From Studio 39, Griffith start-ups drive innovation

The App Foundation's Tommi Sullivan says the key for start-ups is to balance risk and reward by taking quick and decisive action
The App Foundation's Tommi Sullivan says the key for start-ups is to balance risk and reward by taking quick and decisive action

A Gold Coast start-up collaboration at Griffith University — the App Foundation — is indicative of a new entrepreneurial spirit sweeping Australian universities.

Through the development of mobile phone apps and technology-based services, students and investors are coming together to drive innovation and develop new digital products and services.

This is especially evident on the Gold Coast where, on the third floor of the G39 Science building and overlooking the light rail and other components of a growing Health and Knowledge Precinct, Griffith University students are hoping to develop the next Twitter, Uber or fitbit technology.

They are excited about how debate has changed regarding this formally fringe business sector.

The successful multi-billion dollar listing of Australian software firm Atlassian on the American NASDAC exchange has provided further impetus, as have supportive statements by the Federal Government.

The new industry

Start-ups might be the “new black” in business, but Studio 39 at Griffith University — created by the University’s commercialisation arm, Griffith Enterprise — already has a significant track record.

Griffith Enterprise hopes Studio 39 acts as the catalyst for a culture of entrepreneurship among the students, several of whom recently visited Silicon Valley where they met with start-ups and employees of Facebook, Google, Twitter and other companies.

App Foundation co-founder Tommi Sullivan is a 23-year-old PhD student with a background in IT and robotics. He believes start-ups are very different to other businesses.

“Partly it’s the emphasis on digital solutions and partly it’s the start-from-nothing nature of the businesses, but it’s also the risk and reward nature of the investment offering that sets them apart,” he says.

Like traditional businesses, start-ups follow a path of identifying a need, creating a product or service and building a clientele, followed by investment for expansion.

Risk and reward

However, start-ups also face great uncertainty. Tommi says the key is to balance risk and reward by taking quick and decisive action.

“We need to start finding out much earlier, when the risk is small, so when we have a more significant offering it is based on customer feedback. Start-ups are like learning to ride, the more you do it the more you improve,” he says.

“The development of apps over the past four years has sped up this process even more. It wasn’t exactly fringe technology when we started, but it wasn’t huge either.

“The iPhone was still new at the time and so were the business models. Now it is massive, a thriving industry worth billions, and it literally didn’t exist 10 years ago.”

Tommi and his colleagues have already developed apps for health services and power companies and are hoping other expansive technologies find local and national support.

“In the US, the average age of people establishing start-ups is much younger than in Australia, mainly because of a more supportive business environment,” he says.

“That’s why I started the App Foundation with Griffith Enterprise, to act as a catalyst for a similar culture on the Gold Coast.

“I see no real impediment to the Gold Coast becoming a central hub for start-up development and investment.”