Hi Brett can you tell us a bit about yourself?
My first foray into business was many years ago. I micro-managed to a point where all 3 of my employees left. It was an absolute disaster. Sure, I was only about 8 years old at the time and was selling home-made fake spiders at a makeshift road-side stand. My point is that I have always had an interest in entrepreneurship and technology. This eventually led to my interaction with the Australian space industry, where I found challenges to solve while working with inspiring individuals.
When you want to launch an Australian space object there are many challenges to deal with. The concept behind NodeSat is to lower some of these barriers to access for operators within Australia; while also ensuring that businesses and educational organisations have cost and time-efficient access to spectrum. This is important because it allows them to focus on their missions instead of stalling on one of the many barriers that could jeopardise their missions. At NodeSat, our vision is to build a solid, and reliable global aerospace data communications network.
Imagine a business concept that you felt certain about was torn to shreds. The only option was to pivot. This meant learning how to identify the right pieces and how to strategically put them back together in order to contribute to the industry and bring something new to the table… The right solution.
Initially what did you do to gain space industry knowledge?
In December 2014, I was thinking about space technology’s growth and its direction because I dreamed of being a part of it. I’m not an engineer, so I thought that contributing to this industry might not be a possibility. However, I tend to be somewhat stubborn and so ignored this thought and began to research and reach out to people in the industry.
While acquiring a greater understanding of the national and global space industry, I discovered that some of my ideas were not viable. In the late 60's, Australia was one of the first countries in the world to successfully launch a satellite so I thought doing it again was a possibility. It turns out that to do this you could need 50 million dollars and 4 years just to get going, and that doesn’t even factor in politics and regulations surrounding this mountainous task.
And so there has been a steep learning curve; this has been offset by surrounding myself with a great team and wonderful advisors.
What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?
The process of growing an idea, entirely from scratch, into a concept, then a commercially viable business is an exciting one and led me in this direction. Inspirational entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and Richard Branson tackle unique challenges outside their direct areas of expertise all of the time. They build businesses that are revolutionary and solve real-world problems. They inspire one to think outside of the box, which has helped me to bring a different, more commercially-focused, perspective to the space industry.
Can you tell us some interesting facts about yourself?
I have two Master’s Degrees; one in Entrepreneurship and the other Project Management, yet I don’t have a bachelor’s degree. This isn’t normally possible, but I like a good challenge. I was awarded a post-grad scholarship paid for by the SA Premier. Of course without an undergrad degree I wasn’t technically eligible, but threw my hat into the ring anyway. Thankfully, I wound up getting the scholarship.
How has your journey been?
My journey began during my childhood, watching my parents work on our family business. I truly discovered my love of entrepreneurship thanks to and whilst at the University of Adelaide. I continued to grow as an entrepreneur by taking part in the ANZ Innovyz START program - a business accelerator in 2012. This program introduced me to the benefits of working with other entrepreneurs and mentors. It culminated in a pitch at Adelaide Town Hall in front of 500 investors.
Gruelling 5-hour sessions with one of the 10 mentors in the accelerator was challenging. I was torn to shreds by experienced entrepreneurs. Some mentors gave conflicting advice. This is when I started to question myself, wondering what the Hell I was doing here. Imagine a business concept that you felt certain about was torn to shreds. The only option was to pivot. This meant learning how to identify the right pieces and how to strategically put them back together in order to contribute to the industry and bring something new to the table… The right solution.
A solution alone, regardless of how great you think it is, is not enough. The market dictates the solution it needs, not your personal interests.
Abraham Lincoln failed in business something like 21 times in a row, but he didn’t give up. He went on to become the President of USA. While we may not have political aspirations, we can learn from Lincoln’s example: success is determined by the ability to pick oneself up after failure, having learned from it and growing because of it. Persistence, tenacity and resilience are key traits of a successful entrepreneur. I love it when people say I can’t do something, it makes me push harder and further to show that I can.
Entrepreneurs tend to think differently than most people, we also take more risks. While friends and family who aren’t entrepreneurs often try their best to help, whether you ask for their opinions or not, I find interacting with others who who ‘get it’ to be extremely valuable. Entrepreneurs also tend to support each other, when possible. That’s part of why I’m getting so much out of being in the inaugural group of the S.A. Leaders program. It’s great for connecting with both entrepreneurs and industry experts, while continuing to learn and stretch.
Is entrepreneurship very different compared to what people see in the media?
The story we often hear is that an entrepreneur and his friend come up with a idea, raise a hefty sum of money, release the idea and make millions of dollars. The reality is that 9 out of 10 start-ups fail in the first year, and only a tiny sliver of the successful ones make it into the paper. The truth is that most start-ups never gain investment and even fewer have a successful exit. I would even question whether many have a successful start.
The entrepreneurial world is dramatically different than the one we read about in the news. There are specific attributes and skills required of the entrepreneurial team, an enormous amount of time and stress, and there’s also a lot of sacrifice going on behind the scenes.
What is the Australian market for space entrepreneurs like?
We are really fortunate in Australia, as the Space Industry Association of Australia (ASIAA) has secured the International Astronautical Congress 2017 (IAC 2017). The IAC 2017 will be held in Adelaide and you’ll find it to be an outstanding opportunity for continued learning, networking and for Australian organisations to shine in front of a global audience. If you have any interest in the space industry, you’ll find the IAC valuable.
Collaboration is possibly the area that needs the most improvement amongst space entrepreneurs. It’s common to find that groups want to do everything themselves. Competition masked with the title of collaboration. This has the potential to stifle innovation and waste resources. It would make more sense for organisations to spend their time working within their strengths and areas of expertise, while outsourcing or collaborating with complimentary organisations in areas that fall outside of their core areas.
One of our most important opportunities is educating the next generation of space entrepreneur. Making STEM activities available and fun for children of all ages is imperative. We should be promoting STEM both inside and outside of school. Children need to see that science and math can be fun. The brains of children are elastic, so if they are problem-solving, tinkering and working on robotics projects at early ages, their brains will be pre-wired to tackle the big issues and come to up with solutions to problems that don’t even exist yet. Many schools are starting to incorporate more STEM activities and may even have STEM-related clubs. Space entrepreneurs should be encouraging this and promoting STEM whenever possible.
You will be taken more seriously when people see that you’re truly interested in learning and growing your business the right way.
What is the growth trend of this industry?
Industry growth, I’m confident, will be steady, but the current trend can change very quickly. As a result, our company is positioned in a way that allows continued growth whilst being able to quickly react to changes.
If you stay in Australia, it could take 4 years until a space start-up brings in revenue. This means that you need to plan for how the business will be sustained during the non-revenue generating years. It’s also important to consider pathways to Europe and America. If you want to be an Australian space entrepreneur, you need to have a global mindset for sustainability in the coming year.
Do you have any advice for young entrepreneurs?
Participate in the University of Adelaide’s eChallenge.
I highly recommend this competition to any entrepreneur. If you get through to the end, great. If not, it’s a learning experience. Challenge yourself to grow.
Step out of your comfort zone
Are you willing to step out of your comfort zone and do what is needed? Tackling tasks outside of your comfort zone will hopefully lead to proficiency in these areas, which will make you a more well-rounded entrepreneur.
You need to be confident enough to survive the hardship, but humble enough to admit you don’t know everything.
Learn to pitch
Pitching is something most people hate to do, but it’s absolutely integral for an entrepreneur. You need to be versatile and be able to adapt stories on the fly. One of the hardest pitches I have ever given was to have someone listen to my pitch and criticise in order to help me improve; though in front of a whole room of people.
Do you have any final thoughts?
As an entrepreneur you need to keep challenging your boundaries to learn, meet new people, create stronger networks, and create your own personal brand. When people see you as someone truly interested in learning and growing your business the right way they will take you more seriously. You need to be confident enough to survive the hardship, but humble enough to admit that you don’t know everything. Be smart enough to identify the good information from the bad.
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