Get to know Renee Coman, an Australian Techstars Startup Weekend organizer who has impacted more than 200 startups through community-building activities.
Renee is passionate about helping others create sustainable and meaningful value through diversity, empathy, and technological innovation. Currently working as a Mergers & Acquisitions Relationship Manager for Jonas Software, she daily connects with high-growth technology leaders. As a community leader for Australia’s Sunshine Coast Startup Ecosystem, Renee is a Director for Silicon Coast. This local NFP connects local entrepreneurs, businesses, education, government stakeholders, and community members. She leads capacity-building activities to increase founders’ social capital, deliver experiential learning events, business mentoring, work-integrated learning opportunities for emerging talent, mentor local all-girls robotic teams, and angel investment.
01. How did you get involved in Techstars Startup Programs?
In 2016, whilst studying Entrepreneurship at the University of the Sunshine Coast, I participated in my first Startup Weekend. The subject, Startup LaunchLab, was designed to experimentally learn about Startup 101 fundamentals, participate in the weekend, and reflect upon the experience. We were introduced to the business model canvas, value proposition design, pitching, customer validation, rapid prototyping, and agile thinking with complete strangers. During those 54 hours, I met like-minded people, learnt new things, and had the opportunity to create cool technology.
02. How have Techstars Startup Programs impacted your life?
Literally LIFE CHANGING!
Growing up in regional Australia as a child, my parents, teachers, and the token high school career officers engrained the notion that job security and success were defined as working for a large organisation or corporate in the city. Something many others from around the world can relate to all too well.
In my mid-20s, I had a national role, working for Australia’s leading telecommunications company, working from home most of the time with frequent travel. I loved the role. I loved the company. I loved the empowerment to be innovative, encouraged by my leadership team. Unfortunately, whilst on maternity leave, I was advised our department was being made redundant, and the only option I had to continue working there was to relocate to Melbourne. Something my family (husband and two daughters) were not open to exploring at the time. Why? Whilst support networks are enormous as a parent, at its core, it was because we were (and still are) living in one of the world’s beautiful locations – the Sunshine Coast.
As a parent, I love my family to bits, and I was committed to making sacrifices to create the ideal childhood for my children. That meant running up and down the beach at Mooloolaba, watching the surf at Noosa, hiking through the Hinterland trying to spot koalas high up in the gums, and of course – eating juicy pineapples.
My first Startup Weekend reinvigorated me. My belief in creating an impactful career whilst living in paradise became a reality again. I found a community of passionate, driven people with creative, agile minds who not just gave me the freedom to ask ‘what if’ — but encouraged it.
Within days of finishing the weekend and coming down from the Startup Weekend-high, I reached out to the organisers about wanting to get involved in the next event. I wanted to create an energetic, safe space for others to explore new innovative solutions. A space to connect and collaborate with other locals they hadn’t met before. An experience that would create a ripple effect and challenge their own preconceived ideas about what work and life looked like.
Since then, with Techstars, I have participated in more than 14 Startup Weekend events, organised a Startup Week, attended two international Techstars summits, and met lifelong friends who inspire and challenge me ALL the time. Across Australia, I have supported the delivery of six accelerator programs across Food & Agribusiness, Health, and Climate Change. I have pursued further professional development by completing my Executive MBA and now studying law. As for work, I have been engaged by the local and federal governments to deliver various capacity-building engagements to accelerate procurement, investment, and exports. In 2018, I joined the Innovation Centre Sunshine Coast, supporting more than 200 startups in regional Australia from ideation, growth, and IPO. I’ve been a Sessional Lecturer in Entrepreneurship & Innovation. Now, I identify future acquisition opportunities for Jonas, an operating group of Constellation Software, Inc. (CSI), which acquires, manages, and builds industry-specific software companies globally. Throughout my career journey, I remain passionate about inspiring and empowering founders and contributing to my local entrepreneurship ecosystem.
03. Why are you passionate about entrepreneurship?
For two reasons. The positive impact it can have on an individual and society as a whole.
Too often, people ask, “What should I do with my life?” or “What is my life purpose?” The real question is, “What can I do with my time that is important?” To me, I want to leave a legacy that helps people challenge themselves and their capacity. I want people to realise they are capable of greatness and can create a meaningful impact by developing business solutions that supercharge growth and improve social outcomes. Entrepreneurship can do all that and MORE.
Australia is often considered to be a ‘sports mad’ country, so growing up my role models were professional athletes, such as athletics Olympian, Cathy Freeman, netball legend Vicki Wilson, and rugby league gods Alan Langer and Jonathan Thruson. I cannot help but see the similarity between sports and entrepreneurship. The chase, the competition, the commitment toward their vision, and the community and coaches that help them achieve it.
Men’s Journal listed the following 15 “internal and external” factors that help an athlete go from so-so to sensational. The synergies with successful entrepreneurs are uncanny.
1. Keeping an optimistic mindset
2. Staying focused
3. Being in control
4. Knowing what needs improvement
5. Having a strong sense of motivation
6. Developing holistically as a person, not just as an athlete
7. Seeing an upward progression
8. Feeling like you belong
9. Having a strong network of support from family and friends
10. Believing in yourself
11. Appreciating the journey
12. Trusting and committing to the process of growth
13. Stoking an inner desire to succeed
14. Setting challenging goals
15. Managing stress
04. How else are you involved in your community’s startup ecosystem?
Locally I sit on the board for a local not-for-profit organisation called ‘Silicon Coast.’ Silicon Coast was born from my community’s desire to keep the momentum alive from our region’s first Startup Weekend in 2014. Living and breathing the Techstars ethos of #GiveFirst, key movers and shakers within our ecosystem naturally put Brad Feld’s Boulder Thesis into action. For those who don’t know it, the Kauffman Foundation summarised it as follows:
Entrepreneurs must lead the startup community.
The leaders must have a long-term commitment.
The startup community must be inclusive of anyone who wants to participate in it.
The startup community must have continual activities that engage the entire entrepreneurial stack.
Over the years capacity-building programs have been designed to fuel collaboration across the ecosystem from investors, educational institutions, government, and industry. It’s not about doing events for events’ sake. It’s about:
creating momentum for the next step in someone’s innovation journey;
acting as a conduit, connecting people who wouldn’t traditionally meet and run in the same circles;
encouraging others to leave meetings asking the question “how can I help?”
I am incredibly proud to introduce our Youth and First Nations Ambassador program in 2022 to drive more diversity and inclusion within our community. Entrepreneurship is an enabler of social, economic, and technological progress and can be an avenue to facilitate personal development, enabling self-esteem and independence. As community leaders, we are responsible for fueling entrepreneurship that creates a strong community and cultural identity, producing a sustainable income.
05. What’s next for your community’s entrepreneurship ecosystem?
Entrepreneurship is more accessible than ever. As more and more individuals and companies embrace working from anywhere-work, people are choosing to live in paradise. Regional Australia has seen an influx of city-dwellers, moving to our community at a higher rate than before the pandemic. This provides a unique opportunity for our startup community to grow further.
Our local government’s nomination for the Sunshine Coast to become a UNESCO Biosphere is now under UNESCO’s consideration. This accelerates the appetite for new innovative approaches to conservation and sustainable development in alignment with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal — the theme of our next Startup Weekend.
And of course, with our new RTI data centre hosting the Sunshine Coast International Broadband Network (SCIBN) cable landing station, the data infrastructure could serve to attract some of the world’s biggest data users to our region. With the tech sector equivalent to Australia’s 7th largest employer, employing 1 in 16 working Australians, the new infrastructure will support the ongoing creation, development, and adoption of technology across industries, locally, nationally, and internationally.