SA entrepreneur: Start-ups are the key to state’s success

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By Melissa Keogh

Adelaide start-ups have the ability to become a “global force” and help steer the state’s future economy, says South Australian entrepreneur Kirk Drage.

“We can be a global force from Adelaide, we have world class expertise and passionate people here,” says the CEO of LeapSheep and former head of entrepreneurship and innovation at Microsoft.

“Building a start-up is becoming increasingly accessible and affordable, and we’re seeing more people across the state choosing this path which bodes well for creating new economy jobs.

Kirk’s enthusiasm for the future of South Australian entrepreneurship is well-placed; he has spent his working life either launching or engaging with start-up founders.

The former Flinders University student spent more than a decade at technology giant Microsoft, where he was responsible for 20 Microsoft Innovation Centres, supporting entrepreneurs and driving growth of innovative new businesses.

Kirk Drage has has held leadership roles in Silicon Valley – the centre of high-tech developments.

Kirk Drage is the CEO of Adelaide company LeapSheep.

He also launched Microsoft’s start-up support program, BizSpark, recruiting more than 8000 start-ups across Asia in its first year.

Kirk travelled from city to city to support start-up founders, helping them gain access to customers, develop technologies, connect with investors, and manage company growth.

“It was an amazing journey at Microsoft and I would recommend to anybody to seize the opportunity to join a growing, multi-national company,” he says.

In 2011 Kirk became an angel investor – someone who provides financial backing to emerging entrepreneurs.

“I helped them (entrepreneurs) move from Singapore to Silicon Valley; a rather steep learning curve, turns out picking winners is hard, who knew!” he says.

“In Silicon Valley there is a deep culture of curiosity around what’s possible with new technology and a race to build companies that can leverage those technologies to solve global problems.

“I enjoyed my time in Silicon Valley, and what’s great is you can take what you’ve learnt and that culture with you, including home to Adelaide.”

After more than a decade overseas, Kirk decided it was time to return to his home state and be with his family.

“It goes without saying that the lifestyle here is amazing.”

Upon his return Kirk launched LeapSheep, an artificial intelligence start-up, with business partner Kathryn Heaton.

LeapSheep empowers start-up founders to successfully build hyper growth (rapid expansion) companies and facilitates connections with universities, companies, governments, accelerator programs, and investors.

“We now have 24 start-ups on our beta program and we’ve engaged with more than 100 since I’ve been back in Adelaide,” Kirk says.

“We want to really transform the way start-up founders are supported to build their companies.

“There’s so much advice about how to build a start-up, but it’s often too much for a busy founder to sift through, assess the quality and figure out how to apply it.

“The opportunity is to provide founders with the right kind of support, at the right time in a way that’s accessible and affordable.”

Kirk is also the City of Adelaide Smart City Studio’s Entrepreneur in Residence,  sharing his experiences in building “high-growth, investment-ready” businesses.

Kirk says the key to SA’s success is local founders aspiring to scale into global markets.

“One of our weaknesses is that we haven’t had to look too far for prosperity in the past,” he says.

“Now is our biggest opportunity to build scalable products and services that allow us to enter foreign markets to support growth of local new economy companies.

“Then we’ll have plenty of great jobs to match our world-class lifestyle.”

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