It was an epic five-month journey being part of the Melbourne Accelerator Program (MAP) having been selected alongside 10 startups to undertake an intense 5-month program filled with workshops, masterclasses, investor meets and pitch nights.

The University of Melbourne’s highly sought after accelerator program stacks up against the best in the world having helped over 240 startups, who have raised over $250m in investment, generated over 250m in revenue and created over 1500 jobs.

For Wilderlands the opportunity to be connected to a world class University who have recently launched The Biodiversity Council and Biodiversity Institute was particularly attractive and the chance to call Melbourne Connect home was a perfect fit for our business.

We were also incredibly honoured to receive the Cameron Foundation Fellowship, a prize awarded to one team each year as chosen by John and Alison Cameron based on the startup having social impact and using their sponsorship of the program to support this team. We’re so grateful to their ongoing support of our business right from the very start.

Wilderlands Co-Founders Ash Knop, Paul Dettmann, and Heath Evans

Having launched in August 2022 it was also important for our team to be surrounded by other startup founders at a similar stage in their journey and we were proud to be alongside the talented teams pictured below from WIRL, Talked, Swiff, Elliephant, ClimaSens, WorkRex, Dr Glitter, Kinetics, My Better Sleep and Aelo.

The program began in early May with the first priority being to prepare to pitch in front of a packed house at the Plaza Ballroom Regent Theatre for one of the most highly anticipated events on the startup calendar, the MAP Launch.

With over 500 leaders from across the startup ecosystem, including venture capitalists, industry leaders, startup enthusiasts, and of course the alumni of the MAP, the chance to present our startup on stage and share our aspirations for the months to come is a rare opportunity and one that proved immensely valuable for Wilderlands. 

We made contacts, we landed new leads, we pitched really well, and even made a few deals. 

Looking back on that evening, however, whilst it brings an immense sense of pride seeing Wilderlands up in lights and a sense of achievement knowing how hard we worked for the opportunity, it’s also such a clear reminder of how far we’ve come in such a short period of time as we’re a very different operation today and that’s definitely the point of the journey.

Across the five month program we tested over 12 different product offerings across 10 different audience segments searching for fit and identifying where we could solve the greatest problem for customers, ultimately aiming to determine the most desirable opportunity to deploy our resources moving forward.

Through this process we discovered that there’s a market for biodiversity credits as a solution for event managers wanting to embed impact into their next festival, and even for marketers wanting to attach a square metre of protection to every product sold. We struck up a new partnership with one of our fellow cohort Elliephant after discovering that our Biological Diversity Units provided the perfect gift for corporates looking for a present with purpose and continue to grow this collaboration to this day.

We did all of this whilst continuing to test whether our core product would actually stand up offering individuals the ability to protect a small patch of nature for a price point as low as $30, and whilst all of these led to paying customers, none (alone) presented the scale we need to build the future of the business. 

When you see our service today you’ll see that each of these offerings has been pushed further down the list replaced with propositions to service large corporate organisations looking to purchase biodiversity credits as part of nature positive commitments as well as new opportunities in the built environment to use biodiversity credits to achieve Nature Stewardship Credits as part of Green Star Rating. 

Both of these opportunities are the result of the biodiversity market maturing at a rate faster than we expected, but what really matters is how MAP’s experts helped us recognise the need for focus and build capability to respond when enough evidence was showing the opportunities we should focus on moving forward.

See Wilderlands work in action through the eyes of our Lead Ecologist at Alleena

For an early stage startup it’s not easy to move away from a product that shows signs of a paying customer but what we’ve discovered is the danger of spreading yourself too thin, a risk that became all too real throughout the program and which we were grateful for support to navigate from founders who’ve been in our shoes before.

To support us along the way we had access to entrepreneurs-in-residence (thanks David and Reece) who we met with weekly to discuss goals and progress, providing their real-world experience as founders from different sectors and offering perspectives on problems from vantages quite different to our own.

We also had weekly sessions from subject matter experts covering everything from business models to customer-journey mapping, pricing to the search for product-market fit, and many more lessons tailored to the cohort and the needs of the various teams based on stage and current challenges.

A massive thanks to these weekly experts who included Nicole So, Byron , Jimmy Zamani, Maddy, Bianca Le Serra, Teresa Huang, Jon Manning, Kwang Lim, and Colin McLeod.

This tailored part of the program is definitely a differentiator and sets the experience apart. The ability to work with the program team (Jaxon, Marina, Simon) and share exactly what support you need and have them provide a custom support plan for you and your team makes such a difference.

As Founders, we entered the world of startups with decades of corporate experience but what you quickly discover is repeating the same processes that might work in a multi-million or even billion dollar organisation is not going to necessarily work as a startup founder.

So how do you learn these lessons quickly enough to avoid making those mistakes?

The MAP dinners are there to help.

Imagine a monthly dinner with doors closed, curtains drawn, and a high profile entrepreneur revealing the realities of the Founder journey andwhat it really takes to survive (even occasionally thrive) and sharing all of this with a generosity designed to help you understand that what you’re feeling is both normal and bloody hard. 

The line up included the likes of Acusensus’ Alexander Jannink, Bardee’s Phoebe Gardner, LoopSafe’s  Zoe Milne, BindiMap’s Mladen Jovanovic, Saul Wakerman, Michael Nuciforo and many more who spoke about their path to growth, the unexpected problems they overcame (or didn’t) and what they wish they’d know when they were in our shoes.

There’s so many great memories and insightful reflections we’d love to share, but sadly we’re sworn to secrecy and that’s part of the magic of those moments and why MAP’s struck real gold with this being part of the program.

So what can we share about our learnings after five months….

Well the biggest lesson was we learned that we’re not alone.

We’re now part of a cohort of 10 founders who feel more like family than friends, and connected to an entire community cheering us on and we saw this all come to life at the final event of the year to celebrate completing the program.

This year’s MAP Demo Day was held at the Meat Market In North Melbourne with over 500 guests crowded on the cobblestones to hear the teams present their progress and then had the opportunity to explore the booths and dive deeper into the detail of each team.

It was a big night for Wilderlands where we shared our biggest learnings, and ultimately one statement stuck in people’s minds as we revealed that ‘we’re breaking up with B2C’ as we focus on ‘B2B’ and supporting businesses on their nature positive journey.

The comment was somewhat exaggerated for theatrical purposes but there was much truth to the decision and it reflected a major moment and realisation for us.

After months of analysis we realised that ultimately the future of our business lies in our ability to work with large organisations looking to buy biodiversity credits at scale. Whilst we’ll always enable individuals to purchase smaller units through our platform we recognised that if this remains the primary focus of the business then we’re simply spreading ourselves too thin (big thanks to Rob and Tony from Emanate for also helping us come to this realisation). 

And so here we are…months later and with a greater sense of focus and measuring what matters and so grateful for what MAP has helped us discover. 

So if you’re a business wanting to discover how voluntary biodiversity credits might form part of your nature positive plan or want to explore other ways we can work with you to have impact, please get in touch.

We’re here to help you protect Australia’s Biodiversity Forever, one square metre at a time.