Skilling up for the modern age
Interview/Words by Ashley Winter
Nate Sturcke is the Founder and Managing Director of Skills of the Modern Age (SOMA), a future skills academy based here in Perth.
Before SOMA, Nate worked his way up through the ranks at RAC WA over 10 years, culminating with building the iconic WA membership organisations’ innovation capability. A brief gig at HealthEngine (which he describes as the closest thing to a Silicon Valley start-up here in Perth) followed before Spacecubed (an innovative collaborative hub and shared space for social entrepreneurs), an organisation he has been involved with for a few years, made an offer he couldn’t refuse to focus all of his time on SOMA.
While working full-time Nate is also the Director of Founder Institute Perth (a Silicon Valley based accelerator program for entrepreneurs) and Lead Organiser of Startup Weekend Perth (backed by Google).
Nate shared his insights into what skill sets we should be thinking about as potential employees and employers, why innovation is such a dirty word and how someone should go about getting their idea off the ground.
What does SOMA try to achieve?
Nate: SOMA’s mission is to help people get excited about the future of work. I think there is currently a lot of negativity and pessimism about what each of our future jobs may look like. For example, you can’t open the paper without seeing an article about globalisation, automation, loss of jobs, and how we are all going to be replaced by robots. We want to help people see the opportunity in this disruption by promoting the potential for future areas of employment, and helping people learn those future skills. We cover three areas: tool sets, skill sets and mind sets.
We have a wide range of technical skills on offer, things like 3D-printing, virtual-reality and programming. We also offer training for soft skills, things like design thinking and product management. We also promote entrepreneurship around those skills.
Where did the idea come from?
Nate: I have been involved with Startup Weekend and the Founders Institute for the last few years. Through these programs I was working a lot with startups and people trying to play in that arena. At the same time I was at RAC working with people my age and above trying to improve its innovation capability. I saw that people didn’t have some of the new or emerging skill sets required to do that. I saw the opportunity to run short courses around those particular areas, as universities and TAFE weren’t offering them.
Innovation is such a buzz word right now, why?
Nate: I think innovation can be such a dirty word. As soon as you start talking innovation, you start to water down the message. It is important for business to look at the entire spectrum of innovation opportunities. In my past roles, we often talked about core, adjacent and transformative innovation.
- Core is about making sure your products are better than the competitors.
- Adjacent is about launching new products into the market that already exist but you don’t offer.
- Transformative is thinking about your market in a whole new way.
Organisations always need to be thinking about those three things, improving the core but also allocating resources to sure-up the future as well.
What businesses and industries do you anticipate for the future for WA?
Nate: We have a big opportunity in technology entrepreneurship. Primarily due to the fact we are in the same time zone as 24% of the world’s population and within two hours of 60%.
We need to think more about launching products into Asia rather than the US and Europe. While the latter might be culturally similar, there are a lot of challenges due to proximity.
The other area is about establishing WA as a place for space. We have the square kilometre array in our backyard, a lot of computing power, and a lot of experts in that area.
What skills should we all be jumping on?
Nate: I recommend for people to have a strong and wide base of skills, so you should know a bit about digital marketing, a bit about programming, a bit about leadership - a combination of soft skills and technical skills. In addition to your wide base of skills, you should specialise into one particular area and become an expert in that.
It is also really important to be agile and willing to learn new things, to be adaptable and curious. The skills we need today will not be the skills we need for tomorrow.
If someone has an idea – what should they do with it?
Nate: My sales pitch answer is the Plus 8 Academy. This is something SOMA and Spacecubed just launched. It gets its name from the idea about the plus eight time zone I mentioned before. For the last two- years Spacecubed and their partners have invested almost $1 million in early stage start-ups through accelerator programs. We have expanded that program to include education programs for idea and early stage entrepreneurs. One of the programs - ‘Leap’ - is a one-day boot camp where you take your idea and put it through its paces. The other - ‘Sprint’ - is a six-week part time pre-accelerator program which helps founders find product/market fit and get their business ready for external partnership or investment.
My non-sales pitch answer is to go out and learn as much as possible about what your customers want and what people have done in that industry around that idea before. No idea is unique, so you can learn from what other people have tried to do before.
What are some of the lessons you can share with someone who is looking at starting up their own business or looking to expand?
Nate: Be humble and don’t be afraid of sharing your idea. People make the mistake of keeping their idea close to their chest, but that is actually the opposite of what you should do. You should talk to as many people as you can, and look at it from as many different angles as possible.
My other advice is to not take the leap until you’re really ready. Find flexible ways to work on your idea so you can still pay your bills.
Learn more about SOMA and the learning programs they deliver to help you learn the skills needed for the jobs of tomorrow here.