Jennifer Swaine explores a program that is unleashing the innovative genius of our youth.
It is impossible to not be impressed by the young people who made last year’s cohort for Generation Innovation. If I am honest, I feel quite inadequate when I compare my younger self to these brilliant, dynamic, future entrepreneurs.
So, what is Generation Innovation? Back in 2013, Ted O’Brien found himself doing some serious navel gazing following his narrow defeat by Clive Palmer to be the Federal MP for Fairfax. His mind turned to unemployment – and especially the Sunshine Coast’s perennial problem of youth unemployment.
Ted knew, because of his education and training, he would be okay but in that moment he knew that many others would not be if things did not change.
He wanted to find a solution that would create opportunities for young people as entrepreneurs, where they could realise a passion, dream or idea.
As the Founder of Generation Innovation (GI) Ted said, “Young people typically lack three things when starting a business: business experience, a business network and money.
“At GI, we facilitate a program that allows the local community to wrap those three things around young locals who are prepared to convert their passions and abilities into a business.”
Young entrepreneurs between the ages of 15-25 who believe they have what it takes to start their own business can apply each year to take part.
Over the eight-week course they participate in workshops and bootcamps together with a handpicked mentor who helps them to develop their business concepts, refine their business idea through market research and finalise their business model.
The next phase sees the budding entrepreneurs work with their mentors and ‘Specialist Gurus’ to finalise their concept and prepare a pitch to a panel of experts hoping to be shortlisted as one of the top three finalists.
These finalists then work with the GI videographer and marketing team, Reflected Image PRoductions, to develop a compelling video pitch as their final chance to receive $10,000 towards the commercialisation of their business.
“While start-ups are an outcome of our annual GI Challenge, the end-game is more about creating local heroes out of everyday young people who are prepared to have a go at turning an idea into a commercial reality,” Ted said. “It’s all about unleashing the innovation of young people by using entrepreneurship.
“Now in our seventh year, the mission to unleash the innovation of young people remains at the heart of what we do. In fact, a laser focus on this mission is what has made GI such a success.
“For some participants, the GI Challenge allows them to start their own business while for others it’s a boost of confidence and reorients their life to focus on their strengths and develop a willingness to have a go.”
And it’s not just the young entrepreneurs who are reaping the rewards. I have spoken to mentors, specialist gurus, sponsors and some of the judges, and the feedback is the same. They each believe they get more out of it than the young people do.
Mentor Paul Fisher, CEO of Regional Development Sunshine Coast, was a judge last year and says he loved every minute of this life-changing program.
“If I am really honest these kids have inspired me,” he said. “To be able to work alongside them helping them to work towards their dream is an absolute honour. Last year I worked with Travis from NXVAC (pronounced Novak) and he blew me away with the business he had already built.
“It was a privilege to be trusted to work with him on his plans, and his business model, and I know he is one young man who we will be hearing from again,” Paul said.
The pairing of Paul and Travis may have been surprising when you looked at it from afar. Paul has a corporate background and Travis’ business is a popular alternative clothing line that is aimed at people who are into Punk. But herein lies the magic.
The board at GI know what works and they knew that what Paul offered in terms of personality and skills would benefit Travis – and it did.
Travis said being a part of the GI Challenge made him realise that he could turn a passion into a successful business.
“My mentor supported, encouraged and accepted me and helped me to focus on what I needed to do to move forward,” he said.
“I encourage anyone thinking about applying for GI to just do it. If you have a good idea for a business go for it because it will change your life.”
Generation Innovation may have been the brainchild of Ted O’Brien as he sat on the beach that day pondering his future but it’s now much bigger than him.
As a first of its kind in the world, it is preventing some of our youth from falling through the cracks by giving them a platform and tools that will help them unleash their innovative genius.
Importantly, the program is building resilience and economic independence and it is all funded from our ever-generous business community who understand the importance and value of supporting young people to succeed.
“We put a lot of effort into showcasing the stories of these young local legends and what we’ll never know is the extent to which their stories have, in turn, inspired other young locals to have a go at pursuing their own dreams,” Ted said.
It doesn’t really matter which way you look at it, GI has become a movement that continues to inspire and support our youth as they navigate the pathway to entrepreneurial success which in itself
is a solution to youth unemployment.
While Ted will be the first to say this program was never meant to be about him, without his leadership, commitment and determination this program may have never seen the light of day.
However, the kudos must also go to every young person who has bravely allowed themselves to be vulnerable and open to the process. They are our leaders of tomorrow and, going on what I have seen so far, I am pleased to say we are in very, very good hands.
Innovative & Adaptable
Savvy Sunshine Coast Businesses continue to lead the way, as Jennifer Swaine reveals.
Business people on the Sunshine Coast are a resilient bunch. We are also creative, dynamic, innovative, determined and successful. And we are damn good at collaborating and pulling together as #teamsunshinecoast – especially when the chips are down.
We have evolved this way possibly because we had to. If job opportunities weren’t there, many of us decided to hang out our own shingle and simply get on with it. People turned side hacks and passions into thriving businesses and while many are still small, others have carved out their own niche identifying opportunities that has allowed them to play on the national and world stage.
Recognising the proportionately high number of small business owners across the region, leading social commentator Bernard Salt recently dubbed the Sunshine Coast the ‘entrepreneurial capital’ of Australia.
There are close to 40,000 businesses across the Sunshine Coast creating more than 175,000 jobs across a wide range of industries and underpinning this is an ecosystem that is founded on connectivity and collaboration.
So why is it that the region has earnt itself this reputation and leads the rest of Australia in terms of fostering a culture where entrepreneurialism, innovation and collaboration go hand-in-hand?
Personally, I put it down to the culture we have created. Our business community is warm, welcoming and supportive and we are not afraid to innovate.
In fact, the 2019-2020 Regional Innovation Benchmark Report produced by the University of the Sunshine Coast, reported that 52% of firms across the region had implemented innovations, up from 48% on the previous year.
The study also reported that 34.5% of innovators are now collaborating to achieve greater success. Impressively, this was higher than the rest of Australia.
What makes the Sunshine Coast unique is our sense of community and willingness to succeed together. And while we might be growing, the welcome mat will always be out for others wanting to play in our sandpit.