The energy of muru-D’s offices in Paddington, in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, is infectious. Passion pours out of every corner and speaking to staff gives you the feeling that anything’s possible if you’re given the right people, the right resources and the space to do it in.
muru-D is Telstra’s startup accelerator – taking startups and getting them to the next level. Each year, the muru-D team support some of Australia’s best and brightest digital startups to help them realise their potential.
The mindset that anything is possible is no more prevalent than that of co-founder of muru-D, Annie Parker, who left London for the opportunity to grow the Aussie start up ecosystem and “decide what the DNA of the organisation is going to be”.
Nearly two years on, the startup accelerator is expanding in Australia and internationally. Domestically, a pilot was recently launched with River City Labs in Brisbane. Internationally, muru-D opened an office in Singapore with full six-month program and also established a resource-sharing partnership in New Zealand.
They’ve had two classes of digital talent go through the program in Sydney, with applications open for a third in October 2015. The team’s put close to a million dollars into Australia’s emerging businesses and connected them with more than 100 mentors including some of the country’s top legal eagles, marketing guns, angel investors and CEOs.
It’s the people, says Annie, that make as much of an impact as the monetary investment – taking bright-eyed entrepreneurs through the peaks and troughs that come with getting their idea to its potential.
“If you look at any global startup hub, whether it’s Silicon Valley, London, Tel Aviv… any single one of those locations is successful because of its ecosystem,” she says.
“There are really extraordinary entrepreneurs who have got great ideas, who are then supported by entrepreneurs who have been around the block three or four times and pay it forward.”
“You’ve got governments who are supportive in terms of making it easy for you to register your business, maybe some early stage tax breaks to get you going, angel investors who put their money in … you’ve got all of these different parts of the ecosystems and they are all playing together.”
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Access to experts
As part of that drive to grow community, the importance of muru-D in facilitating relationships between its mentor network and classes is a core responsibility.
“If you’ve got first time entrepreneurs, the value of the mentorship advice and support is even greater, it is almost imperative. So some of the rally cry within Telstra to Telstra’s customers, partners and suppliers is ‘get involved’… If you can only give an hour or half an hour, do it.
“You may not think that it is that much of a contribution, but it make a colossal difference.”
But the clout that Telstra has in Australia’s technology market, as well as the expertise in its business arms, has accelerated growth significantly.
“Telstra does a whole heap of stuff around the innovation space, and I think that is important that we don’t lose sight of the fact that we sit under the Telstra Software Group.
“While that might sound like a generic title, when you look at the startups or the businesses that they invest in, they are much later stage but they were originally startups too.
“Being able to tap into that network of mentors who are five or six years ahead, they have made mistakes and great decisions, and we can tap into that to bring those people in as mentors, and investors eventually as well. That’s a huge asset for us.”
The muru-D method
So what’s the method? The secret sauce that makes muru-D a cut above the rest?
“It’s very, very secret, my friend,” Annie laughs.
“In fairness it isn’t really rocket science, there is a lot of common sense there: we hold teams to account, keep them to the right milestone plans, business plans, and making sure that they are managing their cash flow so that they don’t burn out before they get their next round of funding.”
But at its core, she emphasises, the program is tailored to each startup and centres around giving them access to people who can help make their dreams happen, as well as ongoing support when the program is finished. And that’s as much about emotional support as financial.
“The emotional support is generally as important as the commercial and business support, because this is hard. Going out there and operating without a safety net is brave.
“[Many of the] entrepreneurs who have gone through the program have quit a day job, taken on an enormous amount of risk… not least because they probably now have investors that they are accountable to, but have probably got employees who have also jumped with them and taken the risk.
“A lot of our work is to help support them through that emotional roller coaster.”
Harvesting the opportunities
At its core, muru-D is investing in the future of Aussie business. And beyond obvious growth areas such as the Internet Of Things and enterprise and B2B applications that are easier to monetise, Annie’s prediction for growth is in agriculture.
“I think if I was to try and corral Australia into one particular area it would be ag-tech.
“If you look at it from an agricultural sense, what we have is vast expanses of land, difficult terrain, difficult weather conditions. If you can prove your technology works in a farm here in Australia, you have pretty much proven it can work anywhere.