The Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) is hoping to foster ICT entrepreneurial talent and breed home-grown multinationals through its Developing Business Skills for ICT Entrepreneurs' program.
Last week saw 23 CEOs and managing directors complete the first one-year program, which the AIIA runs through the Macquarie Graduate School of Management with assistance from government funding under the Small Business Enterprise Culture Program.
The course has been designed specifically for business owners and managers of established ICT companies with fewer than 20 employees and who see great potential in expanding their operations to employ more than 200 in the next five years.
The program involves three key elements - training, mentoring and business relationship development and requires participants to attend four, three-day residential workshops over a year. The workshops cover course work, classroom discussions and case study sessions.
Participants also undertook monthly sessions with an assigned mentor and a small group of fellow participants. These sessions gave participants the opportunity to review their businesses and discuss the application of their learning through the development and implementation of business action plans.
Managing director of Ytek, Richard Yanieri has just completed the program and said it was invaluable. He has 10 staff now, but plans to double that in a very short time.
Ytek is a simulation training software development company. Its main product is Adgesim, a suite of applications grounded in the C4I (command, control, communications, computers and intelligence) domain, which has been designed specifically for the Royal Australian Air Force, but Yanieri plans to develop civil uses for the software and commercialize it.
"To do this I will no doubt adjust some of my behaviours and will certainly use the tools and techniques learnt in the AIIA program," he said.
"I thought I had the makings of a good marketing plan before, but I have now decided to make some significant changes in approach and refine some strategic aspects of the plan."
CEO of database management company AcknowledgeDB, Julie Jackaby, is another happy course participant who said the program was excellent.
Before completing the program, Jackaby was considering opening offices internationally, but has put that idea on hold for now.
"AcknowledgeDB's business plan did not use Web marketing or a product that could be downloaded from the Web, and such a product could be added to our line quite easily," she said.
"So the main change I made to our plan (after feedback from the AIIA program) is to add another business line based on our monitoring package, which would be made available as a download from the Web. This will allow us to provide our services to a much wider population base and potentially increase our product sales without having to increase the size of our workforce."
Jackaby has 16 staff and plans to increase this to 50 over the next five years, and develop a network of licensed resellers worldwide.
"Our plans are based around providing DBA support and monitoring services that are delivered using the DeltA-DB database management framework which we have developed over the last three years," she said.
"The offering is delivered as 'Software as a Service', with database configuration, management and monitoring information being made available to our clients from the company's Web portal. It is currently rolled out to 16 sites across Australia.
"The direction that our company is taking is to initially expand our client base both nationally and internationally, as a remote support service, and then to expand our presence in other cities and countries as we open offices in those locations to provide services in association with our framework, probably as a licensed software offering to similar companies in other locations," Jackaby said.
"The AIIA program has helped facilitate that growth specifically by educating us in the marketing and distribution potential of a Web-based offering, and more generally in business management principles."
Both Jackaby and Yanieri said that one of the most positive things about the program was that it brought together small ICT companies, which will be able to work together to help each other achieve their individual goals.
AIIA policy manager John Dean said he will host an alumni-type network of participants who have completed the program, so that they can continue to network.
"A lot of participants have also offered to come back and share their experiences with future program participants and also to become mentors to the next generation of emerging companies," he said.
"So, as future courses evolve we will be developing a growing pool of entrepreneurial talent. In five years time, we could have as many as 100 ICT companies in Australia all in this network with each other collaborating and cooperating. Obviously the desire is to get some of these companies to become large multinationals," Dean said.
This program just completed cost participants $5000 each as it was heavily subsidized by government funding. Dean is planning now for the next program which is set to start around October, and he said it would run whether he receives the desired government funding or not.