'Shark' encourages locals
START-UPS , stamina, single-minded dedication, success, and sage business advice from an entrepreneurial master will contribute to a night of networking and celebration at the Central Highlands Business Excellence Awards at the end of the month.
Entrepreneur, investor, "Shark” on the past three seasons of Shark Tank Australia and former Emerald local Steve Baxter - one of Australia's most successful tech entrepreneurs - is set to be guest speaker at the CHBEA gala dinner on October 28 where the Central Highlands Development Corporation will announce its award winners.
Mr Baxter, an active investor and mentor to startups, was born in Cloncurry and grew up in Emerald, from kindergarten to Year 6, and said he was looking forward to returning to the region.
"I enjoyed my time in Emerald as a kid. We used to run around and it was a very safe place. We would ride our bikes to school from a very young age. I have very fond memories.” Mr Baxter, who took over this month as Queensland's future Chief Entrepreneur, is also founder and CEO of River City Labs, and Managing Director of Start-up Catalyst.
He said mentoring, for him, was networking and "actually getting out and talking to people and understanding a little bit about them and what assistance they need and how we can help them out”.
"Mentoring to me is a two-way exchange of experiences. It's very rare for me to have a mentoring session and not get more than I give. I enjoy hearing people's stories and the journey they're on.”
He said networking was one aspect of business that could not be commoditised.
"It's the way you learn the tricks of the trade and you increase your business IQ generally by talking to other people through your network.”
In monetary terms, Mr Baxter said he loved to talk about how many $10,000 conversations you could have every month via networking, "where you either make $10,000 or save $10,000”.
He said that by finding out about tax grants, rebates or other ways of saving or making money, networking conversations could provide significant financial boosts to businesses.
"That can really make it worthwhile. And if you can do that 10 times a year, you can really change your business.”
Mr Baxter - who in 1994 put his life savings of $11,000 on the line to launch his first start-up, internet service provider SE Net - is a zealous advocate of a "just do it” approach to being in business.
"You're a business, you want to be in business, you've got to get out there and do things. And if for some reason your business isn't working, you need to work out why, to make it work.
"You need to attract markets and change the way you operate to turn it around and get your financial return, otherwise it's not worth anything to you.”
He said starting out in business was "exceptionally” difficult, "but if you're serious about being a businessperson, you've just got to do it, and if you don't do it, you're not serious about being a businessperson. That's just the reality.
"The only way to ever find out is just to do it ... the customers will tell you if it's a good idea or not. It's that simple.”
Mr Baxter's personal passion and drive for the industry of being in business has been undeniable and inspirational: Since 2010, he has become a major early-stage investor in start-ups including the founding of Brisbane tech start-up hub River City Labs, and started and underwrote the Startup Catalyst and RiverPitch programs.
When starting out in business, he said, "You need to want to succeed, you need the passion, you need the drive. Things aren't going to be easy, things are going to be tough. You have to just wake up every day and if it's not working change it, and if it's not working again, change it. Keep working at it until you find that formula for success.
"And if you do find that formula for success, you'll have to readjust it every month or two. So business is never easy.”
He said the independence of being your own boss was a bonus.
"Independence is what you make of it. Whether its financial independence, or whether you feel like you run the show. You get to be the boss, make all the decisions and you get to have all the wins and the losses. You get the good and the bad.”
Business hasn't really changed, Mr Baxter said, with customers and clients consistently seeking good service and solutions to problems.
"And if you can solve their problems, give good customer and give good value, you'll have a great business.”