Q&A James Alexander of Incubate
While we were holidaying over summer, James Alexander and the startups of Incubate were hard at work pulling their businesses together for a February launch date. And their hard work is about to pay off with everyone getting ready for Demo Day on February the 27th. This is actually the first time that Incubate has run their Incubator program and so in their own way, Incubate is following a startup path. We talked to James about how Incubate came to be and you can be part of it next round.
Pitch Incubate to me in 60 seconds
Incubate is the first of its kind, startup and incubator program based out of a university and supported by the University of Sydney Union.
Tell us about the process of applying for Incubate
Incubate consists of two components, there’s the free events that we run on campus and anyone can go to those, you just register. They were very successful during this last semester. And then there’s the Incubate component which has funding, a co-working space and access to the mentors as well. The way people apply for that is online, we use an online platform that a lot of the startups and incubators are now using. Once they apply, we have mentors who will come and filter that down to an interview list. Under what criteria do you choose your teams? The criteria that we set out on the website is high impact, high scalability business. So we were very cautious not to specifically say web businesses or only technology based businesses because the way we see it on campus, from a student perspective who does not do IT, is that every business is a web business, that every business is naturally technology based for the very reason that anything has a web and technology component. Everyone that has applied for the most part has very much fit in that category (high impact, high scalability) so there obviously has been a bias towards software services businesses, your more generic technology startup businesses. It’s a very short burst of energy- eleven weeks and software services is something you can iterate, change very quickly. Having said that we have a few hardware based businesses apply as well and the dynamic with them will be different as well. So we’d like to see both software and hardware based startups apply.
Do you have a preference as to whether they’re an early idea startup or whether they are already in execution
We have a mixture of both for the first round, we have early stage startups who are currently working on their ‘alpha’ product versions and later stage startups who have gone through multiple iterations already. The later stage startups can help the early stage startups while also getting a lot from the mentors.
Tell me about your mentors and individually what they offer.
We have a lot of mentors on our list, but I guess if you talk about our more involved mentors, by far Matt Barrie is one of them, who donated large amount of funding for our first round and and Matt offers a wealth of experience in Australia and Silicon Valley, having done hardware and software startups. He provides a very, very good insight into a lot of different tech startup industries as well as being very good with strategy. Matt is one of our star mentors and he’s been very closely tied with the program since the very beginning. Randal Leeb-Du Toit is another one of our mentors and he’s an entrepreneur coach this summer, he’s based on campus. He works with commercialisation arm of Sydney University Research and he has a vast amount of experience with startups from the early nineties, to investment to spinning off research having previously worked at NICTA so he has a wealth of experience in many industries as well. One of our younger mentors is Matt Byrne, he has founded a few startups and he’s in his late twenties. He’s currently CEO of Curicon, a collectibles marketplace and he’s been very, very helpful on a range of different issues, providing very practical advice for people in Sydney. We also have other mentors who are specifically in different areas of industry, so we have some mentors who are mostly investors, a lot of them are based in retail as well and a lot of them have mentors who are more in engineering areas such as mining and infrastructure and then we have some mentors who are from gaming and entertainment.
How do you differ from other incubators?
We’re not for profit so we don’t take any share of equity from any of the companies. We’re also different because we’re based from a student union so we’re the only incubator from a student union in Australia and Asia Pacific, as far as my knowledge is concerned. We’ve looked and can’t find any other ones. So those two points, not-for-profit, university based and student union based make us very different. I believe for a university student that is very appealing having their first company in the environment of university, we think it’ll be very nice for them.
Tell me a little bit about your background
I’m a computer science student and I just finished my honours, so it’s been incredibly busy organising Incubate as well as doing honours. It’s been a challenge that I’ve relished. I’m also very involved on campus from a variety of different perspectives from media events to student societies.
In terms of my tech background, I was with Atlassian in 2007. That was my first formal introduction to startups, especially Sydney startups and that was very nice because Atlassian is a great company and the founders are really great people. I’ve also worked with Posse for a small period of time and that was also a fantastic experience and also I was working with Deloitte in their online consulting division.
What is some of the advice that you would give to your startups?
For next year, I will be doing a long post on what’s worked and what hasn’t worked. But for the most part, show that you’re committed to your idea through various means. Whether you already have funding or you have a prototype out or if you’re at an early stage make sure you’ve talked to potential customers and find out what the paying points are. Show you’re committed and make sure you can define the problem you’re trying to solve very clearly. We’ve had some applicants and a lot of students have approached me with various startup ideas and they believe they have this problem that they’re trying to solve but when you break it down, they’re either trying to solve too many problems at once or their problem isn’t really a problem and then you have issues in terms of how viable the business is.