LEADING SOCIAL COMMENTATOR BERNARD SALT RECENTLY DUBBED THE SUNSHINE COAST THE ‘ENTREPRENEURSHIP CAPITAL’ OF AUSTRALIA. HELPING TO NURTURE AND PROMOTE OUR UNIQUE ENTREPRENEURIAL ECOSYSTEM, WHERE INNOVATION, NEW IDEAS, ENTREPRENEURS AND STARTUPS ARE ACTIVELY SUPPORTED AND ENCOURAGED, IS THE CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF THE INNOVATION CENTRE AT SIPPY DOWNS, MARK PADDENBURG. WE CAUGHT UP WITH MARK TO DISCOVER THE INSPIRATION BEHIND THE CREATION OF THE CENTRE AND THE HUGE IMPACT IT HAS HAD ON START-UPS AND HIGH GROWTH BUSINESSES – AND IN TURN, OUR LOCAL ECONOMY.
Mark Paddenburg has always had an entrepreneurial streak and it’s this passion to see Sunshine Coast start-up businesses grow and prosper, coupled with his instinctive ability to connect people with opportunities and resources, that landed him his dream role as chief executive officer at the Innovation Centre in 2012.
“I have always been interested in start-up businesses. I started doing the paper run when I was a kid and we lived on a farm so I was the one selling the cherries, plums, peaches, anything. I quickly learned as a young teenager the value of money and the sense of satisfaction of making money for myself,” says Mark.
In previous roles, Mark assisted a range of start-up ventures and has also worked in various business roles in Australia, the UK and China as well as The Office of Economic Development for the City of Brisbane – where he discovered his talent for connecting people.
“Working at The Office of Economic Development, part of the role was to assist and facilitate with new investment coming to Brisbane and supporting entrepreneurs and innovators who needed guidance and connections,” says Mark.
“That’s my skill set – I’m good at connecting the dots between ideas, capital, people, teams, students, researchers. That’s really what this job is about, connecting our members with the opportunities they may not be aware of and the resources they need to grow their team.”
Established in 2002, the Innovation Centre was the brainchild of Founding Vice Chancellor of the University of the Sunshine Coast, Paul Thomas.
The centre’s role is to create tangible value for stakeholders including member businesses, the regional business community, the University of the Sunshine Coast, entrepreneurs, small business owners, students, all levels of government and the many people who call the Sunshine Coast home.
We have become a destination of choice for entrepreneurs.”
“Paul had a vision for the Sunshine Coast. We had a rapidly growing university but all the fruits of its labour would be pointless if the best and brightest graduates had to leave the Sunshine Coast to go interstate and overseas for work, which is what was happening,” says Mark.
“The vision was to develop an innovative centre and business incubator to connect enterprising students who wanted to start their own business and provide them with the suitable infrastructure, which wasn’t being provided for in the private sector at the time.”
Since 2002, the centre has been home to more than 160 start-up and high growth companies who have collectively employed over 700 staff.
“We had an impact assessment done last year that showed these businesses had contributed $60 million of payroll into the local economy and we helped raise $32 million for those companies in terms of early stage capital,” says Mark.
“Even better, 89 per cent of those companies are still in business, which is fantastic given that unfortunately 95 per cent of small businesses fail within four years.
The Innovation Centre is currently home to 47 businesses,15 of those are associate or virtual members who work off-site but still have access to all the benefits, and there are many.
“Members pay one invoice per month, which covers their office space, fibre connections of 300 megabits per second speed, plus access to a mentor panel, an in-house chief technical officer for tech support, access to a video podcasting studio, meeting rooms, the list goes on. All they need to bring is their laptop. We keep it simple. They don’t need to sign long leases, it’s just from month-to-month. We offer small to large offices and they can move as their business grows.”
With the highest growing economy in Queensland and plans to triple the economy over the next two decades, it’s an exciting time to be in business on the Sunshine Coast and according to Mark we have all the right attributes to make it happen.
“We have a skilled labour force, the infrastructure, business culture and of course the wonderful lifestyle on the Sunshine Coast. It really does make us very attractive.”
Mark’s five reasons why small businesses fail within the first five years
Business owners fail to do their research properly, particularly competitor analysis
The founder or innovator becomes the CEO and might not be the best person to lead the team
Lack of cash flow
Not knowing enough about their ideal customer and doing the right marketing to achieve the engagement in the first few years
Chief executive officer