets of the community, like in Adelaide here alone, the universities here, all of them have an interest and commitment to entrepreneurship. I think you’ve got over 30 incubators and innovation hubs of various degrees just in Adelaide alone. You can multiply that in all the different cities throughout the world. There is a proliferation there of these sorts of things happening. So, business incubation has almost become like a business in itself there. With various entities actually setting up business incubators and hubs and innovative precincts in multiple sits, and using that as a way of generating money. It’s become a business for them. So, entrepreneurship is a trend that’s certainly expanding there. The social entrepreneurship I think is becoming stronger and stronger in the entrepreneurship space, if they are the right words. I think even if you’re in the business to make a profit, you certainly have to have a social conscience. So, many businesses also have a social…A component of what they do has social lenience there as well. Of course, the use of technology these days for communication and setting up businesses has become far more easier for people to set up a business, a low risk, to try things than say 20 or 30 years ago now. So, you have a lot more people having to go now. But of course, that means the market is more crowded there too. So, it’s harder to stand out in the crowd.
Andrew Montesi: [00:19:03] What are some of the cities that have I guess great examples of ecosystems, with the balance of business, university, culture, entrepreneurship culture? What are some of the leading cities globally that you look at and say, they are doing it quite well?
Noel Lindsay: [00:19:22] I think there are many. The risk of naming some and missing others. Of course, you know Silicon Valley is there. But you’ve got places like Berlin, which is fantastic. Helsinki, I mean some places, a little bit off the beaten track. So, Aalto University there. It’s become a very strong component of the ecosystem there, the entrepreneurial ecosystem there, and what it does is probably one of the… it’s an excellent example of entrepreneurship in terms of things that they do. In Munich, you’ve got TUM, Technology University of Munich, and their innovation hub there. Make A Space is incredibly there. So, focus on both the technological as well as the entrepreneurial innovation side of things. Delft in the Netherlands, Delft University of Technology. Of course you know the Cambridge and Oxford. There’s many places. Paris, I mean Singapore. There’s just a strong focus on entrepreneurship by governments, councils, universities, polytechnics, the community generally there and throughout the world. It’s just inspirational to go to some of these places to see actually what’s happening there.
Andrew Montesi: [00:20:53] Is there I guess a culture of collaboration between these cities? I mean you obviously travel to many of them. Is it this attitude of shared learning?
Noel Lindsay: [00:21:06] Yeah, I think shared learning, there is some instances. So, for instance, we have our ThincLab innovation hub which comprises, in Adelaide here. This is our headquarters. It comprises a business incubator, Make A Space mentoring program, educational programs and the like. We have notes on our other campuses. But we also have a physical presence in the Champagne region in France. So, the town of Chalons-en-Champagne approached us when they heard about what we were doing here. So, the University of Adelaide I think arguably has had the longest running business incubator in Australia. We set ours up initially in the 1990s, which probably predates most other incubators around the place. I wasn’t involved then.
But in the town of Chalons-en-Champagne, they were interested in what we were doing because they had a problem, both from a social point of view and an economic point of view that there was a military regiment that was set up going way back, probably about Napoleon’s time. I think government decided to disinvest in that, and to move the regiment to other places. They lost a number of jobs there, over 1,500 jobs. So, their focus, the town, but also the region, the collaboration of towns around other places in the Champagne region. They were trying to rebuild their society there, and it’s part of the generating economic development there as well. So, what we’re doing there, we’ve set up a ThincLab in the town working in partnership with the town, with the mayor, key people in the economic development area, the president of the collaboration of towns in the Champagne region. It’s about attracting, using our expertise there to run the incubator, attracting South Australian businesses to go there to help them set up. We have a great mentoring program, a concierge service that we can provide to South Australian businesses. But it’s also set up to attract French businesses there as well.
Of course, we want to actually leverage off that and attract French businesses back here to South Australia as well to coexist here, to colocate and work with local businesses here in South Australia. So, a sharing of knowledge here and also a sharing of knowledge there, because there, as you’re probably aware in the Champagne region, it’s very much champagne oriented. In South Australia, we have a strong wine focus here. Some people may say, never the two shall meet. But Champagne region has got some great, and we talked about family businesses, and some great champagne houses there. Some well known, some not so well known. But generations old run by families set up generations ago. So, they’ve got an incredible depth of understanding of their business there. Some people may say, great if you can build upon that and harness that with some new ideas there. So, maybe looking to setting up in another country, in another region. There you can get some different ideas and a new way of doing business, for the same reason here in South Australia, taking some of our wine makers from here perhaps and introducing them to some of the champagne houses over there. There’s other regions in France as well. But we have a strong presence in the Champagne region. There is a co-sharing of knowledge that does go on.
Andrew Montesi: [00:24:56] We’ve covered a little bit of this already, but perhaps to bring it together and simplify it a bit. How does the incubator actually work?
Noel Lindsay: [00:25:08] So, there’s basically a number of different levels of an incubator. Different people embrace different models. So, if you like, incubator 1.0, you would go in and you would basically rent some space from them. That would be all that you would receive.
Andrew Montesi: [00:25:31] Kind of like a co-working type of situation, not much more.
Noel Lindsay: [00:25:33] That’s exactly right. At another level, say level 2.0, you’d have the space and you’ve get some mentoring in there as well. So, by experienced entrepreneurs and investors and the like. At the third level, you would also, in addition to the other two levels, there would be a range of entrepreneurial related courses for you to do, whether it’s about thinking in an entrepreneurial way, how do I identify opportunities, how do I build entrepreneurial teams, down to even once my business gets up and going, the sorts of things I need to do and to make my business grow, accounting, information. What sort of accounting software do I need? Or what kind of company structure. So, there’s that sort of things.
What we’ve done is we’ve actually taken it up another notch, what I call entrepreneurship 4.0 here where we actually have an international presence. So, any of the tenants in any of our incubators now, but they have all the other. They have the physical space, the mentoring, the entrepreneurial educational support. But we also give them an international perspective. So, if entrepreneurs in Adelaide want to colocate, want to enter the European market or the Asian market, they could go to Singapore and our incubator there, ThincLab Singapore, and actually we’ll provide support for them to actually help them into the Singapore market and, or getting into Asia. If Adelaide businesses want to go to Europe, we can help them launch from France. But similarly, we can take French businesses and help them colocate in Singapore, and Singapore businesses colocate in France. So, we have a roll out strategy. We’re looking up the locations now as well, where we’re setting up globally to provide more options and to generate export sales for South Australia.
Andrew Montesi: [00:27:35] That’s huge, because for a business looking to grow Internationally without the infrastructure and networking and an idea about the local market, it’s almost impossible to just drop into a new city.
Noel Lindsay: [00:27:47] Exactly, just getting your visa right. So, in France, having someone who knows how to get you the right sort of visa, how to set up a company there. It can take 4 to 6 weeks if you don’t know what you’re doing there. So, we have all the right sorts of people there who provide that sort of support, who can make it happen very, very quickly, because we work, not only with the town, but part of the town, the chamber of commerce there, government officials all involved there. Plus, in France, we have Australian mentors as well as local mentors. We have Australian incubator manager who works in conjunction with French incubator manager there too. So, there’s a consistency. We do that face to face. We also have online support as well. Same thing happens in Singapore. I mentioned the concierge service. So, if you are looking there to physically locate there, you might say, where am I going to live? We can actually help you find accommodation. If you have children, what am I going to do for schooling for my children, we can actually identify a range of places that you could send your kids to. So, whatever you need, we can provide that sort of service for you.
Andrew Montesi: [00:29:03] I guess to bring this to a close, my final question is, where does Adelaide sit in the global entrepreneurship landscape. I mean some people have said that we got it too easy in Adelaide and Australia from a lifestyle perspective which doesn’t necessarily make entrepreneurship conducive. Where do you think based on what you understand of the global climate?
Noel Lindsay: [00:29:32] So, the university of Adelaide, one of the key things that we’re focused on doing is integrating the academic with the non academic aspects of entrepreneurship. So, the academic being the sorts of things you would expect to find in a university, entrepreneurship courses, programs. So, in the entrepreneurship centre here, there’s a degree programs and innovation and entrepreneurship both bachelor and masters and PhD, as well as systems and project management and the like. Then also the team here, the academic team has got a strong focus on research. So, we do publishing in top quality journals there. But those are the things you would expect to find. But we’ve also managed to then integrate the applied side of things, our training courses, our innovation hub and the like. In other universities, often these two areas, the academic is kept separate from the non academic. But by bringing these two areas together, we’ve developed a very holistic approach to entrepreneurship. That has made us quite strong. The centre here in Adelaide is arguably the largest, certainly in Australasia, probably the Southern Hemisphere in terms f number of students that we have, the number of facilities that we have, number of staff dedicated to this area. But we’ve still got a long way to go. But I think we’re certainly up there in terms of best practice. We’re continually reviewing what we do to make sure that we remain relevant to the community, that the programs that we offer are relevant and best practice as well.
Andrew Montesi: [00:31:28] Professor Noel Lindsay, thanks so much for joining us on our podcast. We look forward to having you back to dig a little bit deeper into some of these topics.
Noel Lindsay: [00:31:40] Thanks, it’s a pleasure. Thank you very much.
Thanks for listening to our interview with Professor Noel Lindsay. Information about the University of Adelaide’s work in entrepreneurship is at the link in this episode description. Ahead of the Game brings you real business stories that will inspire and help you grow. Please subscribe to our show and find out more by visiting kmtpartners.com.au. At our website, you can also find out more about KMT’s accounting and wealth advisory service which supports individuals, their families and their businesses with accounting, business management, growth, compliance and advisory services. Get in touch at kmtpartners.com.au.
This podcast is brought to you by KMT Partners. KMT is a leading accounting and wealth management advisory firm in South Australia, assisting you to emerge, renew, grow and build resilience in business, themes which are central to this podcast series. For more information visit KMTpartners.com.au
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This podcast is hosted and produced by Andrew Montesi from Apiro Consulting apiroconsulting.com