As an investor and start-up enthusiast, I jumped at the chance to be a Shark on Australia’s new entrepreneurial reality show, Shark Tank. While I thought it would be fun to see how Australian entrepreneurs perform pitching their business to investors on the reality TV stage, I also saw a big opportunity to help grow Australia’s pipeline of start-ups and growth companies.
Sure, reality TV is superficial by nature, but it’s delivered an incredible boon to the music and food industries through fostering some very successful franchises. By making fame and fortune accessible to the masses, aspiring singers and chefs have never had a better shot at being thrust into the limelight from obscurity, accelerating their career opportunities and giving them the chance to achieve success beyond measure. You have to admire what the US version of Shark Tank has done to spur entrepreneurialism.
As an investor, my day-to-day work consists of talking to, mentoring, and very occasionally putting my money behind entrepreneurs. Generally, I get to give one or two entrepreneurs feedback each day. More often than not this will consist of why, in my eyes, their approach, idea, model, plan or product is just not up to speed. I’ve always said that people who have spoken to me won’t die wondering if they are on the right or wrong track.
Besides giving me the chance to invest in some cracker businesses, Shark Tank provides me and my fellow sharks a platform to reach hundreds of thousands of people, and help educate them about what investors look for, and what it is that helps businesses become more successful.
Coming of age
The introduction of a new business-focused reality format signals the coming of age for Australia’s entrepreneurial community. Ideally, aspiring entrepreneurs who watch the show will take away from it what it is that they need to do not to become just another failed start-up or small business.
If we can help inspire our next generation of young people to think seriously about starting their own business, Australia will be the richer for it. Right now, Australia’s tech start-up community contributes 0.2 per cent of GDP. It could contribute 4 per cent, or $190 billion by 2033, and create 540,000 new jobs. And that’s just tech start-ups! It doesn’t include the weird, wonderful and whacky products that Aussie inventors and business people are bringing into Shark Tank.
Before Shark Tank had even graced our TV screens, series one attracted more than 3000 applications. Without giving away too much, I can say we saw an extremely high standard of entrepreneurs and “wannapreneurs” on the show.
Perhaps that should not surprise me. We are a nation of small-medium enterprises. In Australia, SMEs and the entrepreneurs behind them provide more than 90 per cent of our employment opportunities.
Talent fails to pay dividends
Despite this wealth of talent and initiative, few SMEs rise above the million-dollar revenue level. As a nation, we need to lift our game in this area or risk being left behind. Australia has a long history of disrupting global markets with our innovative products and thinking. Why is it that very few break through into the mid- and large-cap sections of our economy, which remain frustratingly dominated by traditional multinationals?
Australian entrepreneurs need to demonstrate more ambition and imagination. With digital opportunities, there is no reason why many of our SMEs cannot scale up their offering and project it globally. We need to. Otherwise the world is coming for our online business.
Perhaps too much emphasis is placed on the word start-up at times. In fact, what we should be talking about in many cases is scale up and we need to educate SMEs that the money is available for doing just that, when the opportunity is right.
We can draw from this deep well of self-starting business leaders across Australia, and use initiatives such as Shark Tank to grow the market and inspire our young people to think about entrepreneurialism. And that is great news for investors.
This article first appeared on Business Review Weekly. View the original here.