Celebrating 5 years with lessons learnt!

Five years ago, Athena Prib and I founded gemaker with the idea that we could support Australian research organisations and start-ups to accelerate their technology transfer. We would do so using our depth of knowledge in some sectors, our wide network, and our commercialisation and marketing expertise.

Warren Brady, Kevin Cullen, Peter Arambatzis and George Collins – leaders we had reported to – knew our work ethic and believed in us. They gave gemaker a crucial first chance, helping us survive until others saw our results and our client base began to grow. First customers are vital to getting any new business off the ground. If you’re a happy early adopter, please spread the word to give a start-up their best chance of success.

Enormous thanks are due to our other supporters and suppliers too – we deeply appreciate all that you do, even when we’re too busy to say it.

Also critical to gemaker’s success has been our team. Truly wonderwomen and supermen, they inspire me daily and I owe them immense gratitude. Some have been with us from the start and have seen us transform from start-up (where we all ran around doing everything) to SME (where we still run, but with more structure, support and specialisation). Each phase is a learning experience, with new challenges and financial risk. We are on a steep growth trajectory, which causes some pain, but also brings plenty of opportunity and excitement.

As we celebrate our fifth birthday, I’d like to offer you all a slice of this year’s achievements…

We have proudly sponsored:

  • the attendance of an accomplished female researcher at the 2016 Women in STEMM conference
  • the Knowledge Commercialisation Australasia (KCA) 2016 conference
  • several public school science fairs, awards and educational programs, and
  • the inaugural innovation awards at the University of Wollongong’s Science Fair.

And we have completed some key pieces of work for our clients, including:

  • World-first research with KCA into the knowledge and skills required by technology transfer professionals (TTPs), and the creation of a TTP capability framework now attracting international interest and training requests.
  • An SME engagement strategy and framework  for a large government R&D agency to enable them to access the latest innovations from start-ups and SMEs.
  • A comprehensive industry engagement training program for university researchers, drawing enthusiastic feedback from our first cohort of participants.
  • Preparing successful award submissions for ASX-listed Alkane Resources for their commitment to the environment and to mentoring women in mining and implementing social media campaigns resulting in 1700 followers.
  • Winning a $450k Accelerating Commercialisation grant for Stormseal (shrink-wrap to protect storm-damaged homes from further harm); and providing marketing communications delivering media coverage and strategically important introductions and market awareness. This brings our total to more than $1.6 million in grants for clients.

I’m also digesting some lessons from the last five years…

  • Marketing and relationships are the keys to building your business, so keep investing in both.
  • Ask around to find an ace accountant appropriate to the size and type of your business and preferably with Xero Accounting experience.
  • A good commercial lawyer and well-written legal documentation are essential. Don’t skimp on this investment to protect your business.
  • You must cross a second valley of death to reach your first customer, so try to have them (and preferably also your second customer) lined up before you leave a stable job for start-up land.
  • Make the most of every opportunity that comes your way, particularly any media or speaking opportunity.
  • Don’t just take; give back to the ecosystem that gives you life. As well as providing sponsorships, we share monthly Insights about grants, events and awards, and tips for successful commercialisation.
  • Volunteering is also an excellent way for people to get to know you and the quality of your work in new markets. For example, gemaker has volunteered considerable time supporting our professional peak body Knowledge Commercialisation Australasia.
  • Prepare a Strategy-on-a-Page and follow it when choosing which meetings, conferences and work you focus on, and what you cull.
  • Do the best you can to achieve work-life balance – relax, recharge and spend time with family and friends. Otherwise, why are you doing all of this?

I think about all it has taken to reach this point and wonder: if I had my time over, would I do it again?

In a heart-beat. The variety of fascinating and challenging work we do with amazingly creative, intelligent and grounded people makes my day, every day, and makes this a very happy birthday for gemaker. Hip hip hooray!