THE Federal Government’s research body AgriFutures Australia – formerly known as the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation – is partnering with youth entrepreneur incubator, startup.business, to help rural students become next-generation agribusiness innovators.
AgriFutures Australia and startup.business have combined to deliver an education program called AgriFutures startup.business which teaches school students in rural and regional Australia to solve the problems facing agriculture using innovation and an entrepreneurial mindset.
Jo Burston, serial entrepreneur and founder of Inspiring Rare Birds, is behind the new venture, startup.business. It focuses on bringing entrepreneurial learning into the classroom to inspire and equip the next generation to create real social and economic impact.
“Youth globally are our superheroes,” Ms Burston said. “They want to find solutions to problems that previous generations have created and for these solutions to be sustainable, sometimes (developing into) multimillion-dollar businesses.
“They are digital natives who thrive on being connected and, most importantly, don’t see any gender or cultural barriers to success. We must keep these imaginations alive and healthy.”
Ms Burston’s first partnership is with Australian Government-funded research and development body, AgriFutures Australia, to sponsor seven schools across seven states and territories to receive a $7000 education program. These programs will take secondary students “on an immersive journey into the entrepreneurial startup scene to help solve the problems facing agriculture in Australia”.
Australian agriculture produces about impressive 93 percent of the country’s domestic food supply and 1.6 million Australians are employed in ag-related industries, making it the biggest employer in rural and regional communities.
But, Ms Burston warned, the world is changing and the population is growing, “which means we need to work out how to feed more people with less land and less water”.
“For this reason, it is imperative that agriculture in Australia embraces the new technology revolution,” Ms Burston said. “That’s where entrepreneurship and innovation comes in.”
While drones, artificial intelligence (AI), renewable energy, driverless trucks, and remote monitoring of soil and air are now all common factors in Australian farming, there are many clear problems to be solved.
“The industry now needs more tech-savvy kids to help it prosper well into the future,” Ms Burston said. “For this, students will need to prepare for Industrial Revolution 4.0 by gaining the skills highlighted by the World Economic Forum, and the startup.business programs are designed to deliver just that.”
She predicted teachers would enjoy delivering these energetic, inspiring and thought-provoking sessions as their students became equipped with a key skill for their business life – an entrepreneurial mindset – and work towards positively impacting Australia’s all-important food security.
AgriFutures Australia managing director John Harvey said, “We are thrilled to launch the AgriFutures startup.business program with Jo and her team. A key objective of AgriFutures Australia is to attract capable people into careers in agriculture, and this program will be a wonderful tool to expose high school students to different ways of approaching national rural issues, and importantly expand their horizons in terms of what a career in agriculture could look like.”
AgriFutures Australia was previously known as the RIRDC and invests in research, leadership, innovation and learning to support industries that do not have their own research and development function, new and emerging industries, and the issues that affect the whole of agriculture.
Mr Harvey said the vision of the organisation was to grow the long-term prosperity of Australian rural industries, which includes partnering and delivering programs and initiatives that attract people to a career in agriculture,” building the capability of future rural leaders, and supporting change makers and thought leaders”.
Startup.business was co-founded by Jo Burston and the late Richard Seymour, former program director of entrepreneurship and innovation at The University of Sydney, on the premise that research shows entrepreneurial firms account for the clear majority of employment growth.
Ms Burston said most young people would probably end up working for entrepreneurial firms – “if they don’t go out and start their own”.
Startup.business programs are designed for 10–17 year olds “to equip the next generation to create real social and economic impact”.
Applications opened in late February 2018 for schools to join the program.