Last week, I had the pleasure of interviewing the man behind the creation of the CBE Venture Lab, Camilo Potocnjak-Oxman; an exciting new space for all the ANU students.
How did the concept of creating the Venture Lab come about?
“Two years ago, there was an initiative from the CBE mainly at the Research School of Management to set up an innovation hub, part of which would be an Entrepreneur’s room. When I heard about the initiative, I was excited and eager to help. It was quite an ambitious project, and unfortunately, it did not entirely go ahead. However, between the time it was announced, and now, I was given the opportunity to run several activities in the space that was going to be the innovation hub. Activities such as team-building events for the ACT Innovation competition, tutorials for Entrepreneurship course and seminars for the Postgrads New Venture course. I was using the room to see how people would react to this space.
“At the beginning of this year, two students from the previous entrepreneurship course contacted me as they were interested to continue to use the space for their project. That was where the concept of the Venture Lab came from in late February of this year. This generated a discussion with the people who oversaw the space. Then I had a conversation with the Associate Dean (Research) Emma Schultz who was supportive of the idea of creating an Innovation Hub. So, the creation of this Venture Lab is an amalgamation of my experience in teaching and developing entrepreneurship course, Emma’s support of championing the concept of the creation of an entrepreneur’s room and the students wanting a space to work on their projects.”
How long did it take to transform this idea into reality?
“Given the size of the institution, I would say it was fast. The project was proposed was on 13th March 2018. But, it wasn’t until late June it got approved. It went into renovation at the beginning of week four of this semester. And now in early October, we are just about to start running some activities. It is always important to undertake some low-cost tests to increase the probability that the solution will be adequate to the people which it is intended to serve. Before this space went into renovation, I engaged with a community of former students who participated in the Entrepreneurship course or the ACT entrepreneurship competition. I asked them several questions regarding; what kind of support you would have hoped to receive before graduation, what kind of equipment or resources the entrepreneurship space needs to provide and what kind of activities would you want to see running in the space. It was those conversations that began to shape this space. So, it was very much a collaborative and co-creation activity with the former students.”
Were there any challenges that you faced when setting up the CBE Venture Lab?
“No challenges as such from the CBE side, but rather from the learning to adjust to the dynamics of a larger institution. I was incredibly supported by all the executives, my colleagues, the academics and the RSM director in making this Venture Lab become a reality.”
What can ANU students and staff expect from the CBE Venture Lab?
“That is a good question. So, firstly: what is a Venture Lab and how is it different from any incubator or escalator? I like this name, although it seems very generic, but it was chosen very strategically. When we talk about entrepreneurs, a lot of people think about it as ‘start-up founders’, but I think of it as people who can act upon opportunities to solve problems and serve needs or create benefits to the society. So, based on this concept a venture is a daring journey and ANU being a research university, the lab will be a space to explore and experiment while undertaking daring journeys. The Venture Lab has mainly three objectives; to better support entrepreneurial activities among ANU students, to provide a context where one can study entrepreneurship and help people to build a set of tools which can be used in entrepreneurial projects.
“The most important thing that the Venture Lab needs is ‘participation’. So, we are running a series to events during this semester and even during the summer where students can come and not only work on their venture project, but also contribute in developing how the Lab would look like in next semester. The idea is not just to build a space but build a community.”
Recently, I have seen a Facebook post about the first Venture Lab event on 10th October with only 15 students? Why only 15 and not have an open event?
“The lab is quite small, and the idea is to choose people who are committed enough to participate in undertaking the entrepreneurial activity. We are having multiple iterations of 15 people event rather than having a big 300 people event. So, this Venture Lab will be helpful for students irrespective of their study discipline to come together and co-create an entrepreneurial project”
What is the future direction of the CBE Venture Lab?
Many exciting innovation-related activities are happening at ANU currently. The Venture Lab has “Immediate access to Business and Economic disciplines, Marketing, Business models, Corporate Strategy and Finance. So, the vision of the CBE Venture Lab is to provide a space for ANU students and staff to explore, experiment and undertake daring entrepreneurial journeys. It will offer the opportunity to engage the CBE community and support your entrepreneurial projects.”
On a scale on 1 to 10, how excited are you to begin the CBE Venture Lab?
“Probably, I would say, a 135 out of 10 (laughs). So, people who want to participate in entrepreneurial activities or want to learn about entrepreneurship, network with former entrepreneurs and anyone who has entrepreneur projects is welcome to join.”