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Australia's first university ‘entrepreneur in residence’

He helped reinvent a 500-year-old model of book publishing for modern times at the world-famous Lonely Planet.

Now Gus Balbontin – serial start-up mogul, international motivational speaker, junior soccer coach, and early-morning surfer – has offered his vision to the 1000-year-old business of tertiary education as the country’s first university-based ‘entrepreneur in residence’ at Victoria University.

As Gus sees it, the traditional university model of disseminating information that is now freely available anyway is struggling. With students expected to have up to 10 careers over their lives, universities should be honing qualities of future entrepreneurs rather than selling courses.

“Instead of rote learning in lecture halls, students need to learn how to think, communicate, and above all, be entrepreneurial to succeed in a complicated future,” he said.

Towards that goal, the Argentine-born Yarraville resident has been regularly hanging out at VU campus cafes and shops to gradually, and one-by-one, build a willing network for a series of activities he plans for staff, students and the community.

The first is a series of experiential sessions for new students during orientation week. The sessions will be aimed at showing them that only a small percentage of what they learn at university will be relevant to their career – the rest will change.

The second, around Easter, is a ‘hackathon’ in which students, staff, and the wider community will be invited to ‘scratch an itch that’s been bothering them’ by brainstorming problems and solutions.

“Universities offer fertile soil for all human endeavours,” he said. “Most students these days have the resilience and courage to succeed, but the missing ingredient – and it’s not their fault – is curiosity.”

From the hackathon, Gus will work with a select group of students to develop ideas for new ventures through a ‘start-up school’. Importantly, he wants students to know they are their own product.

“I tell young people: ‘the most crucial start-up in your life is the start-up of you. Invest in yourself and keep yourself relevant for an exciting future.’”

Gus says many businesses – including universities – make the mistake of distancing themselves from their customers and forgetting why they exist.

Since resigning from Lonely Planet in 2014 after 15 years helping it tackle a digital transformation, Gus has been in demand worldwide for his big-picture ideas.

He agreed to come to VU after Vice Chancellor Professor Peter Dawkins encouraged him to take up the unique role of ‘entrepreneur-in-residence’ to support the University’s goal to inspire students to innovate. ENDS

Gus Balbontin is available for interview.   Photos of Gus are available.  

Media Contact:
Ann Marie Angebrandt: 03 9919 5487, 0401 100 576, annmarie.angebrandt@vu.edu.au

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