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Asia is booming and there has never been a better time for Australian entrepreneurs to capitalise on the opportunities in the region, writes Jon Michail.

The Prime Minister Tony Abbott recently told an ASEAN business forum that “trade means jobs” and his latest visit to the region, that included attending Australian Week in China, proved to be a success for the simple reason that there is extraordinary scope for Australia and Asian countries in general to mutually benefit from growing relationships.

During the visit, Mr. Abbott and his political colleagues were joined by an unprecedented delegation of ministers, state premiers and heavy hitting billionaires James Packer, Kerry Stokes and Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest and more than 630 business people. They also toured Japan and South Korea; these two countries, plus China have a combined population of 1.5 billion, a GDP of $15 trillion and buy more than half of Australia’s exports. China is our biggest trading partner, followed by Japan and South Korea in fourth place. The opportunities exist not only in Asia but also in Australia; Australians by nature are world class in terms of aptitude and professionalism and are recognised as such in the region despite having an image of an informality.

Australian Entrepreneurship in the Asian Century

Although our entrepreneurial spirit can always get better, I believe we (entrepreneurs, government and NGOs) are all in an excellent position to leverage our formidable skills via services and products because of our location and better understanding of Asian cultures than European or American businesses. The Prime Minister recently echoed some of these sentiments when he said, “For Australia, the tyranny of distance has given way to the advantage of proximity.” Our overall appreciation of Asian cultures and multicultural diversity is already producing many great results – our experience the ground points to countless success stories, large and small, that have helped capitalise on this unprecedented growth.


The Asian economic strength has helped the Australian real estate market rebound mostly because of the influx of Chinese immigrants and their money coming into the country. That has been good news for developers, builders, estate agents, banks and others because it has among others things generated activity and created jobs. Other positive home grown stories include:

Ruslan Kogan: Founder and CEO of Kogan Technologies. Now 31, Kogan started eight years ago in his parents’ garage in Melbourne with little money, importing electrical goods from China rebranded to the Kogan brand. He is and now rated as one of Australia’s leading online retailers. According to BRW, Kogan is now valued at $315million, not bad for a kid from the suburbs.

Janine Allis: Founded Boost Juice in 2000 and now has a revenue of $200million plus. With 250 stores operating in 14 countries including Asia, the company’s future growth will come from expanding into the Asian region.

Carolyn Creswell: Founder of Carman’s Fine Foods who started a small business with $2000 and has now successfully launched it internationally. Carolyn knows the company’s future growth prospects will be fuelled by exporting across the region. Ms. Creswell won the 2013 Telstra Business Woman of the Year Award in recognition of her entrepreneurial efforts.

Alec Lynch: Founder of crowd-sourcing site, Design Crowd, also started in his parents’ living room and is currently expanding globally, first buying a US company in 2012 and then moving into Asia.

Matt Barrie: Founder of Freelancer, the popular crowd-sourcing site with over $50million revenue and 4.3million users where talk of a public listing is on the agenda.

Dr Sam Prince: 30 A medical doctor, entrepreneur, and philanthropist. He started the Mexican restaurant Zambrero Fresh Mex Grill at age 21 while he was at medical school, believing a market existed for healthy Mexican food. By 2009 there were 17 stores in Australia and the company had generated more than $13.7 million in revenue. Soon afterwards, Prince set up the Emagine Foundation, through which he’s built 15 schools in Sri Lanka and Vietnam and plans 100 more in the Asia-Pacific region by 2014. Prince is also chairman and founder of One Disease at a Time, set up in 2010 to work on eradicating scabies, a disease rife among Indigenous communities. His prodigious achievements saw him named as the 2012 Young Australian of the Year for the Australian Capital Territory. Prince is an entrepreneur with a social conscience and much heart. “Sam Prince does the work of 100 men, improving the lives of thousands through his innovative medical, business and aid projects,” stated GQ in naming him the 2011 Man of Chivalry in its annual Men of the Year list.

George Calombaris: As a judge on MasterChef Australia, George Calombaris has become one of the world’s best-known television chefs, with an audience numbering in the millions. His personal brand influence has added much to his fortunes and helped to re-ignite an industry that at times is difficult to succeed in. MasterChef Australia, which heads into its sixth season in 2014, is seen in approximately 50 countries worldwide, including Indonesia, India, Malaysia, Pakistan, Thailand, Singapore, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Opportunities exist in numerous ways including sport The 2015 Asian Cup – now just a year away – not only offers a unique opportunity to engage neighbouring nations in a world-class festival of football, it could help Australia take a footing in the Asian Century itself. The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup in January 2015 will be the largest football event ever hosted on Australian shores. Staging a marquee event for the 47 nations of the Confederation comes at a time when there is growing recognition of the potential to leverage football, and Australia’s membership of the AFC, to broaden and strengthen engagement in a region vital to Australia’s future prosperity.

Asia’s extraordinary ascent, which has already changed the Australian economy, society and strategic environment, will continue to drive transformations and deliver opportunities for growth throughout the ‘Asian Century’. Leveraging the appeal of the world’s most popular sport to tap into Asian growth markets has already been put into practice. In 2011, for example, Australian footballer Joel Griffiths, then a star player in the Chinese domestic league, helped draw a crowd to a business breakfast in Beijing to facilitate trade engagement.

The Australian Trade Commission (Austrade) has also staged trade promotion and business-networking events for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa and will do so again at the upcoming 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The 2015 AFC Asian Cup Local Organising Committee says that hosting Asia’s largest sporting event and festival of football brings a raft of exciting opportunities, as well as responsibilities. With a potential television reach of 2.5 billion people, they are acutely conscious of the stage for both national and destination image building that they have taken carriage of. The evidence points to Australia being the ideal location and the timing is right to capitalise on the boom of our Asian neighbours.

© 2014 Business First Magazine | This article first appeared in Business First Magazine in May 2014.