The Growth Project

Charlene Zietsma

The Growth Project, an international study aimed at identifying what’s stopping entrepreneurial businesses from growing – a particular problem here – has expanded to include Australia.

The head of The Growth Project, Professor Charlene Zietsma, has joined UTS Business School, where Associate Professor Danielle Logue will be Australia Lead on the project.

The project seeks to understand the hurdles entrepreneurs face as they start to grow their businesses – and how the successful ones cross them. It includes researchers, practitioners and entrepreneurs from the US, Israel, England, the Netherlands, Canada and now Australia. Some 35 entrepreneurs are already involved and the Project is now seeking to add local participants.

“There are lessons to be learned from other countries that, like Australia, have to look beyond their domestic markets for sustained growth,” Professor Zietsma says.

“Like other countries, Australia has invested heavily in incubators. But as these businesses emerge from the start-up phase they need help to scale, to create engines for Australia’s economy.”

“The focus on start-ups in Australia in recent years has been important,” says Associate Professor Logue, a specialist in innovation and entrepreneurship.

“But we also need to help entrepreneurs and middle-sized businesses grow and globalise.

“Australia is great at invention and it’s making its mark in start-ups but we also need to know how to scale up. We need more Atlassians,” she says, referring to the locally grown enterprise software company that floated on the NASDAQ stock exchange in December 2015 with a market capitalisation of $US4.4 billion.

Professor Zietsma says many start-ups get “stuck” serving niche markets or only early adopters. They have to change what they do, and how they do it, to appeal to larger markets.

If they can be helped across that line they have the potential to reach a whole new level.

When they do, the issue for entrepreneurs becomes how to “manage” through what can be chaotic growth, including how to lead and delegate, not just be the product expert.

“Our initial research has found that many entrepreneurs do not, or cannot, seek advice when overwhelmed with growth challenges,” she says.

“Time and again, I meet people who say, ‘I don’t know where to turn – I spend my weekends trying to work out how to write HR policies.’”

They may not realise that the challenges faced while growing rapidly are not unique to their own sector, she adds.

“Many challenges are common to all rapid-growth firms – so fresh insights can be found further afield.”

Other challenges include staffing and capital.

“Many entrepreneurs hire for the moment instead of finding talent that can scale with the business,” she says.

Others have talked about the pressure to meet the expectations of investors, to the point that they lose sight of their original vision for the business.

By understanding how successful entrepreneurs around the world have scaled their businesses, “other entrepreneurs can be more prepared, more confident and more successful as they scale too,” Professor Zietsma says.

One opportunity may be to establish a peer-to-peer network that connects entrepreneurs with each other and with knowledge they need to progress.

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