Surviving the startup adventure


A young professional, Ashley Baxter, wears a white collared top while posing in front of a modern office.

Thinking of an entrepreneurial career in the ever-growing startup world? Follow the advice of a young UQ graduate, who is creating positive change through her sustainable venture idea.

Ashley Baxter had been down so many career paths she feared she was getting lost.

From psychology to business to IT, Baxter (Bachelor of Business Management / Bachelor of Information Technology ’18) found her true calling through the UQ’s Ventures program.

She is now the founder of a startup known as EarthOffset, which is building the technology to make the world more sustainable through the power of compost.

Here is her advice to budding entrepreneurs hoping to make their dreams a reality.

Passion is everything

Ask yourself, “What is the reason I’m doing this?” Answer honestly, too – don’t just give the answer you would give to other people. If fame and fortune is the reason, maybe try Hollywood. Being truly passionate about your venture is fundamentally important. It’s what gets you through everything – every setback, every disbeliever, every rejection.

As things pick up speed, I’m starting to get just slightly terrified. What if I make a mistake, what if I disappoint the team, what if I waste the amazing opportunities I’ve been given? I ask myself these questions every day, and the only thing that keeps me going is passion. EarthOffset has become the reason I get out of bed in the morning.

If you aren’t passionate about your venture, why the hell would anyone else be?

Understand which of UQ’s Ventures programs is best for you

I have never felt more sure that entrepreneurship is what I’m meant to do. But it sure didn’t start out that way. When I graduated from high school, I studied film at an arts college. I soon transferred to UQ to study psychology, then to business management, and then I added IT for a dual degree.

I worked as an IT technician, I interned at Suncorp Australia, and later worked as a programmer. None of it was right. I was determined to figure out what I was meant to do, so when a staff member at UQ’s ilab accelerator told me to check out IdeaHub, I thought, “why not?” Nothing else had worked out and I was in my last year of university, facing either unemployment or hating my job. IdeaHub – one of UQ’s Ventures programs – is UQ’s startup-101 and, from the first session, I was hooked.

UQ offers a massive range of programs that give you a taste of entrepreneurial life before you decide whether it’s right for you. And there is a great chance to meet the people who might end up joining your journey.

Seek out mentors and soak up their knowledge

There’s a mythos around the lone wolf entrepreneur, which is completely false and I blame Elon Musk for it. No matter how much experience and education you have, you will never know everything you need to know to successfully get a startup off the ground.

There will be knowledge gaps you didn’t even know you didn’t know, and that’s where mentors come in. Mentors fill those gaps, which is absolutely crucial early on. I would never have made it as far as I have without my amazing network of mentors who have been so incredibly generous with their time and insights.

When starting out, any amount of insight is priceless, so pretty much anyone who’s done a startup is a mentor. As your company progresses, you’ll identify the most critical knowledge gaps and the kind of experience that would fill it.

Black and white image of young professional Ashley Baxter leaning against a bench.
Colour image of young professional Ashley Baxter leaning against a bench.

Find a problem, not a solution

Don’t come up with a solution before knowing the problem. An idea is pretty useless unless it solves an actual problem. Sometimes it’s not really a problem, just a mild inconvenience. Sometimes the current solution is actually better.

The easiest problems to solve are the ones that personally and directly affect you, but that’s not always the case. I knew literally nothing about my startup area when I began, so I wrote a 13,000-word research report on it. That was probably overkill, but you really do need to be a subject matter expert on every single minutia related to the problem you’re solving. If you know a problem inside and out, that’s likely going to inspire your passion in solving it.

Australian tech entrepreneur Leanne Kemp with Earth Offset founder Ashley Baxter at the ilab Accelerator Pitch Night.

Australian tech entrepreneur Leanne Kemp with Earth Offset founder Ashley Baxter at the ilab Accelerator Pitch Night.

Australian tech entrepreneur Leanne Kemp with Earth Offset founder Ashley Baxter at the ilab Accelerator Pitch Night.

Funding is important

UQ offers a number of funding sources for aspiring entrepreneurs – a lot of which are promoted through the Ventures channels – and our company applications managed to secure $50,000 from UQ’s Dow Centre and ilab accelerator. I can’t imagine what we would have done without it but I know we never would have made it this far.

Patience is a virtue

It takes seven years to become an overnight success. Or maybe it will take 10. And once you’re there, you’ve got to keep it there. You need to accept it could take that long before the offers and accolades start coming in. If you’re just looking to make a quick buck, a startup probably isn’t right for you.

It’s not just you either. As with mentors, you need the right team. A common mistake I see is that people focus on the product, which is not what a business is. A business sells a product, but it is so much more. If you’re spending all your time building the product, you’d better find someone who’s going to actually build the business because you definitely aren’t doing it.

Learn more about UQ’s Ventures programs.

Watch an interview with Ashley Baxter about her startup venture, EarthOffset.

Have you ever dreamt of launching a startup?
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