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The Studio – Featuring Chantal Abouchar

Adam Spencer_Circle Written by Adam Spencer

@welcometodayone

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Today you’re going to hear the story of Chantal Abouchar and The Studio.

The Studio is an industry-agnostic media technology incubator and is, in fact, Australia’s first media technologies incubator. It’s located in the Sydney Startup Hub, and their mission is to help startups be successful.

We’ll be learning how The Studio came to be, what Chantal went through in order to make it happen and where it’s going in the future, but for now, let’s go back to day one where this story begins…

Transcript

Chantal:

No! No. It’s incredibly rewarding. I think you’ve got to be very passionate about what you do. You’ve got to love and be very passionate about what you do to want to go on this journey because I think then the rewards can be extraordinary.

Adam: 

Hi, I’m Adam Spencer and welcome to day one, the show that goes back to the very beginning, to share the untold stories of incredible Australian startups and the organisations that support them.

Today is a story about one of those organisations. Today you’re going to hear the story of Chantal Abouchar and The Studio.

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Chantal:

The Studio is a media technology incubator. We’re Australia’s first media technologies incubator. We’re located in the Sydney Startup Hub, and our mission is to help startups be successful. 

Adam:

We’ll be learning how The Studio came to be, what Chantal went through in order to make it happen and where it’s going in the future, but for now, let’s go back to day one where this story begins…

Chantal:

I think all the independent work that I did. Look, I’ve worked on so many different types of content, in terms of documentary and factual and news. So it’s really hard to pinpoint down any one story, but probably the independent work that I did, which was… Say, the story that I did in East Timor with Matthew Carney and other ABC journalists at the time. Stories like that, where you’re telling a story that’s very hard to tell, and it needs to be told.

Adam:

As Chantal told me her background as a journalist and documentary maker has given her the skills that are needed to start a startup.

Chantal:

All those skills that I developed as a factual and documentary filmmaker, arriving and doing the research, arriving in a country, finding the story, doing deals, making it happen, navigating your way out in the world, are all skills that you need as a startup.

Adam:

And, that’s exactly what The Studio is. It’s a startup for startups. 

Chantal:

But what’s fantastic is we are a startup for startups, and I totally know what it is to be a founder, because I am a founder.

Adam:

The Studio may be ticking along nicely today, brimming at the capacity of 40 startups and 140 residents. But it wasn’t always that way. Years in the making and requiring a lot of funding to get going, things have, to some degree, been very stressful for Chantal, like it is for any startup founder…

Chantal:

I think it’s just a mixture of stress and intensity of the experience that you’ve gone through. Yeah. So remember, I probably worked pretty well most weekends. I still work a little bit on the weekends. I try not to do too much, but you’re working very long, long hours. You’re just juggling a whole lot of things. It’s just a very intense experience.

Adam:

Even though today Chantal is talking about trying to take it a little easier, She’s used to stress, and I would even go so far to say she thrives in that environment and here’s why. I want to introduce you to The Studio’s events manager Claire Tester and Community manager, Carol Friel. This is Claire and Carol speaking about Chantal’s courage and how that courage helped get the ball rolling on The Studio. 

Claire:

We ran a debate, media tech versus Fintech. And I made each of the panelists provide one fun fact about it and that was a fun fact that she posed as a surfer in a war torn country. I was like, that seems dangerous. And incredibly ballsy.

Claire:

What it does mean that the startup environment does not scare her.

Carol:

Yeah. And she wasn’t daunted by the fact she hadn’t done this before. You know like this place where everyone just kind of said, “Well, someone has to do it. You know, why don’t you just take the leap and do it.” And so she started with basically running regular meetups on and we’ll talk and have discussions on various aspects of the media and through that you built up network on meetup of like 2000 members.

Adam:

Previously it was mentioned that The Studio is a startup, and by Chantal starting a meetup, that was her way of validating the vision she had for The Studio. 

Claire:

What she did is the process for a startup. So once you have your concept or idea you have to go out into the world and see that there’s demand. And she did that through the meet up. 

Adam:

So, what was this idea that Chantal had and where did it originate?

Chantal:

So my background is 30 years in the media industry, in the very broad media industry, initially as a  cinematographer. But it was really about the fact that I loved storytelling and I loved stories. When I had finished my degree, visual arts degree, the idea was to try and get a job within the film industry. This was still the film days, so I was film trained. Even though everyone wanted to be a producer or director, you were told to get a craft. It was through having that craft that you’d really get a deep understanding of the craft of storytelling. That came through cinema. So I thought, well, I’d studied photography, and sculpture, and film studies didn’t exist at the university I went to. I ended up working, training to be a cinematographer and getting a job at the ABC. I always had a real passion for documentary rather than drama, so I knew the ABC was one of the best places to go and create, be able to work on documentaries. That was really where I started from.

Adam:

Chantal, today, is a Walkley Award-winning cinematographer, director, and producer and after 3 decades in the industry undertook a Masters of Screen Arts and Business at the Australian Film Television and Radio School which culminated in a Thesis being presented in 2015 on Time Warner’s accelerator program, Media Camp. 

Chantal:

The Studio came from research that I completed for a master’s thesis, where I really wanted to reflect on my own 30-odd years in the media industry. 

Chantal:

So I ended up looking, taking a deep dive into Time Warner’s accelerator program, Media Camp, which had been going for three years at the time. It was out of this that I sort of said… This accelerator program really brought together these three ideas of creative and business and tech, ’cause that’s what they were doing. That’s what Time Warner were doing. Time Warner, the sixth biggest media organization in the world at the time that I did this research, was saying, “How can we reinvent ourselves as a media organisation?”

Chantal:

So if you take something like a Time Warner, the sixth biggest media organization in the world, and you apply that finding to an industry, i.e., the Australian industry, you can draw some similar conclusions. What they were doing was they were running things like accelerator programs to support and enable startups. Really, it’s not rocket science. I basically said, “Look, this is the evidence of… We can transpose these findings of what a Time Warner is doing, and into an industry.”

Chantal:

After I’d finished the research, end of 2013. So, it was 2013, 2014. 2015 was really more R&D, and it was me saying, “Look, these are the findings of this research. Someone needs to… It’s too early for an accelerator, ’cause we need to grow the startup. We need to grow the startup ecosystem. Someone needs to start something like an incubator program focused on the media and creative sector or creative industries. We need to be very broad about how we do this.” I kept saying this for about a year, and people kept pointing at me. I was like, “I don’t know how to do this!” Then finally, I just got sick of telling, saying someone had to do it. I thought, “Well, why not just give it a go? Why not give it a go?”

Adam:

And so Chantal did give it a go, and that’s when she started the meetup group. A way to dip her toe in the water and the response was incredible. Incredible enough that the very next day after that first meetup event held at Fishburners and being able to see and hear the positive responses, Chantal said.

Chantal:

“Okay, I can do this now. I’ll give it a go.”

Adam:

Chantal was committed however it was still going to take almost 3 years in fact before The Studio’s doors would be ready to open, but in the meantime Chantal…

Chantal:

…founded the organization, realized it need to be a not for profit, and reached out to a couple of people that were founding board members, that are still on our board. Dr. Maggie Haertsch, who had previously founded a not for profit, so really had great knowledge around governance, which is really important, and Bruce Tulloch. They’re still on the board. We now have other board members. Paul McCarthy is our Chairman, Lynda Coker is our treasurer. Bruce, who I mentioned before, and Tim Parsons is a non-executive director as well.

Adam:

Officially The Studio was opened on the 26th of July 2018 in a ceremony by then Treasurer Scott Morrison, but the organisation was  founded in November 2015. It was a long road to get to that point. 

Chantal:

The organization was founded in November 2015, but after that time it was about reaching out to people, having lots of meetings, lots of cups of coffee, and saying to people, telling the story over and over again, of why this was important. “Here’s the research. This is why it’s important. This is the vision for what we need to create.”

Chantal:

It was 18 months of this. Then the stars aligned. What happened was the federal government announced the incubator support fund, so that was something that we could go to people we’d been in conversation with. There is a whole spreadsheet tracking everyone we’ve spoken to, and it’s a lot of people, a lot of businesses. Half the time, it’s the challenge of getting to the right person, and then it’s having those conversations. The conversation is many conversations. It might be 10 conversations and 10 meetings, and still there may be no result.

Adam:

What the announcement of the federal government’s incubator support fund did was give Chantal the opportunity to go back to all the people and businesses she had been in contact with and say

Chantal:

“Okay, if we can raise some money, this is co-investment.” But that did not make it easy, because the thing about the incubator support fund is there is no end date. It is an open fund. So when people don’t have an end date, they don’t commit. But the very important thing that happened then was… So, I was working on the grant proposal, which you can imagine is a very big document, and had been working on that for quite some time with support from the board. Then what happened was the Sydney Startup Hub got announced. Now, that was incredible because that was then a competitive tender process to be an anchor tenant in the Hub.

Chantal:

So I went, “This is our full stop.” So basically, I drafted an agreement that said to all our partners and sponsors, “Please commit to XYZ amount of money or in kind support. If we are successful on one of these things, then this document is triggered. This commitment is triggered.” So because we had done a lot of work on the federal grant proposal, a lot of that work then went into our application to be an anchor tenant here. We were very lucky that we got across the line on that.

Chantal:

Looking back, unless we had that, it would’ve been really, really hard. What happened was that we had really the seed funding from the federal government, which was really $900,000 in cash over two years, which is about to finish. Then we had the state support of the physical location in the Hub. It was those two things that came together, but I can tell you in the last few years I didn’t sleep a lot. That was pretty intense. That was just a high stress period, to get in applications. That was on a deadline as well, and to try and wrangle partners and sponsors as well…

Adam:

So it was those two things that really got The Studio over the line. The federal government grant support through the incubator support funding and the state support in the form of the actual physical space in the new Sydney Startup Hub. It was really lucky that those two things  happened at the right time in the end, but was it really luck? You have to remember that Chantal had invested a lot of herself into making this happen, from conducting hours and hours of research, completing her Master Thesis, starting a meetup to going to countless meetings over an 18 month period to secure funding and partners and bootstrapping the organisation for over 2 and a half years. This journey had taken well over 6 years from the time Chantal finished her masters research to the opening of The Studio doors. So was it lucky? 

Chantal:

I think you make your own luck, and I think luck can often be made by hard work. That’s really what we’re doing here. It’s really about networks and relationships and communication. So, unless I’d done that legwork, unless I’d done the initial research, which then led me to establish the organization, and then wanting to take on that challenge of trying to get this off the ground… I didn’t realize when I started how hard it would be.

Adam:

But she did it and the doors are open now and The Studio is thriving. 

Chantal:

The studio opened the first of March 2018. Up until that time, remember, this had all been theory. This had all been my research and theory, and me saying, “We need this.” When we opened our doors on the first of March, I was like, “Who is actually going to walk through these doors?”

Ricky:

My name’s Ricky Sutton, I’m the founder and CEO of Oovvuu.

Chantal:

Then to my delight, we had people like Ricky Sutton and a team. There was only four from Oovvuu and his team walked through the doors on pretty well day one.

Ricky:

We were based in a basement office with no windows. We literally had windows drawn on white boards to make the staff feel more comfortable and, I was at an event at Telstra and, I have friends at Telstra and, I was lobbying them very hard that their corporate responsibility was to help startups like us get out of the shadows and into the light, literally.

Ricky:

And, they introduced me to Chantal and said, “You should talk to her because she’s building a hub for media startups.” It was the perfect fit for us, that’s exactly what we are.

Ricky:

And so, we were media becoming tech and so, we came here, we came here on the very first day, we helped put the chairs and tables together, we’ve been here every day since and, we love it.

Ricky:

The atmosphere is great. So, we’re amongst a group of creative people that care passionately about the media, like us. So I think that that’s important.

Ricky:

The second thing is, it’s a really creative, it makes us feel more like a startup. I think we feel that we are part of a community, I think that’s important. We chance across people in the canteen all the time that have skills or capabilities or, products that assist us or, we can assist them and, that’s really important.

Ricky:

And then, I think that the last thing is that, Chantal and the team do an amazing job in bringing people in here and so, it will be a Thursday afternoon, I’ll be sat in my office and, the Chinese Government are in the building.

Ricky:

And so, opportunities like that, don’t follow you around when you’re in a basement, they do tend to find you here.

Adam:

Oovvuu were one of the first, but as I mentioned at the beginning of this story, The Studio is pretty much at capacity now, full of amazing companies like…

Claire:

…Evaro, Story Driven, Oovvuu, Rockmelon and Equal Reality. 

Claire:

You’ve got Evaro who’s working in VR. One of his hero pieces is a VR game for primary aged children called Finding Alice, which is exploring cyber bullying and the way social media impacts children through the traditional Alice in Wonderland story. 

Adam:

And with The Studio almost at capacity now, what does the future hold for the Studio? 

Chantal:

We’d love to have another location or two, and to continue to develop programs as well, to continue to develop what we’re doing here. I’d like to do more research, potentially. There’s a whole lot of different things. We’ve got a fantastic team. I can’t talk highly enough of the team that we have here. Claire Tester , and Carol Friel, and our new team member Scott Turner, and our previous team member Daniel Shellac. They’ve all been instrumental in really helping grow and develop, bring the studio to life. But also the board. The board are critical to the strength of any organization, and our board all give their time for free. They’re all non-executive directors. They’re all highly skilled and super smart. It’s fantastic to be surrounded by such a fantastic board, and a really collegiate board as well. We’re all on the same mission, to really make the Studio be a vibrant part of the startup ecosystem, and to be very inclusive, very diverse, and very creative as well.

Adam:

Thank you for listening to the story of The Studio, featuring Chantal Abouchar, Claire Tester, Carol Friel and Ricky Sutton from Oovvuu. I hope you enjoyed it. Everything that was mentioned in the episode today is on the show notes page on welcometodayone.com/the-studio.        

Ratings & reviews help to keep us going and they help more people discover our stories. You can rate the show on most podcast platforms by going to ratedayone.com. That’s ratedayone.com to leave a rating on the podcast.

And, Thank you for giving this episode of Welcome to Day One your attention. 

Interviews conducted by me, Adam Spencer.

A big thank you to Chantal Abouchar, Claire Tester, Carol Friel and Ricky Sutton for taking the time to sit down with Welcome to Day One for an interview and for being involved in this episode. 

The script was written by me, Adam Spencer.

Music by Lee Rosevere, full attribution on our website welcometodayone.com

This episode was produced by Welcome to Day One and edited by Natalie Holland.

Thank you for listening and see you next time!

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Resources mentioned

Credits

A big thank you to Chantal Abouchar, Claire Tester, Carol Friel and Ricky Sutton for taking the time to sit down with Welcome to Day One for an interview and for being involved in this episode.

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Music Credits

Music by Lee Rosevere.

Title: Let’s Start at the Beginning

Source: Let’s Start at the Beginning 

Licence: CC BY 4.0

 

Thanks for listening! Catch you next time.

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