startupWhile it's easy enough to launch a company, it's a lot harder for startups to stay in the game. 

There's a lot of pessimism in the media about the business outlook for Canberra, but that doesn't explain the fact that Lighthouse Business Innovation Centre, Canberra's virtual business accelerator, has seen an increase of more than 50% in the last year in the number of start-ups seeking one-on-one support to grow their business.

Lighthouse has a pivotal role in developing the Canberra innovation space by working closely with all forms of funding both public and private, managing the local network of high nett worth individuals and driving projects like the ACT Microcredit Program and the Entrepreneur Development Loan Fund, Canberra's microfinance programs that help build and grow local businesses.

While Lighthouse supports businesses across all industry sectors from idea stage to those looking at exit strategies, it specialises in support for high growth IT-enabled startups. This traces back to its roots in Epicorp which was Canberra's original business incubator set up to invest in tech startups.

Anna Pino CEO of Lighthouse believes that the upsurge in demand that Lighthouse is seeing may be related to an overall increase in ACT businesses. During 2011-12 there was a net increase in ACT businesses of 403, which is an increase of 1.6% and the highest of all the states and territories. 

According to Ms Pino, while it is encouraging to see so many new startups launching, it's important to provide the right type of support for these fledgling companies to increase the chances of their survival.

Ms Pino believes there are 5 things the startup ecosystem in Canberra needs to do to support these early stage companies: 

  1. Encourage a supportive entrepreneurial culture - In those countries with active and vibrant startup communities there is a culture that sees failure as part of the learning experience. Recent media on business closures contributes to the stigma associated with failure and does nothing to create an environment where it is seen as evidence of experience and knowledge of starting a business. Entrepreneurship should be celebrated in the broader community and entrepreneurs should be encouraged to keep trying.

  2. Facilitate access to talent - Most of the talent issues that startups face have to do with the search for a co-founder, developers and someone to help with marketing. While the larger issue of taxation and employee share schemes needs to be dealt with, at a local level Canberra boasts three universities with highly talented students. It's important to build connections between the local startup community, the universities and the research institutions.

  3. More early stage funding - While the barriers to entry may be low, there is more to building a startup than simply starting. A major challenge facing startups is the shortage of capital during the period between proof of concept and market sales. Early stage funding helps speed-up the process. The ACT Government is very supportive of its startup community, but as a small jurisdiction other creative ways of funding and supporting this sector need to be developed. Lighthouse believes that because Canberra is different, the ultimate model of support will need to be different from what exists in other parts of the country. The objective will be to identify good opportunities and de-risk them for future investors.

  4. Expand Canberra's investor networks - This year has seen a number of new angels join Capital Angels and funding across a range of new sectors. The best investors have more to offer startups than simply money; they offer contacts, experience and guidance when faced with tricky business problems. Canberra's angel network has potential to grow and attract new angels, so it's important to invest time in educating potential angels about the Canberra startup space.

  5. Make procurement startup-friendly - The public sector is a large consumer of products and services, but the procurement process makes it difficult for startups to compete. Opening up these markets for startups through a pre-commercial procurement process will enable public purchasers and potential startup suppliers to share the risks and opportunities involved in designing, prototyping and testing new products and services that solve a problem of public interest for which there is currently no solution in the market. This process is not concerned with the procurement of existing services or products on the market, rather it provides opportunities to stimulate the economy and create entirely new industries.


About Lighthouse Business Innovation Centre
Lighthouse has a strong track record of supporting entrepreneurs, researchers and inventers on the path from concept to commercialisation. Since July 2008, Lighthouse has worked with over 990 distinct enterprises and provided group and peer based services to over 3400 enterprises and individuals. For over five years Lighthouse has successfully delivered business advice, education, mentorship and networking opportunities to help these businesses commercialise their ideas and grow their companies. Lighthouse also delivers programs such as the ACT Microcredit Program for the ACT Government. Visit for more information.

Photo: "One day in Startup Bootcamp" by gunarsg