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Brett Thomas: Chief Operations Officer at The Melt

This episode of the NTP Podcast features Brett Thomas, COO of The Melt. Brett recounts his journey from aspiring professional soccer player to founding The Melt, a hardware startup accelerator. After a leg injury ended his soccer career, Brett backpacked internationally for a year before working in surveying and offshore hydrographic positioning. He later helped build out the internet’s fiber optic infrastructure during its rapid growth. Brett then joined mining supply chain software startup Qmaster with his current business partner Trent Bagnell. After Qmaster’s acquisition, Trent founded the Slingshot startup accelerator. Inspired by Slingshot’s success, Brett and Trent opened The Melt’s first prototyping lab to support hardware startups. They have since expanded The Melt’s network and facilities with various partnerships and grants.

 

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Transcript

Please note: This transcript has been autogenerated and may contain slight errors.

Welcome to another episode of the Newie tech People podcast. On today’s episode, we’ve got Bret Thomas, director and COO of the Melt. Welcome, Brett.

Thanks for having me, John. Mate, the melts are gaining a little bit of notoriety up in Newcastle, a little bit more positive stories coming out of the journey to date, which is really interesting. Ken will dig into that today.

But for those of you, our audience that don’t know either, let’s start with your background first, your individual background, and then we’ll go the slingshot journey into the melt. So, mate, what was your background? How did we get to where you’re at today? It’s an interesting story. Not sure that we’d have long enough, actually.

I’m one of those people that’s probably had the seven careers that becoming sort of more and more opportunistic. Yeah, but that’s an interesting point, though, even just to start with. I really like that it’s a lot of junior people coming into technology in general.

You think you might have to do a degree and have a perfect career path set out, and quite often that’s not the case. You’re in a coo role right now dealing with or working with a lot of technology companies, and I’m sure you’re dealing with seasoned professionals as well as junior burgers that are just starting out in their career. But to get a path is very rarely how you set it out ten years in advance.

Right, yeah, that’s very true. So I actually started trying to be a professional soccer player a long, long time ago. If I’m totally honest, I wasn’t probably good enough.

I played for New South Wales and in the australian university team. But the point is that I broke my leg and that kind of just polarized the decision about forgetting about this thing and actually concentrating on my chosen career path, which was really to be a surveyor. I know I’m a long way from that.

Yeah, mate, can you join these dots? So I spent the best part of a year when I broke my leg, and it had recovered to a point. I wrote a list of the 50 places that I wanted to sort of go to around the world and then went and visited them. Wow.

So backpacked for a year through Asia, all of western Europe, north and South America, and had an absolutely amazing time. Got a bit of the travel bug, though. So when I did come back, I then started looking for roles in surveying.

That would really sort of put me out of my comfort zone. I worked in London while I was there for a good few months on some really big surveying projects like the opera house and the Queen’s house. And I set out a house for the salt and the Brunei and did a whole bunch of really cool stuff and then came back to Australia.

And like I said, the travel bug was still alive and well. So I took a job laying a gas pipeline out in central western New South Wales. And that sort of then led into this remote working kind of idea where I could use the education and the qualification that I had to pretty much go anywhere and do anything.

And that was the amazing thing about that particular degree. So I’m really forever grateful for the opportunities that it’s presented me. I’m not surveying anymore, but that led into a job with an offshore hydrographic surveying company.

So we were positioning oil rigs and platforms, laying gas and oil pipelines, bringing the aura shore, and then I spent five years laying optic fiber cables when the Internet was kicking off in the late ninety s to two thousand and three. So, worked in about 40 countries globally. Only did one job in the southern hemisphere, which was the southern Cross cable, the main cable that comes into Sydney, but had an amazing time, saw things that make your head spin.

And it was incredible. And so after five years, I kind of set that plan in my mind that five years floating around a steel box in the ocean was probably going to be enough. It would send you stir crazy or turn you into somebody.

Probably that would be an eternal gypsy. And so I decided that I probably shouldn’t do that and got a job actually working with my current business partner, Trent Bagnell, one off. And that was with a mining supply chain software company called Qmaster, which is one of the original newe tech innovation companies.

Yeah, so we grew that from, I think I was the fifth employee. We grew that to about 110 or 20 offices in five countries. It was public listed.

And so we built this business that was really so different to what kind of any of us imagined that we were going to be working in. Trent was, was an environmental scientist and I was a surveyor. And here we were in this tech business selling software to the world’s biggest mining companies all over the planet, and off traveling around consulting and exploring their supply chains and working out how our productized software solution could replace their spreadsheets and make their operations run far more effectively than otherwise they would.

So did that. And we got acquired a couple of times throughout time. Trent, as the MD of a publicly said company, the second time we got acquired.

Sorry, the first time we got acquired was a hostile takeover. We’d sold our software products into the US and a company in the US got pretty cranky about that and so they approached our sort of majority shareholders, made them an offer and then essentially delisted us and made us private. And so Trent had to move on.

Obviously he was the MD of publicist company, but he went off then and went to Silicon Valley for a few months and sort of watched what was happening there in the innovation space and then came back with this concept of corporate accelerator programs and then started Slingshot. So Slingshot accelerator, another sort of pioneering Newcastle business, 100% in the innovation. And it’s led to a lot of success stories out of Newcastle, for sure.

It certainly has, yeah. We’ve been really fortunate to be able to unearth some amazing talent, not just here in the hunter, but sort of across Australia. We ran programs and about 35 programs for a lot of the tier one australian companies and just provide context for those that our audience don’t know.

Slingshot, you’d work with a big corporate partner who wanted to create some innovation. Maybe you’d had some struggles internally on how do we create innovation internally? So you’d work with Slingshot. Slingshot would put together a program, take on board a bunch of startup companies who had ideas and products around solving a problem that would positively affect the corporate.

That’s an overview. Yeah, no, that’s pretty good, James. Yeah.

There was a number of facets to why they were interested in working with Slingshot, a lot of those companies. So we’re talking about companies like Qantas, Lion, HCF, Caltech, NRMA, News Corp. So big tier one australian brands.

And they quite often had large innovation teams. Qantas had about 35. Yeah, right.

But they only know what they know and they don’t sort of know what’s coming. And so they were interested from a disruption point of view, as well as increasing their opportunity to raise alternate revenue streams that fit with their core themes. So this looking for disruption thing was really important to them, obviously, because they want to head off and be at the forefront of their competitive leadership and maintain their competitive advantage.

So finding what the next level of entrepreneurs are working on in their garages and could potentially disrupt the way that they do business was important to them. But also, Qantas has 15 million frequent flyer members. So they’re a membership loyalty rewards company, really.

In fact, they don’t really like flying people around because it’s the most risky and costly part of what they do. They probably make more money doing all the other stuff actually than they do flying people around. And so their themes were really sort of based around not just the air tourism, hospitality, but around loyalty, membership and other things as well.

So what slingshot would do would work with the corporate teams and determine what the themes were, and then we would go to market with those themes, appeal to the masses when it comes to the startups and scale ups, working on those themes, proposing solutions back. And for Qantas, as an example, we’d have 500 applications and then we’d whittle that down to maybe 50, and then you’d have 20 pitch and then you’d pick ten. And it was with the corporate executive teams, not the minions, because Alan Joy sitting in the front row and his five top corporate executive sort of team members.

And then you would go into this like mini NBA three month where we would bring in the best mentors, coaches, and we would use our internal staff, we had quite a big team, and we would just essentially coach these startup founders and scaling businesses to be able to do business with Qantas and others, of course, those other corporates. And so that was working really well. But then when Covid came, Qantas sacked its whole 35 people in a day.

And the same with other corporates, the first thing they cut at times of trouble is the things that are the least tangible. So innovation is a pretty hard thing to sort of work out what a return on investment might look like. And the return on investment is often further down the track, right? Yes, and the duration of the return on investment is the issue.

So if you’ve got to protect your budgets or you’ve got to protect your PNL or whatever the case might be, then those things are the first things that get cut. And so we actually kind of parked slingshot. And before we did that, though, we were talking about this concept of creating the melt.

And primarily that was because we were seeing more and more hardware startups in those application processes for those corporates. And by hardware I mean making devices, people trying to build products. And we’re fascinated by it.

But the problem for us was the technical risk. We’re very good at the commercial risk, we understand how to run businesses and we understand what’s required to be a successful business, but we didn’t know how to make these bits and so we had to think differently about it. So in consultation with an engineering firm and with Dantia, which is sort of the private arm of economic development arm of Lake Macquarie City Council, we built our first prototyping lab at Warner’s Bay.

And it was Australia’s first combined sort of co working prototyping hub and accelerator sort of program provider, and that’s been really successful. It was opened by Malcolm Termmel in 2019. I think I was at that event.

Yeah, there was quite a few people there, and it attracted quite a lot of media because Malcolm Turner was quite controversial at that time. He’d just released a book about his time in politics, and he went on a bit of a rampage. And so there was a lot of media there, and that was good for us, of course, and the success was really high.

But the reason why Malcolm Turnbull came was because we got a small grant, $500,000 over two years, to help us with the establishment under an agenda for innovation that he created. And so it was called the new and existing incubator support grant. And so he came and he was glowing in his praise for what we were about and the tangibility of what he could see.

He actually said it was the best use of funds that he’d ever seen in his time in government. So he was really thrilled about the fact that it was his scheme and it had such potential to be doing such great things. And so within that first couple of years, we accelerated about a dozen companies.

In addition to the money that we’d invested into them, they’d raised ten, $20 million, employed about 80 people. And so we got a pretty good role on pretty quickly. And that sort of drew the attention then of the Musserbrookshire Council, who have this amazing leadership and vision for what happens in the diversification of the upper hunter.

And they’ve got government funding to build this amazing facility called the Donald Horn Building. And so the melt Mod manufacturing Center is one of the key components within that building. So we’ve expanded the network of the melts and the intent has always been, and is still the case to expand the opportunity for us to create these melt buildings in different verticals, though not copy paste.

We want to have different prototyping equipment, we want to have different skill sets and capabilities so that we can cross pollinate sort of any industry from any location, with hardware being the commonality across all of them. Yeah, that’s right. Yeah, I think that’s the biggest from my perspective as well, it’s the biggest differentiator.

I think Australia has a reasonably decent vc startup incubator scene in around software. I don’t know, it’s obviously pittance compared to the US or somewhere else. And we’ve gone through a challenge the last two years in particular.

But the focus on hardware, I think that’s always been a real challenge and probably comes with the cost associated with hardware as well. And then, as you said, that skill sets and everything that goes in a hardware startup being very different to software, right? Yeah, and it is. So we’ve got this venture fund called Melt Ventures.

It’s an early stage venture capital Limited partnership fund which has very specific tax treatments. I know that’s a mouthful to say, but the government created it to basically help attract high net worths and other angel investors to invest into the more risky startup scene. They didn’t want to fund that all themselves.

And the reason why it’s so important is because small business in Australia employs two out of three people. And so the government knows very well that the more businesses we create and foster, the more people will have jobs. And so they created this ESVCLP with a 10% tax offset up to and capital gains tax free for any profits, which is the only scheme, I think, that offers such favorable tax conditions.

And so the thing about these is there’s about 106, but 103 of them are just pure software plays. Now with the sort of onset of the sovereign manufacturing stuff that we’re hearing on the back of COVID and with also the clean climate tech solution space sort of burgeoning. There’s a lot more interest now around the hardware space because everybody knows that software will only get you so far.

It’s great for managing, manipulating, analyzing and reporting, but it’s the physical devices that are actually going to help with the transition to the new economy. So we started thinking about this quite some time ago, 2017, before it was fashionable. We opened that first melt in December 2019 and then two months later, Covid hits.

So we looked like geniuses in the sense that we’d preempted the sovereign manufacturing risk that Australia had been exposing itself to by essentially killing our manufacturing industries. In Newcastle here, we’ve seen a lot of it. The place is amazing, don’t get me wrong, but the loss of BHP and everybody thought was going to be doom and gloom and how would we ever recover? Correct Geelong and places like that with the car manufacturing industry and all the thousands of businesses that were supporting those, you know, Covid really sort of fast tracked the way that people think about business and about opportunity.

Change was forced upon us and humans don’t very much like change. I think it forced upon him fast tracked, fast tracked everything. Like the remote work side of things.

I think we would have got to somewhere some form of hybrid in future. I think it fast tracked it by ten years. I think ten years.

Ten years is a good number on the slingshot side of things. We saw companies, we were doing an accelerated program for a bank and we couldn’t even use excel, we couldn’t use slack, we couldn’t use any of these things because the corporate, it viewed them as a security risk. And then all of a sudden, Covid happens and there’s 600 people that can’t go into their office to run the bank.

Suddenly within a week, they’re all working from home on their own laptops and their own computers, and they’re all patched in via vpns, et cetera. And they were never going to do that. Not ever in their history would they have done that, except for the COVID pandemic forcing them to have to stay home.

That bank would have died. It wasn’t a tier one bank, but it’s a bank nonetheless. Yeah.

So I think the opportunities that change creates, I think a lot of people are yet to realize, and I’m not just talking about the obvious in climate change, but change in general. Humans don’t like change very much unless it’s been forced on them or unless they’ve got time to sort of digest it. And so that’s really important in terms of what we’re seeing now with transition, particularly around energy and advanced manufacturing and all those things that Australia has traditionally got a really high skill set and skill base in.

But we do need to update those skills and we do need to onboard that knowledge and we do need the government to be the catalyst for change when it comes to policy development and all those things to give businesses confidence to be able to invest into those sectors and really help them to make us Australia, I mean, a global sort of champion of the cause, because if we wait too long, we’ll never catch any of the other nations that are already quite a way down this path. Yeah, I think you bang on there and I think there’s good opportunity for Australia and then close to us with the hunter as well, or just leaning into our strength. From an energy perspective, Australia is always a very big player from that side of things, obviously, from the hunter perspective, leaning into manufacturing, leaning into hardware, we’ve got massive advantages here in the hunter that other places don’t have, and us leaning into that is a very real possibility and real advantage that we have.

I don’t think the hunter in Newcastle is ever going to be the SaaS capital of Australia or the world. Right. But from manufacturing and leaning into our opportunities that we have locally, it’s going to be really advantageous.

Yeah. And the thing about the hunter is that there’s so much skill and capability so as coal. And I’m not going to say that there’s a cliff coming for coal, but it’s going to transition over the course of time.

But also a lot of the companies that invest in coal are also the biggest players in green and clean tech as well. Right? They are. There’s a lot of mining companies also that are transitioning to becoming renewables companies and they’re some of the biggest investors in this.

So it’s not Yang, quite often, a lot of the big money that’s coming into this is actually coming from the players in the mining space, which is really interesting. And I think, again, the hunter is very close to that. Yeah.

So tapping into that skill and capability is something that’s really unique to the hunter. We’ve always been seen as being a heartland of energy production that’s undoubted. We produce most of New South Wales’s energy from this region.

And so the economy that is New South Wales, we’re about 10% of the GDP, $70 billion a year is contributed from the hunter. It’s way above our weight in terms of population base. And in order to protect that prosperity, we need to be really seriously thinking about what’s coming in the pipe and be preparing for it.

Because those jobs that are in mining, that will be replaced over the course of time, they’re prosperous jobs, they’re high paying jobs, and there’s a lot of them. And so we need to foster the next opportunities for those people to be able to work in the next generation of industry that. So part of what the meltz trying to do is attract the next generation of startups and scale ups to come here and to set up here and to employ locals, because we want thousands of people to be employed in these new economies for the next generation or the people that are considering are a bit younger in the new, and I, let’s call it that, are considering, hey, where I might be working in ten years time, 20 years time.

As you said, it’s not often a straight line. Are there skill sets in particular that you think people should start to be focusing on as these jobs of the future start to arise, especially in and around the companies that you’re working with out of the melt? Yeah, look, I think skill sets is something separate. But before I sort of dive into that, I think the key characteristics are being curious and being resilient.

I like this because if you’ve got those two things, I guess I’m a pretty good case in point there. I was about to dig in that I’ve always been curious and resilient. Right.

So I’ve kind of just gone from one opportunity to the next as they present. I’ve never been frightened about taking an opportunity. I’ve thought deeply about how might that fit with me personally, but if I’m excited by something, then I’m on.

Yeah. So if we reverse that, back in your career. Right, you mentioned earlier that you did a surveying degree and the best part about that was it opened up opportunities for you.

Right? Yeah. And I think again, it’s the same with the skills of tomorrow. Looking at curiosity, problem solving, resilience, if you have a look at those core skills, they’re going to be transferable.

Technologies continue to change and evolve and what’s relevant today might not be relevant in five years time, might not be relevant in five months time. But if those problem solving, communication, curiosity skills will continue to sort of be valuable for forever. But from a degree perspective, if you’re looking at surveying for you, was that, would you recommend to people to look at university or look at a degree to open up opportunities for the future? Is it learning to problem solve for your university? Get your opinion? I guess I probably can’t really 100% answer that because I’m biased by the university system, by my pathway.

I would personally recommend that, but I can tell you it’s not the only way. You know, we get a lot of founders that come through programs that have been tradies, that have come through working since they were 1617 and they’ve observed through their working practices opportunities to solve problems. And some of those guys and girls are great founders, but they don’t know anything about running businesses.

But it hasn’t stopped them becoming great founders, nor has having a certificate from a university prevented them from doing that either. So I wouldn’t say that to be successful you have to get a university. Not in any stretch.

And in fact, some of my closest mates that didn’t go to uni have got more money than the rest of us put together because they got into trades. They become the best at their trade, they established amazing businesses and they’re employing a lot of people. I guess that’s why I’ve sort of avoided the skills question and said, go back to curiosity and resilience, because if you do that, they’ll set you up.

Irrespective of which pathway, whether you take an academic pathway or whether you take a physical trades kind of pathway, I think the opportunities are equally high. It comes down to your willingness and your desire to be able to make a success of whatever path you choose. I like it.

I think one of the more common answers, not common answer, but one of the more favorable answers in around university degrees for people is not necessarily what they learned, but learning how to learn or learning how to research, learning how to communicate a problem and problem solve. So you set a problem and how to actually a solve the problem and then communicate that. And that’s what some people learn through university and that’s the skill that is probably most beneficial as you take that into the real world.

Yeah. And I think you gain through university a level of independence because no one holds your hand when you’re learning. Nobody forces you to turn up to any lessons or any tutorials.

It’s entirely up to you. You don’t have to be there. And so if you don’t have the attitude of I want to be successful, you’ll fail.

So that’s that kind of the element of resilience in the independence that I mentioned. But it’s certainly not a recipe for success, not signing up to any course. I was fortunate because the surveying degree is part of the engineering faculty and so you really are a problem solver.

You learn how to solve problems and you learn how to be mechanical about things. I’m pretty diligent. I’m a bit of a numbers nerd.

Probably why I’m coo. I’m sure I drive people crazy because I’m a bit anal with things. But I don’t miss too much either.

I’ve got an eye for detail. I think that engineering, it’s a mindset as well, but I think that engineering space as well and continue to grow in the hunter, I think it’s going to be really a core of what we do in the future and hopefully just a big stake in the ground for the greater hunter region on continuing to grow and thrive in that area and melt. Big part of building some companies or helping grow and foster and build companies locally, then, as you said, hire more people locally.

Yeah. And look, at the end of the day, there’s so much capability, as I said before, that this generation, our generation, my generation, I’m a fair bit older than you, I’ve just found out. But what we want to do, or what I want to do in the next ten years is leave a bit of a legacy because that’ll sort of see me out in a lot of ways.

In terms of the sort of the face to face, you don’t want those skills. And there’s a lot of people in my age group, you don’t want to leave those skills in the ether. You don’t want to take them to your grave.

So you want to be investing that back into the next generation and helping them with opportunities that don’t exist right now. Yeah, I like it. The future of jobs and the future of work.

We really don’t know what that’s going to be in a couple of decades time with AI and robotics and automation and all those things. So the curiosity and the resilience, they’re going to really bubble to the surface. No, I like it.

Obviously, skills will change. I think the technologies will change. But from a melts perspective, is there a vision for what 510 20 years looks like? This is what a perfect world.

This is what success would look like. Yeah. So for us, obviously, everything starts with investment.

So the melt ventures funds, we want to keep sort of rolling those funds. The very first one, it’s still open. We’re pushing towards $20 million.

That’s our sort of target. It’s at about 1213 at the moment. But then what we want to do is keep those.

Those fundraising opportunities going so that we can look to invest into the next generations for decades to come. With all these venture capital funds, they can take various amounts of time to bring back to the investors. I think all the investors know that, but our idea is that without funding those businesses, the difficulties that they’ll face might be insurmountable, especially in hardware.

Right. And that’s the biggest difference in software. I think you can piece together an MVP, from a software perspective, very cheap these days.

There’s so many great tools out there. Yeah. Even without software coders, no code.

No code is changing that. Yeah. And hardware is a different.

You might be able to piece together an MVP of something very small, but I think some of the companies you’re working with, you’re requiring significant investment up front. Right? Yeah. I mean, even to build a Frankenstein works like looks like is still a challenge.

If you think about what it takes to be successful in business, it’s quite often a lot of skills that outside of your normal sort of range of capability. So what the melt does is wraps around with us as people, kind of an executive team. And so we help those founders fill the gaps of their knowledge, skills, and capabilities to be able to at least think about running a business.

And then it gives them the opportunity, as they grow and build their own skills, to be able to then take over that full function and employ other people in the exec team and employees and then build out their business. And so that sort of incubation that the melt does is really important in the early stage and it’s why we sort of focus on a smaller group of companies. Our success metrics are really good.

That’s because we’re very particular about who we invest into and therefore who we spend our time with. Yeah. On that note then what’s it look like for a company or somebody out there with an idea or something they might have, let’s call it an idea or something a bit further along the line? What’s that process look like? If somebody’s sitting out there at the moment in around that manufacturing space or hardware space and they’re thinking, I’ve got something, I’ve been playing around with an idea.

What does that journey from there to joining the melt look like? Yeah, so there’s a couple of websites. So we’ve got the melt accelerator website, it’s just the melt IO. And then we’ve got the Melt Ventures website.

So go to either one of those websites and the links are know to be able to get in contact with us. Please reach out to us. Don’t underestimate the quality of your idea and the interest that we might have in it.

And what we do then is ask for a pitch kind of deck that gives us sort of the very early first look at what the technology or what the idea might be. And then we open it up with conversation and really just then start to dig a bit deeper. And then if that’s looking good at that point, then we go through a DD process and it just rolls from there.

Yeah, I like the point about ask questions because I know in previously in Slingshot, some of the companies and more successful companies that you’ve taken on as well, have been nothing more than a pitch deck or a couple of slides with an idea like they hadn’t had anything built, but they had a good idea for a very real problem to be solved and they’ve rolled right through. And I’m sure you’ve had people significantly further down the track both get in and out. So it’s just the idea and the team.

Yeah, that’s true. We take on startups and scale ups. We don’t just invest into straight ideation, kind of early stage.

When I say scale ups, there’s always conjecture as to what it means to be a startup versus scale up. But our investment thesis is up to series a. So seed precede seed, series a is sort of our sweet spot.

And one of the reasons for that is because those other vcs, the 103, quite often a lot of them are far bigger. And the other couple that are dabbling in hardware, they’re taking bets that start at five or ten or 20 million, not at 50 grand to a million. And so that’s why I say, don’t hold back.

If you’re making something and you want to pitch it to us, please do, because we’re interested in seeing what’s out there. And maybe even the best advice we can give is stop without sounding like we’re ruthless about that, because we’re not. Sometimes people just need to know, is this a passion project or is this really likely to turn into something that’s going to feed me long term? And it’s just experience.

You’ve seen so many of them come through that somebody might have an idea similar to something else you’ve seen fail, and you know the reason that it has failed, or it won’t ever come to fruition. And being able to give that advice just through experience and what you’ve seen. Right? Yeah, I mean, we see hundreds of ideas.

There’s a bit of a common analogy that for every thing that somebody’s working on, there’s 100 other people in the world that are also working on it. And so it becomes a speed to market thing. So if you’re dealy dallying, thinking about this thing and wondering how you’re going to make it happen and who’s going to help you to do it, that’s probably not going to get you success.

But we can tell you that, and we can also give you the encouragement and the advice to be able to help it along its way. If all the attributes are right on that success part, are there some common attributes that you’ve seen with all the companies you’ve worked with, whether it be that way back from the slingshot right through the melt, right these days, I’m sure there’s got to be some commonalities in the successful founders that you’ve seen. Is there common personality traits or things that people should be looking at learning that you think, hey, these are the, if you can nail these two or three things, whether they’ve got it themselves or they’ve had to learn these, because are there some things that people should be really focusing on? Yes, there are.

We actually probably back the founders more than we back the ideas, and that’s probably not news to anybody. No, but the thing about that is that the passion and the desire and the resolve for the people that are behind these businesses to make them successful is what you’re looking for. So they’re the key things.

It might not necessarily be that you’ve got the most skill or the most knowledge around that thing. Can you bring that thing to market? And have you got the ability to be able to, or the desire or the passion to be able to drive it long term? And a lot of people don’t. They think it’s a great idea.

They think they’re going to sell it in a year’s time to somebody for millions and their jobs done. But that’s not the reality of how this works. And so the best founders are the ones that, you know, that you can work with as an investor that are coachable, that are willing to listen because they’re coming to us for that purpose.

They’re coming to us for the decades of experience that we’ve got in this space. But if they’re coming to you with a closed mind about learning or about being mentored or being coached and taking advice, then it’s unlikely that we’re going to make an investment or that we’re going to be able to work with those people. We don’t want to be seen that what I’ve just said is that we’re dominating or we’re domineering of that.

Well, there’s experience there to be leveraged. Right. But we want to be on the journey.

Is the point being on the journey with them not sitting completely external? Yeah. Not just in putting money in and then stepping away. That’s not what the melt is about.

No. And I think that’s the point of difference. Right.

It’s both the opportunity for investment, but also the experience and experience that you can leverage in helping surround yourself, as you mentioned, wrap your team around to get them to that next stage before they can build or hire those skills internally. Yeah, it’s definitely a big difference. There’s a lot of accelerators and out of the slingshot success that created a bit of a problem in itself because accelerators started popping up like there was no tomorrow prior to Covid.

And the quality of them, many of them, not all of them, was pretty poor. Quite often you had people delivering, mentoring, coaching sessions that had never run a business. Yeah, that just baffles me.

How could those people be giving advice to the next generation of company founders trying to build businesses when you’ve never run one yourself? And so what we do differently is because we evolve all the time. And Slingshot evolved year on year, program on program. No two programs were ever the same.

And part of the reason for that is because generationally things change, technology changes. Philosophies change, methodologies change. And so the thing about the melt is that we don’t stand at the front of a classroom and deliver content to a cohort for twelve weeks.

We don’t do that. We do that with slingshot for a time, but we don’t do that anymore, because we know that in hardware that’s not how you do it, that’s not going to get you the success. Those startups will fail because the depth of what they require is far deeper than pitch, coaching and lean canvas and how to market 101 and all that stuff.

They’re trying to build physical products, build prototypes, and cobble together information, knowledge that they have absolutely zero clue about. So what we do is we bring in that tailored support for each and everyone, because they’re all different, they’re all at different stages of their growth. All the founders have different knowledge, skill sets.

So we bring in the preferred suppliers, our preferred suppliers that offer the services and are specialists in the startup space, people we trust, some of them are investors in our fund, and that gives us that sort of skin in the game element that other accelerators just don’t have. We put our money in these companies, we’re putting our time and effort into these companies forever, not just for twelve weeks. Yeah, I like it.

It’s a different point of view. Obviously it’s that vested interest, right. We touch on, obviously the company side of things.

If people like what they hear or interested in what they hear from the investment side of things, how do they get in touch? What does that process look like? You mentioned the fund still open, twelve ish, 13 mil at the moment, looking for 20. What does it look like from an investment perspective? Yeah. So it’s pretty similar to the process that I described.

Before you apply online or personally, if you know us or you know someone that knows us, have them make a warm introduction, and then we’ll just go through that sort of pitch and then formal chat, and then if it looks like it’s got legs, then we’ll go through a DD process. Yes, and investment thesis or the upsell from that side for the melts, really hardware focused, looking at that longer game, obviously trying to build locally here in the hunter to start with, and then see where that grows. Yeah, so the core thesis is advanced manufacturing or modern manufacturing, however you want to spin that climate and clean tech sort of solutions, that’s our sort of bigger focus.

Anything that’s got a typical embedded IoT element, which could be Agtech and other things, medtech even we’re involved in the health innovation living lab at the John Hunter Hospital. As an. And you know, in the slingshot days, we ran health catalyst, HCF catalyst program for them, created the brand and ran it for seven years.

So a lot of medical devices and a lot of founders came through those programs. That’s a big market. So it’s a big market locally.

Yeah, it’s starting to get real traction as well with the work that’s going on at the John Hunter, so we’re thrilled to be involved in that. It’s hard though, Medtech’s hard because the TGA and compliance and regulation is far. Again, you know, if you’ve got a good idea and you think you can make it happen, then let us know about it.

I like it. We’re probably getting close to the end of our time. If we had a look at somebody who’s looked at your career, you obviously started and you’ve looked at surveillance and then we ended up in a COO.

But you’re working with a lot of companies at the moment. You’re seeing companies from idea stage through to listing stages with some of the companies that you’ve worked with. Is there any starting points or any points or the best book you’ve read or books you’ve read, authors, people that you’d point people in the direction of like, hey, this is a book that.

One of your favorite books or a podcast or something that you think, hey, this would be must read for anyone. Well, rather than reading a book, I’d say come and talk to us. Pop in.

Pop in and have a chat to us. There’s nothing better than that sort of personal connection, I reckon. You can read books and you can digest content online.

There’s copious amounts of it there. And so some of it is not correct. Some of it is, I wouldn’t agree with, some of it I wouldn’t recommend, because everything is horses for courses.

And so just come and talk to us, engage in a conversation and we’ll tell you what we think. Yeah, I like the doing side of it. I think what you mentioned before around you can go academic route, but also you can come from a trades route.

Like you’re actually in there hands on the tools or actually doing something and looking at the actual doing as opposed to the consuming of content. I really like that angle. And it’s the same too.

With the next generation of students coming through. There’s pathways now for you to do stuff. The Musselbrook Donald Horn building has a STEM innovation lab on the top.

That’s although that’s focused around the diversification of the economy up there. It’s providing amazing opportunity for kids to be able to think about STEM pathways and about entrepreneurship and innovation when otherwise it would be just this mystical thing. Oh, I love it.

From a more digital technology perspective, like any advice I’d always give to if it was a software developer, it’d be build a website or build an application. If it was a UX designer, build a portfolio for looking at somewhere from that hardware is like, get your hands dirty is what I’m hearing. Come in and do it.

Come in and do. Which is why I said in my response to your previous question about reading stuff online and content, immerse yourself. Come and engage and immerse yourself in the opportunity.

See it for yourself, test it, see if you think it might work for you. Come and have a look at the space and even have a look at the equipment. See if we can help you to build your prototypes.

Or ask us, be honest and tell us what it is that you want. And if it’s not somebody with their own idea, but somebody wants to get in and around those tools, I think if you’d be seeing those people, that skill sets, there’s a fair chance you’ll know a company that will be looking for that skill set over time, right? Absolutely. And a lot of these startup companies, they’re looking for bright, young, new talent that can help them on the journey.

And if you get in at the right stage in a startup and you get some equity, you might not be earning much, but what the equity might be worth at some point in time could dwarf any amount of money that you’re ever likely to make any other way. Yeah, I like it. Going in open eyes.

I like it. Appreciate it, mate. I think that’s some really good takeaways, especially for some people younger in their career, how they might be able to tackle it, and also just some really good insights in what’s happening in the melt, what’s happening for the greater hunter region.

So appreciate your time today. Thanks for having me. Cheers.

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