STEVE Baxter’s tenure as Queensland’s Chief Entrepreneur may have come to an end, but only a fool would think this will be the last we hear from the dynamic investor.
For the past 12 months, the tech entrepreneur has travelled the breadth of the Sunshine State, meeting with hundreds of startups, inventors and innovators.
When Baxter was announced as the state’s second chief entrepreneur last year, taking over from inaugural appointment Blue Sky founder Mark Sowerby, it was a choice that seemed inevitable.
He has been one of Australia’s best-known and revered businessman ever since pioneering internet service provider SE Net and later co-founding PIPE Networks, which was famously sold to TPG Group for $373 million.
His reputation as a backer of startups was heightened in recent years by his investor role on Channel 10’s Shark Tank, and his creation of co-working space River City Labs. Among Queensland’s startup scene, there is no one more in demand than the one-of-a-kind Baxter.
Never one to mince his words, his forthright demeanour can at times be mistaken for gruffness, particularly on TV, but the reality is Baxter is a passionate and intelligent thinker who wants this state to succeed, and who is liberally generous with his time and advice.
In my dealings with him he has never shied from telling it as he sees it (and it’s sometimes clear that pollies and journos can be a source of frustration for him), but Baxter has proved to be a true ally to those who matter the most to him, and he to them – emerging businesses.
I spoke to Baxter about what the past year has been like for him, as he wrapped up his final weeks in the gig. “I’m happy,” he says. “I think I did enough.”
Baxter says he had four main objectives going in: broadening the startup focus beyond southeast Queensland, addressing the difficulties in getting capital to startups, tackling regional telecommunication issues, and raising the profile of flying cars and their potential benefits to Queensland.
A pilot, Baxter has travelled extensively in his own plane across the state, making about a dozen trips to a wide variety of places including Emerald, the Whitsundays, Rockhampton and Gladstone.
“We met some amazing people doing incredible things,” he says. “It was really important to me to get out and to take the message beyond the southeast corner of Queensland.”
Baxter also negotiated a deal with Wholesale Investor, an Australian online platform that connects startups with more than 17,000 international private investors.
He says though Queensland doesn’t lack in ideas or expertise, one thing which it is missing is a sophisticated investment community.
Though the sign-up rate with Wholesale Investor is usually $10,000 – which Baxter says still offers great value – he helped secure an offer for Queensland-based emerging companies a rate of $2000.
“It’s worked very well for both parties,” he says.
As for flying cars, he says he will not give up the fight to see aerial transport make our cities less congested, allow people to commute more freely and live in more open space. During his tenure Baxter has continually urged governments to stop spending billions of dollars on roads and tunnels, and instead look to the alternative solution, which he believes will emerge as the norm in the next decade.
“Queensland needs to learn to leapfrog – we always seem to be chasing, and this is an area where we can lead Australia,” he says. “I think at least it has started a conversation – people call me crazy, but at least people are talking about it.”
Baxter has now handed the baton of chief entrepreneur to founder of blockchain platform Everledger Leanne Kemp, and he has some sound advice to share.”Pick your battles wisely, because you can’t do everything.”
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