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Opinion: Wotif a great example to our state’s future entrepreneurs

WHEN Wotif was snapped up for more than $700 million by global travel juggernaut Expedia last month, it was a proud moment for our state.

Born and bred in Queensland by local businessmen Graeme Wood and Robbie Cooke, the success of this pioneering online brand is a fantastic example of what’s possible for local entrepreneurs with the courage to dream big.

Wotif was set up in 2000, powerfully defying the crash-and-burn statistics of the global dot.com bubble. Today’s Australian tech entrepreneurs live in more certain times, with the capacity to be in the global export business from the outset – tapping into a ready-made business network such as the Apple App store, with its 570 million registered credit cards.

Wotif is just one example of the potential that exists within our state borders, with an estimated community of more than 100 start-up entrepreneurs in Brisbane alone.

Queensland has the fundamentals in place to become Australia’s leading start-up state in the coming decade. We have a thriving business community with a strong SME culture, a history of business leadership and innovation and one of the world’s most attractive lifestyles for entrepreneurs.

But this is not about more small business serving Queenslanders only, this is about high-growth globally dominant businesses started here, employing people in this state and exporting smarts to the rest of world, that is the allure of the tech start-up sector. If we take control
of the growth of our entrepreneurial community, the returns to Queensland and Australia could be enormous.

The recent Crossroads Report by StartupAUS identified that high-growth tech start-ups could account for $US109 billion and 540,000 new jobs by 2033. To say it is a huge opportunity is an understatement.

So what’s holding us back?

There are three important steps for our government and the local business community must take:

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Wotif was set up in 2000, powerfully defying the crash-and-burn statistics of the global dot.com bubble.

1. Commitment to an ambitious state business vision. It’s time to shift our focus beyond the traditional sectors – mining, agriculture and tourism. While these remain important, they are largely dependent on commodity prices and currency – two factors we can’t control. We need to embrace a new wave of innovation – this wave is coming to us, delivered by tech start-up businesses in San Francisco, Tel Aviv, Berlin and London. We need to own our share of those successes so that the next Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, DropBox etc are a Queensland success story. New business innovations will come, they will disrupt the status quo but are we really content to merely be digital consumers of somebody else’s good idea?

2. We need to build the start-up network. Start-up cultures don’t thrive in isolation, they require a supportive network of people. Networking and activity hubs are a vital part of this mix.
We need to encourage our entrepreneurs out of the garage and plug them into a network of people who can help them succeed. We need to encourage risk taking, back them with capital and support them.

3. Our young people must become more entrepreneurially enthusiastic. Queensland must support future entrepreneurs as entrepreneurialism becomes more popular among our university and TAFE student population. We need an education system that produces lots of high quality graduates and imbues them with entrepreneurial zeal.

In the US it has been found that up to 20 per cent of students who participate in an entrepreneurship-training program in secondary school will start their own company – a rate about five times that of the general population.

The dividends to Queensland from the Wotif brand have been enormous in employment terms alone. Serial entrepreneurialism is the hallmark of a successful start-up culture, and we have also seen Wotif founders reinvest the gains from this business into multiple other ventures.

Imagine the shift in our state fortunes if we were to see more Wotif’s emerging from our Queensland business community in the next five years.

Let’s use Wotif’s recent success as inspiration to help position Queensland as a state that produces high quality entrepreneurs and thriving, scalable, global businesses.

This article first appeared on The Courier Mail. View the original here.

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