There’s a lot going on in the innovation space in Australia, and a real gem is the Accelerator program run by bluebox out of the Queensland University of Technology.

The Accelerator program takes applicants from QUT students and alumni and puts them through an intensive product and business development program over the semester break, which is Australia is largely late November through to the end of February. This year’s teams were all hardware orientated (although many had software as well), which introduces a range of challenges that don’t appear in pure software or business model innovations. However, it plays to one of QUT’s strengths which is technology including manufactured technologies.

There are a couple of really good things that QUT has done with this program, which is getting better every time they run it (this being the second year). Some of those things include;

  • The University increasingly backs the Accelerator, and this year gave it a great space made up of three rooms – a maker space (which a number of 3D printers, Arduino kits etc), a workspace and a meetup space,
  • A stream of highly experienced subject matter experts which come in to educate the teams, with presenters covering topics ranging from IP protection to sales & marketing and pitch coaching,
  • Financial support which enables teams to outsource tasks where they don’t have a skillset (e.g. patent applications),
  • A structured program, which takes them from their concept to a defined product with strong IP protection, ending in a demo day where they showcase their innovations,
  • Post program support for the teams as they ‘go it alone’.

Two other things that make the program really strong are the quality of ideas that they get into the program, and the quality of the people that run it. Brent Watts, bluebox’s Director, Innovation and Engagement takes a really hands on approach to the program and does a fantastic job of driving the teams to flesh out their ideas, both the product and the business model. 
I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in this program as Entrepreneur in Residence and it’s been a fantastic experience. As always, there’s heaps to be learned from being part of this type of program, and here’s what I’ve learned this year;

  • Early career professionals that take enter the program on have real passion, drive and commitment to what they’re doing. They really take some risks and commit to the program, and without fail they deliver on their commitments – an incredibly valuable character trait!
  • Most teams start these programs with very little business experience, but with the right guidance and mentoring, they can get up to speed really quickly.
  • There’s a number of ways to navigate the startup process and in this case, strong oversight and good structure guide the teams through to successful outcomes.
  • Startup teams consume a crap load of coffee. Even with some non-coffee drinkers the 7 teams went through over 2,500 coffee pods in 12 weeks!

This is my first real engagement with QUT and I have to say that their drive to produce good hardware startups is really impressive. If you ever get a chance to see what they’re doing with the Accelerator and their Innovation Challenge I highly recommend you take the chance. Given their approach to continuous improvement of the Accelerator, next year’s program will be even better.

I can’t wait to see what they produce!

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