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Telstra Forges Israel Alliance

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Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016

Telstra has extended its global innovation footprint with the telco’s start-up incubator muru-D forging a brand new partnership with Tel Aviv-based accelerator program, The Junction.

As published in The Australian on 2/2/16;image_1

The alliance extends muru-D’s global network and according to president of Telstra Software Group and muru-D co-founder Charlotte Yarkoni, The Junction will play a critical role in opening doors for Australian and Singapore-based start-ups under Telstra’s tutelage.

“We see Israel as a very interesting ecosystem and it’s an environment that we can absolutely learn from,” Ms Yarkoni told The Australian.

Telstra’s start-up incubator has been looking to add Israel to its mix for some time and Ms Yarkoni said the evolution of the “start-up” nation’s formidable track record as an innovation powerhouse holds a number of lessons for Australian start-ups.

“We are really not trying to encourage any pilgrimages for Australian start-ups to (Silicon Valley or Israel); our mission is all about bolstering the local ecosystem and making it globally relevant,” she said.

“Each of these areas has a unique point of specialisation and characteristics that are not trying to replicate, but we can certainly learn from them.

“At muru-D we have a chance to pick up from the best and then apply the (lessons) to start-ups that are part of our program and then mining them for broader benefits to Australia,” Ms Yarkoni added.

Harnessing this enthusiasm could be the first step for the local start-up ecosystem to find its place in the world. Finding the unique point of difference is likely to be the biggest question as access to capital becomes less of a hindrance for aspiring start-ups.

“A lot of thought needs to go into this before we can look holistically into what our point of differentiation is going to be,” Ms Yarkoni said.

However, she’s confident that Australia possesses all of the raw ingredients to carve out its own niche in the global innovation game.

“We don’t lack for innovation and entrepreneurs. There may be other aspects of the ecosystem that are a little behind, but it’s not like we are starting without any thought leadership.”

It’s a confidence that bodes well for Australian start-ups as they prepare to face the new year. Ms Yarkoni’s co-founder at muru-D, Annie Parker, says current palpitations in global markets pose interesting questions for Australian start-ups.

Speaking to The Australian at the All Above Human conference in Melbourne, Ms Parker said the current volatility was an opportunity to put the right foundations in place that would allow our budding innovation ecosystem to ride any potential downturns.

“An old boss of mine used to say ‘never waste a good crisis’ and you often find that the true moment of innovation happens in these times of crisis,” she said.

It’s a sentiment backed up by technology entrepreneur, investor and co-founder of All Above Human, Susan Wu, who says a downturn could be the catalyst of long-term innovation.

“What happens is that your start-up tourists leave the space because they don’t see any short-term returns and the people who stay are those who care about their product and are serious about building it efficiently,” Ms Wu said.

The good news in Australia is there’s plenty of capital starting to flow in, and with a number of significant funds in place, Ms Parker said the fundamental infrastructure was starting to take shape, but not all parts of the ecosystems were in sync.

Airtree Ventures’ founder and managing partner Craig Blair said sourcing the right guidance was a far bigger challenge for our start-ups. “The problem we have here isn’t capital — it’s the fact that we need more mentors,” Mr Blair said.

It’s a gap that local corporates are keen to fill.

Telstra’s muru-D is one example, but it’s not alone. From financial services providers to consultancies like KPMG and Pricewaterhouse Coopers, which yesterday announced a new $2.5 million accelerator program for start-ups in the education space, everyone wants to play a part.

Muru-D’s Ms Parker warns that corporate involvement in the start-up space can’t be piecemeal and it can’t become too prescriptive. According to Ms Parker, the investment has to be meaningful.

“Programs like muru-D exist because we are there to help first-time entrepreneurs course correct,” she said. With muru-D primed to take another lot of start-ups under its wing this month, Ms Parker said the talent pool of ideas and expertise was starting to deepen in Australia.

This diversity is a healthy sign and Airtree’s Mr Blair is excited by the trend of those entrepreneurs who have already cut their teeth successfully the first time around and are now re-entering the local market, bringing with them not just capital but also valuable knowledge.

While the Turnbull government started the ball rolling, there are concerns the enthusiasm about start-ups and innovation may wane as a federal election draws nearer. However, Ms Parker is hopeful the rhetoric around bipartisanship is more than hollow words.