A Golden Opportunity
Written by Allie Schratz
What does it take to make it in America?
This is a question that has gained momentum as more and more Australian entrepreneurs venture across the Pacific to launch their business ideas in the US. In particular, many of these businessmen and women are building their ventures in the Golden State – California – whose nickname is continuously defended as its rich economy swells with newly hatched business ventures between the Bay Area and Southern California.
This topic was discussed in depth at a January event called ‘Digital Down Under.’ As part of Australia Week, the Los Angeles-based event brought together a panel of successful entrepreneurs to talk about their own experiences with digital technology and appealing their companies to different markets. Hosted by Austrade, the discussion reinstated the importance of networking between the US and Australian businesses.
“We encourage companies that want to be in the market to set up an office here [in the US],” said Austrade’s Post Manager and Senior Trade & Investment Director Tony George in a 2011 interview with the Sydney Morning Herald. “Ultimately we want successful Australian businesses selling their services in the US market, so that dollars pour back into the Australian economy.”
Considering the sheer difference in population size between Australia (just over 22 million people) and the state of California itself (approximately 37 million), Australia’s size makes it an excellent ‘test market’. “Australia is currently blessed by a strong economy and benefits from a great adoption rate of all things digital,” said Pierre Sauvignon, Product Director at Sydney-based incubator Pollenizer. “Its isolation is sometimes an advantage, allowing [experimentation] on a small scale without the lures of a busier and often crazier market like the Silicon Valley.
“The main downside is that reaching 100,000 users in Australia is a pretty big milestone,” Mr Sauvignon continued. “Similar figures are easier to achieve in the Valley.”
Since 2008, Pollenizer has helped launch more than 100 web businesses including group buying website Spreets (which was bought by Yahoo7 last January) and 99dresses.com (whose founder was chosen for an incubator program hosted by Silicon Valley’s YCombinator). What Pollenizer’s investors primarily look for in the businesses they partner with is not just the merit of the idea, but the personality of the co-founders involved.
“We are looking for entrepreneurs that are hands-on, get the web and are willing to re-invent themselves and their businesses on a weekly (or even daily) basis,” said Mr Sauvignon. “The startup life is often compared to a roller-coaster. If an entrepreneur can ride through the loops with a big smile on their face then they are the type we want to work with.”
Much of the media between Australia and the US has referred to the influx of Australian entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley as the ‘Aussie Mafia,’ a term that actually originated as the name of a few Australian technology entrepreneurs’ social gatherings in the Valley. One of these attendants was Elias Bizannes, a Sydneysider who moved to San Francisco just over two years ago. Like many before (and after) him, he was driven to California by the excitement of the Bay Area’s startup community. “In San Francisco, the social life meshes with the tech life. It’s a 24/7 environment; an ecosystem that really reinforces itself,” said Mr Bizannes, who has developed several of his own ventures including Silicon Beach, the South by Southwest festival-bound mobile incubator http://www.businessreviewaustralia.com/business_leaders/startupbus-hits-the-roadStartupBus, and its newer cousin, the San Francisco-based Startup House.
The financial potential of his business ventures has kept him firmly rooted in the South of Market (SoMA) district of the city, where Startup House is slated to open.
“I remember doing research on a business idea a few years ago [in Australia],” Mr Bizannes said. “I pulled the plug when I realised my target market wouldn’t have made more than a salary business.”
As with any business hoping for success, finances are a major driver. Dr Mark Leiberman has seen plenty of this as manager of the Business Technology Centre (BTC), one of the largest technology startup incubators in California. “I see a lot of Australian companies coming to the US looking for money,” Dr Leiberman said.
This, in turn, has sparked one of the biggest changes to the startup landscape in California. “Investments now come from technology founders that have successfully exited their own ventures and are now re-investing back into the technology community,” said Mr Sauvignon. “They are great advisers to the new wave of Australian web entrepreneurs.”
Mr Bizannes, who continues to serve as an advisor to hopeful start-ups, is certainly an example of such re-investment: through Startup House, he will coach new companies through a three-month support program and introduce them to his Silicon Valley network – a live-in incubator, so to speak. “Being in San Francisco is an investment into my networks,” said Mr Bizannes.
For other entrepreneurs looking to break into the California market, what should be done beforehand?
“Do your homework ahead of time,” advised Dr Leiberman. If you “learn how business is conducted, learn what the value chain is and who plays in it, what the financial situation looks like, the target customers, and who the suppliers and the major players are before you get here, [you’ll] hit the ground running.”
Seo JungJin: Who is EY’s World Entrepreneur of 2021?
Seo JungJin, founder of biopharma firm Celltrion, which most recently developed an antibody treatment for COVID-19, has been named the EY World Entrepreneur of the Year 2021, becoming the first South Korean in the award’s 21-year history.
Regarded as one of the world’s most prestigious business awards program for entrepreneurs, the EY Entrepreneur of the Year celebrates visionary and innovative leaders from across 60 countries who are transforming the world and fostering growth.
JungJin, who is now honoroary chairman of Celltrion Group, was up against a worthy cast of entrepreneurial competitors, taking the crown from among 45 award winners across 38 countries and territories.
Speaking during the virtual event, JungJin described his own interpretation of entrepreneurship as something that brings together “a group of people toward a common vision, embracing challenges as opportunities and committing oneself to contribute to the greater good”.
Why was JungJin crowned King Entrepreneur?
A South Korean native and now 63 years of age, JungJin founded biopharmaceutical firm Celltrion in 2003. In the nearly two decades since its founding, Celltrion has lived up to its goal of advancing health and welfare for all by developing ground-breaking drugs to treat autoimmune disease, various forms of cancer and, most recently, COVID-19.
The company, which JungJin started with just US$45,000 and five of his colleagues, has since growth to more than 2,1000 employees with sales permits in more than 90 countries and revenues exceeding US$1.69bn.
According to the panel, JungJin’s story is a shining example of the power of an unstoppable entrepreneur to change the world with the pandel moved by both his incredible story and his purpose-driven leadership, innovative mindset and entrepreneurial spirit.
Described by the chair of the EY judging panel Rosaleen Blair as “representing everything an unstoppable should be” from taking on the world’s biggest health care challenges to consistently creating long-term value for his company, JungJin’s story is one of incredible tenacity and perseverance that the judging panel felt most represented the entrepreneurial spirit.
“He’s taken breathtaking risks, both personal and professional, to found Celltrion and grow it into one of the world’s leading biopharmaceutical companies,” says Stasia Mitchell, EY Global Entrepreneurship Leader. “His passion for creating affordable, life-saving health care and flair for tackling global problems has led to many treatments that have helped millions of people worldwide and was especially evident this past year through the creation of a COVID-19 antibody treatment.”
How did JungJin get there?
JungJin's entrepreneurial journey started at an early age when he worked as a taxi driver to get himself through Konkuk University in Seoul, South Korea. After studying industrial engineering, he rose through the ranks of Daewoo Motor Co. before losing his job amid the carmaker’s financial troubles following the 1997 Asian economic crisis.
Following this, JungJin started collaborating with colleagues to explore business opportunities in different industries, though none delivered lasting success. The turning point came after he attended a talk hosted by renowned scholars, which inspired him to focus on the biopharmaceutical sector.
And so he founded Celltrion with just US$45,000 of his savings. The launch of Remsima, credited with being the world's first antibody biosimilar, quickly moved Celltrion up the ranks of the country's fairly underdeveloped pharmaceutical sector. Celltrion followed this success with the launch of drugs for breast cancer and lymphoma that today are being used worldwide.
With ambitions to be the world’s first in different areas, Celltrion has pioneered numerous uncharted areas to great success over the past two decades, most recently responding to the global pandemic by successfully developing an antibody treatment for COVID-19 and working to ensure a timely supply of the safe and effective treatment.
“When I first started, my vision was to help patients gain access to safe, effective and affordable medicines and thereby enhance the quality of people’s lives,” explains JungJin. “The success of Celltrion has enabled me to expand on this while finding new ways to fuel my entrepreneurial drive.”