If you haven’t already heard, the Hot DesQ program provides founders from other states or countries with up to $100,000 in equity-free funding to relocate to Queensland for at least six months. Sound too good to be true? Want to hear the honest truth from the people who know? We’ve got you. We sit down with three of the uber talented entrepreneurs from the Round 2 Hot DesQ cohort to get all the details. Louise Croft from Alfie BTC, who was attracted to Queensland from London; Benjamin Bryant who came over from Silicon Valley with startup Conference Ape; and Chris Raethke founder of Pinch Labs who boomeranged back to Queensland after spending the last few years in San Francisco take us through your FAQ.
What is the Hot DesQ program?
Chris: It’s a soft landing into a very immersive situation with the local startup ecosystem, alongside the government and industries bodies; in a situation where coming in cold you normally not have that sort of access.
Louise: Incubator to attract high caliber international entrepreneurs to base themselves in Queensland and run their business there.
What are the main benefits you received from the Hot DesQ program?
Chris: Non-dilutive funds are always a bonus, but the great connections, and you know, you’re sort of a little bit of VIP in the local startup ecosystem, instead of coming in and having to do it all yourself.
Benjamin: Connections. Also coming from a foreign country into a Queensland region, beyond connections, you are coming in with a little bit of structure. You have a starting place to navigate your way in your environment; you also have a peer group within the cohort of above average individuals.
Louise: Access to an amazing ecosystem. We were immediately plugged into a really active co-working space, given bank accounts and a local company, helped to find local quality hires, and of course provided with the money to afford those new hires. Can’t really ask for more.
Would you recommend it?
Chris: I think for the right company it definitely makes sense; If you are looking to launch in Australia, it totally makes sense. If you are looking to leverage Queensland networks and the special things that the Queensland Government is offering to startups, interstate in particular, then it makes a lot of sense. If you are launching an agricultural company and you want to land in Bundaberg, Toowoomba, or somewhere like that, it totally makes sense. If you want to be really deeply connected with industry, then it is a great opportunity. But if you’re a company that is doing a bunch of revenue and you’re solely focused in the US; it probably doesn’t make a lot of sense for you.
Louise: For sure. If you have the ability to move location, and Australia/Queensland is of interest to you as a market, this is a serious shortcut into getting your business in front of big names and customers.
What is Brisbane’s/Queensland’s startup community like?
Benjamin: It is a new ecosystem and an emerging ecosystem. There is a lot of energy and excitement for building stuff, there is a good degree of government capital coming into help get it started and evolve it into a larger ecosystem.
Chris: I bring a slightly different perspective to this question because I was here around six years ago and I saw that it had basically nothing whereas other states were beginning to build. I see the change and I’d say it is probably one of the fastest growing ecosystems in Australia. Queensland is very proactively trying to tap into networks overseas. There are a number of government and local initiatives, like Startup Catalyst and the Myriad Festival, bringing stuff in. I think it is one of the better places to have a good work-life-balance but also to have access to many of the things you need when you are getting started.
Louise: To be honest I didn’t expect very much because it’s not renowned as a tech community — but we were totally amazed at how much was going on. We work in Crypto and there seemed to be at least 2–3 events every week around Queensland talking about cryptocurrency in one form or another. Of course, it is all quite new and exciting but we were impressed at the calibre of people and the sheer quantity.
What sort of help did you get from the Hot DesQ team apart from the co-working space?
Chris: We were based at River City Labs, who are tenants at The Precinct so we had the Office of the Queensland Chief Entrepreneur just downstairs; so I was able to lean on them on them a whole bunch. From ‘I need to talk to this person, I need to talk to that person’ and also from a feedback perspective- someone like that is actually a good customer for us, I know it would take time and but it’s good to have that sort of ear to talk to.
Benjamin: For me coming into a new country the government were helpful with what are really just the basic things of setting up a business: bank accounts, accounting all that side of things- what would have otherwise have been a very onerous task was made super easy thanks to the Hot DesQ team.
How did you find your hosts/coworking spaces? Did they help you develop/make connections?
Benjamin: I got a lot of help from a collection of coworking spaces, it wasn’t just limited to the one space where I was based at QUT Creative Enterprise Australia. For me QUT Bluebox and Fishburners made such an effort to make introductions to help us and to help other people in the region.
Chris: I’d completely agree, it’s not just the one place that will work for you. River City Labs were great for me, and it helped a lot being here and they connected us with people locally and things like interns that were coming in the front door; but all of the places and hubs in Brisbane helped in some way.
Louise: There was always a lot going on event wise and we had a really warm welcome.
Why was Hot DesQ a good fit for your company?
Chris: We were in San Francisco and it was difficult for us to hire technical people over there. So we made a decision that we were going to spin out our product team here in Australia, in Brisbane in particular. So it worked out great timing for us, I was coming back to choose people to hire. Then there is the whole government thing that they will help cover some of the costs and because of the R&D tax concessions and the team really helped with information about grants and opportunities with the government. We were introduced to all of the universities and were introduced to everyone we wanted to meet, so it was perfect for us on that front.
Benjamin: A lot of the value for us was in the nature of the Queensland marketplace. We cater to companies that run events, conferences and so forth and Australia as a whole is a very conference-going nation. Hot DesQ provided a very good toe-hold into that market for us.
What advice would you give others to maximise their time in the Hot DesQ program?
Benjamin: I think there are some people who come into the Hot DesQ program who really have their heads down and are focused on their company, which is very good and important for their business; but at the same time here, you have this wealth of resources and wealth of people who are willing to help. If I look back and see where we got the most benefit, it was in those off-the-cuff meetings and odd introductions. You also need to make a concerted effort to get out of the office, to meet and interact with the community as a whole, they are a fascinating and talented group of people from a diverse set of industries and there is a lot of benefit from these people down the road from now. Make sure you integrate and explore.
Chris: There are now two cohorts/alumni who have been through the Hot DesQ program now, you should reach out to at least three of those people and say: this is who we are; this is what we do, help me filter the signal from the noise. You should be meeting people and getting out of the office as Ben said, but leverage the people who have already been through to help you. Understand where you need to be in three months and ask the past cohort for advice.
Louise: Hit the ground running. Six months sounds like a long time but it will be gone before you have even looked up from your inbox. Go to as many events as you can and ask the Hot DesQ team for specific (and ambitious!) intros. The network is tight so it is very easy to spread your name very wide very quickly. Make the most of everyone around you… and do not forget to explore beautiful Australia a bit too!
How easy was it dealing with a government department? Receiving payments for example.
Benjamin: At the beginning of the program because of the necessity to set up an entity it is a good four to five weeks before you really get into the swing of things. So I think that if you are rely upon that immediate payment I could imagine that would be very frustrating.
There is a process, but if you adhere the process the process actually works. If you play by the rules, it is remarkably refreshing that people will listen to you, tell you what you need to do and you give them that and it works. I’m not saying dealing with government entities is a walk in the park but it all went smoothly from our perspective.
Chris: I hate admin. I know what some of the paperwork is like when you’re getting funding from the government to do with acquittals etc. and I know that the Hot DesQ team has fought tooth and nail to make it as streamlined as possible, which I do really appreciate but yeah I still hate paperwork.
Louise: Mind boggling easy. It blew all our other previous experiences out of the water. The paperwork was seriously minimal, setting up the company was all handled for us and took less than an hour of our time, even submitting taxes has all been outsourced to Hot DesQ partners. The Hot DesQ team even had to chase me to get us paid a few times. Couldn’t have been easier for someone who resists all forms of admin and structure!
How many hours per month does it take to earn your network points, and what type of activities did you need to participate in? Was it a distraction from the main process of building the business?
Benjamin: The key to the network points is limiting the timeshare the network points take. All told, we would have spent 10–15 hours a month doing the network points. What helped is if you planned and over 2–3 days you organised a set of panels or many things into that time. You could come in and spend those days on delivering value to the community.
Chris: Ben already said this, but getting the points isn’t difficult. If you’re a member of the startup ecosystem you’re already going to events and putting on talks and social media, so getting points isn’t difficult. Keeping track of the activities you do is harder — again I do not like admin.
Ben: If I was going to sum this up, look, you can see it as free money- it is not attached to any equity but in reality, you need to deliver a service to the ecosystem as a whole. For the right business, it makes a lot of sense.
Louise: I spent maybe a day a week total on getting our team points — but it was all doing things I enjoyed and would probably do anyway. For example, attending events at our co-work, mentoring local early stage entrepreneurs, sitting on panels. The actual paperwork side was almost zero and there were not any compulsory activities that drained our time unnecessarily.
What is the one main thing you are taking away from your Hot DesQ experience?
Chris: The Queensland Government sincerely wants to help you.
Ben: It’s a deep understanding of the Queensland ethos, the nature of how business works inside a region and the connections and so forth from out there that moving forward I expect will be really valuable.
Louise: An epic little black book of amazing entrepreneurs from all over the world!
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