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Who wants to be an entrepreneur?

It’s hard to miss the buzz around startup culture in Australia. Entrepreneurship is everywhere – from the tenfold growth in venture capital between 2013 and 2018, to an explosion in uptake of co-working spaces. Our entrepreneurial landscape now ranks top five in the world, according to the Startup Ecosystem Rankings 2019 report.

But can entrepreneurialism be learned? Can founders be trained to quash a dead-end idea and polish a good one, then grow their idea into a market powerhouse?

“Absolutely they can,” says Alex Carpenter, serial startup founder and presenter of two new entrepreneurship courses in Sydney at the Centre for Continuing Education. “Most entrepreneurs do learn as they go – but the main thing is that they never stop learning, and they never give up.”

Both workshops draw on Carpenter’s extensive experience within and research of the startup space. He has founded six businesses, holds degrees in Commerce and Education, and currently mentors student-led startup ventures as Program Manager of Genesis, the University of Sydney Business School’s startup hub.

Testing and perfecting your idea

Carpenter argues that, figuratively speaking, every business idea is a “lump of coal” at first. All require pressure before they can become a business diamond. “There's no such thing as a million-dollar idea. Everything needs to be tested, validated and refined before it can be market-ready.”

This process of developing a product is what participants experience during Carpenter’s one-day Creating and Testing Business Ideas workshop for entrepreneurs. The hands-on session explores where good ideas come from and how they can be launched into a global economy, characterised by urbanisation, artificial intelligence and drastic daily change. Participants get to test major assumptions around their product idea, and set a plan for refining it.

Carpenter believes that such experimentation is critical to an entrepreneur’s mindset, and still drives the culture of known innovators such as Tesla, Google and Virgin, long after their founding. “Entrepreneur-led businesses always try new things,” Carpenter says. “They're very different to other businesses – even respected consultancies, where the core product or service is basically a tried-and-tested one.”

Mapping out a business canvas

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Once a product has been probed, stretched and tested, entrepreneurs must shift their focus to operations – clarifying the value proposition, establishing a sales channel, growing and scaling the business and so on. This is the focus of Carpenter’s follow-up course, The Business Model Canvas, where budding founders can map out a concrete plan for how to grow.

Importantly, this is no traditional business plan.

“By the time most conventional business plans are written, they're already out of date,” explains Carpenter. “This is a tight, one-page overview of all the processes to focus on, and how they should evolve.” Needless to say, both courses also cover important case studies, further reading and tips to grow your network.

Staying connected after the workshop

Both courses also cater for two fundamental types of startup persona – the necessity entrepreneur and the opportunity entrepreneur. Carpenter says that the former typically launches their business out of need, such as after struggling to find ideal employment, while the latter seeks to take advantage of a unique opportunity.

Carpenter stresses that the startup community is generous in supporting one another – and he personally strives to do the same. Course participants may elect to stay in touch with Alex after the course and through him have the option of connecting with innovators, long after the course has ended. This is something Carpenter wishes he’d been more aware of in his own days as a founder. “Being supported by an ecosystem of people with valuable insights and contacts – that's something that you can only encounter by getting out there and getting started. So that's a really big thing I want to bring participants.”