Julia Spicer OAM & Sir Ronald Cohen

Join me as I interview the Godfather of Venture Capital, Sir Ronald Cohen, at The Global Steering Group for Impact Investment Summit in Málaga, Spain, as well as the Chief Entrepreneur of Queensland, Julia Spicer OAM.

You can also listen in via all good Podcasts:

Transcript follows

-I’m here with the Co-Founder of the The Global Steering Group for Impact Investment (GSG) , which is having it’s ten year anniversary, Sir Ronald Cohen. There’s now 36 National Advisory Boards each driving the progress of Impact Investing as a movement in their countries.

And the Former Prime Minister of the UK, Gordon Brown, referred to you on day one of the summit, as always being way ahead. He called you impatient as well. I was wondering what’s next from here?

-I think we’re on the threshold of a paradigm shift in our economic system Philip, and the watershed is going to be impact transparency in the form of impact accounting and the efforts of the SEC and the ISSB and the International Foundation for Valuing Impacts are going to get us within 2 to 3 years to a situation where companies will be mandated in some countries to publish impact statements that show their revenues, their costs and their impact.

When that happens, you shift the whole economic system. Consumers know which companies are delivering positive impact. Talent knows, investors know and governments know.

And governments then have the granular information they need to provide incentives and disincentives through taxation and tax credits.

So that’s the agenda, that’s what this summit is driving for.

And we want the help of everybody who’s listening to us today in trying to achieve it.

Question: As a business leader, knowing you’re looking at 2-3 year time horizon for this to be mandatory, let alone good practice for the past several years;

What is your strategy for shifting towards impact measurement and transparency?

How can you align your business to create the most value from this changing paradigm?

What is your stakeholder engagement strategy and how will you communicate it well, and to whom?

If you’d like help answering any of these, reach out for a confidential chat.

You can also listen in via all good podcasts;

Transcript follows

Phillip Bateman from Bravo Charlie, and I’m here with Julia Spicer OAM who is the Queensland Chief Entrepreneur. The beating heart of rural Queensland as far as it’s been explained to me.

-Thank you. Big call!

-What does the Chief Entrepreneur do?

So the Chief Entrepreneur is an ambassador role for the Queensland Government.

So looking at how do we make sure that we’re promoting, advocating and championing for people across the innovation ecosystem, start ups, investors, community enablers, what does it mean in terms of some of the policy pieces we might want to have conversations around.

It’s a role that’s existed now for maybe seven or eight years in Queensland Government. I’m the 5th Chief Entrepreneur that Queensland’s had, and very proudly the first one that’s been regionally based.

-You stole my next question I was going to say you are the first one who’s not from the cities.


-But what does that actually mean on the ground?

-So what it means on the ground, I think I genuinely believe that the challenges that we all face in small business, startups as founders are probably not dissimilar, whether we’re based in Brisbane or Burma or somewhere in a rural setting.

The challenges are probably not dissimilar. How we can solve those challenges in rural, regional and remote areas is different.

We have fewer people. We maybe have less access to services or networks. There’s research that shows it takes two years longer and $150,000 more for rural or regional start ups to get to the starting line because we don’t have access to some of the networks.

So I think the role being held by a regional person at the moment means that we flag some of those challenges or flag the impact of some of those challenges.

And I’m really excited to be able to do that.

-And I just came out of a session where we were talking with 4 university innovation laboratories and a bunch of VCs in the room and a bunch of government support for that.

Talking about the challenges of commercialization and innovation. And I think the version of innovation is very different depending on where you are, there is so much semantic density behind it. What is innovation from your perspective? And for that of the constituents that you’re going out and talking to probably in the SME space, I think big corporates have pretty much got it.

-So the role is very much for all of Queensland. So the work that I do is across the state.

My passion and some of the priorities certainly lend themselves to the regions more. I think if we think about innovation and we look at what that means, how that gets embedded into business, that’s going to be different across the board.

So in some circumstances it will be an engineering company looking at how they can put in new machinery to create the new product that they’ve been tinkering on in the shed.

And what that might look like is there staff base goes from ten FTEs to 16.

And so that for them is their ability to innovate, create new product and create value based on that, will they become a unicorn? Probably not.

Will they employ thousands of people? Probably not.

Will they be a salable entity? Maybe not, but maybe that’s also not what they’re looking for.

So I think this piece of how we define success then and where innovation plays a role in us reaching our success, that’s the piece that really excites me and that looks different for all of us.

If we’re in a small community of 6000 people, that’s going to look really different to downtown Melbourne. The way in which I will use innovation or the way in which I’ll be able to access what I need to do, the things that I need will be really different.

-Now I know I’ve had the opportunity to work up in Cairns, with the Dawson’s group and then going out into the shipyards and things like that, I’ve worked with a lot of mining adjacent services. And because the beating heart of Australia from my experience, is these family run businesses, maybe first, second or even third generation now is a starting to get on and they’re not trying to be unicorns. And this whole idea of building a unicorn, I genuinely think, kind of destroys the people trying to build the companies most of the time.

-It makes it unattainable for a lot of us, and therefore there’s potentially a sense of failure, right?

And don’t get me wrong, as a country and for our states and territories, we need businesses to be really successful. And for some of those businesses, success means that they’re valued at billions of dollars. And that’s fantastic. But that’s not the only definition of success and that’s not the only value that we need to be placing on activity.

-So to drive into that a little, I’ve been quizzing people as I’ve been walking around questions that they would ask you, and one I got from a large VC firm was how do the how does the the KPIs of the government align with that of entrepreneurs that are out there in the community?

-Good question.

If we look at what government defines as success, as a volunteer to government, I should state. If we look at what government often identifies as KPIs, it’s increase in jobs, it’s increase in livability of communities, it’s increase in salary so that there’s some more taxes coming in so that government can keep doing their things. And it’s the general wellbeing of community, right?

So if we think about what government needs to show that they’ve been successful, more jobs, more money, more people living well, in a house. And so then if we look at if that’s what government identifies as KPIs, where entrepreneurs help solve some of those problems, where are the new business models that can help grow social enterprises in communities so that people are looked after, so that we are helping our aged population, so that we’re helping people with a disability.

What’s the entrepreneurial way in which we can help government deal with the problems that they’re wanting to do because the entrepreneurs come with the solutions. You know, we’re creating more ABNs and what’s the role of women in regions to be able to step in and solve problems that they’re seeing and to be able to unlock some opportunities with that?

So I think we look at what is it that the government’s wanting to be able to do and realistically often it’s entrepreneurs that are solving those problems. And so how do we then create the opportunity for entrepreneurs to be able to work with government to look at those solutions? The corporates do it really well.

What we want to be able to do is also show that entrepreneurs and startups are also solving those problems for government and how do we create the opportunities for them to do that together.

-And you’re about ten months in, as the fifth Chief Entrepreneur.


-And you’ve come from a long background of doing other things, including your own ventures before you got here. You’re essentially the archetypal consultant who’s now been flagged as a leader. What have you changed your mind about since being in this role?

-Oh, lots. And I have this gig through until June 2024. So still some work to do.

Some of the things that I’ve identified is regional Australia and Queensland in particular. I genuinely believe that we have the answers to the world’s problems, not just Queensland problems, but I think we have the solutions and part of it is helping make those connections so that we can help founders and startups, grow in scale to whatever level they want to be able to do.

What I’ve identified though, is how we make the link, how we create those connections between regional people and policy advisors, government, corporates in the big cities. There’s a big gap there.

And so helping people meet and helping see that there’s wisdom in the regions that should be incorporated into decision making; Leadership, governance, advice, I think is really important.

So in my own world, I want to do some more work around that. And I think looking at how we can take case studies from across the world and look at where they could be useful or implemented across Queensland and Australia, that’s the other piece for me I’m really keen to see.

-And to get really specific, what’s one or two things you’ve found recently that made you go ‘wow’ What are you passionate about at the moment?

-I’m really passionate about how we can support alternative funding and finances for people that don’t currently have access to our fairly traditional forms of funding. And by that I mean how do we get more women invested in, in different ways and how do we get more First Nations people invested in?

So we have great conversations around the amount of venture capital that’s available across Australia. That’s predominantly going to people that look, sound and have similar experiences. And that’s great and we need that. But there’s others in the networks that need to be funded. And so for me, it’s around, how do we have alternative investment opportunities for female led startups and how do we make sure that we’ve got appropriate investment models for First Nations people when capital might not be the same, when there’s not generational wealth that can be accessed to be, used as part of debt or equity. So I think we need to really look at some of those models. And it excites me that there’s people that are working in that space.

-And I think it was wonderfully, succinctly put by one of the heads of the Swinburne Venture unit in the last session I was in where he said, ‘When I’ve got my venture hat on, I’m looking for the 1% that have the product market fit, the great team, scalable solution, the IP’ And then he goes ‘When I put my Swinburne hat on of supporting the community, there’s 99% of people that don’t fit into that model’ and bringing a young entrepreneur here yesterday if you saw my previous video, who’s 15 and this was his first Congress, or conference actually, and he said, ‘you know, I get it.. it’s not about making money, it’s about helping people. And you make money, too, but it’s about helping people.’

And my thoughts about him being exposed to our traditional system of you get a start up and then you get your seed funding and then you get, or pre-seed – What’s your exit strategy – Series A, series B, and then the VC take it and then they move you out and take your company and then they make 100x and then you’re a unicorn. Woohoo! That’s what all the press is talking about. That doesn’t actually help our society. I mean, it sort of does by the numbers. But, infinite growth in a finite system, where having challenges with that at the moment aren’t we.

– I was in Torres Strait in far north Queensland two weeks ago on an island of 360 people talking about climate change and what the impact will be on their seven generations, the next seven generations and the fact that they are literally the dumping ground for plastics and rubbish from across Indonesia to their island because of the currents and the marine waste that is literally washing up on their shores and the solutions that they’re coming up with, the innovation that that looks like the businesses are micro-enterprises that they’re able to start there. I think that’s pretty inspiring.

I’m really excited to hear about the multibillion dollar deals. But also.. this community that in lots of ways the problem is so big and so overwhelming and yet they are coming up with place based solutions that they think will work for them.

And the opportunity from an innovation or entrepreneurial perspective is how does that become a model for other remote island communities that are dealing with climate?

How does that become a model that can be scaled and shared with other similar communities around the world? That’s the exciting bit.

-And if we were able to transition our measure of growth from GDP to happiness or wellbeing

-family units

– the amount of capital we could reallocate into funding, these things would just be staggering.

And that leads me to the fact that we are here at the Global Entrepreneurship Congress. If you are still listening and you’re not from Australia, thanks. Because we’re here in a global context, there’s 114 countries represented, Ministers of Parliament from 40 of them, I believe. And the learnings you have here and what you’ve been exposed to in the past few days, how would you relate that out to people who are in different spaces in different countries?

-Yeah, it’s a really good question, Philip.

I think what I get from the GEC, so I attended Saudi Arabia, I went to Riyadh in 2022 and happily here in Melbourne for 23. It sounds really cliched, but I think events like this help identify that there’s more than unites us and divides us and I live in a rural town of about 6000 population.

I get to talk with people from across America, Canada, Uganda and Zambia, who also have small towns of 6000 people, and we can actually share some experiences. How have you done this? What does that look like? And quite often, they’re the conversations that are as relevant to me as it is talking to people who are based in Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne.

And I think that shared understanding of community at its base, at its foundation is incredibly important in events like this. And the opportunity to share stories and meet people, and really come back to the human element of all of this innovation that we talk about is really important. And I think GEN Global do a great job of that

– And if there’s one thing you want the people in the world to know about entrepreneurship, what would you tell them?

It’s available and accessible to all. It is not something that you necessarily need to be born with or born into. And it is really around what is the problem that you want to solve, what’s the impact you want to have in the world? And how does entrepreneurial thinking help you solve that?

-Thank you so much for your time.