The father of Canberra’s accelerator programs – Dr Craig Davis (Part 2)

Article originally published on Moore Street Journal and written by Serina Bird.


In part one, we shared how Dr Craig Davis went from completing a postdoc in physics at Cambridge to becoming a geopolitics analyst at Defence. Then he left it all to found (and sell) a successful online accommodation business. Continuing his story, we share how he became involved with the Canberra Innovation Network (CBRIN).

Not staying with Stayz

After the online accommodation business that he helped found, Take a Break, was sold to Fairfax Media’s Stayz, Craig and another cofounder were retained as senior executives in the new organisation. They integrated systems and found synergistic benefits. They wanted to improve things and make it a seamless system, which had challenges as technology had already changed beyond the site’s first iteration.

“It seemed that people, both entrepreneurs and investors, were interested in my thoughts” — Dr Craig Davis

Craig described how he was often hard on himself, believing he didn’t do enough to make the platform work smoothly. But then he would meet people who had used Stayz to book a holiday and were enthused about their experience. ‘I had this contrast between my own view of how much better it could be and our customers loving the service.’

Craig remained with Stayz for two years, commuting from Sydney to Canberra. ‘This had a use-by date on it,’ he said.

One day, Craig was cold-called by Nick McNaughton (CEO and co-founder of Campus Plus). ‘I’d never met him before. He saw us mentioned in the Australian Financial Review and somehow found my phone number,’ said Craig. ‘We had coffee at the Glass House Cafe near Industry House (opposite the Canberra Casino). He was then chair of Capital Angels, and he said, ‘You should come along to Capital Angels.’ I thought, ‘Well, fair enough – why not? I’ll give it a go. It seemed that people, both entrepreneurs and investors, were interested in my thoughts. And everyone was very welcoming. So, I started to get involved in startups.’

He continued to dip his toes into angel investing waters, including joining the Capital Angels board while contemplating his next steps. He reconnected with former research colleagues at the Australian National University (ANU) and contemplated returning to his physics roots. But then his career pivoted in yet another direction.

GRIFFIN Accelerator program

Around 2013, Nick McNaughton approached Craig again and asked him to mentor an accelerator program. ‘I remember I asked Nick what time involvement that would be. About five hours a week? He said much less. And I sort of ended up doing a lot of the actual work running the program because I was the person with the time available,’ Craig said.

“Canberra was doing incubation and acceleration before anyone knew the words” — Dr Craig Davis

When Craig first started the GRIFFIN Accelerator program, CBRIN didn’t yet exist. Its precursor was Entry 29, which had a coworking space in the car park on the edge of ANU. ‘I would have coffee with founders at The Street Theatre Café,’ said Craig, explaining how they worked around the lack of meeting rooms, offices and space in general. Then NICTA (which became CSIRO’s Data61 Business Unit) provided some office space for the accelerator to use on London Circuit.

Accelerator programs were then new, and there were few others in Australia – or even the world. There had never been a formal accelerator program in Canberra, although there had been a long history of accelerator-type programs such as Epicorp (which provided funding). ‘Canberra was doing incubation and acceleration before anyone knew the words,’ said Craig. And it just evolved from there.

According to Craig, the GRIFFIN Accelerator program has evolved and is now run in two parts. ‘Hannah Hartgers and I run the program part, and there’s a nice clear separation between the mentors who run the investing and mentoring side,’ he said. ‘I’m really happy with GRIFFIN – it’s a great way to help entrepreneurs or projects that are on that path to seeking equity investing for funding.’

However, Craig is increasingly involved in much more than Griffin. ‘We do lots of other things in CBRIN – we’re helping build the future of Canberra where innovation, collaborative and business flourish. We do that by running great events where people can be inspired by, connect with, or benefit from the community. We run skills and workshop activities, particularly the Idea to Impact program, which I am super proud of,’ he said.

Craig also runs programs helping projects at the post-acceleration stage. And for businesses that are further along, CBRIN runs an SME program for small-to-medium enterprises. More recently, he’s been ramping up a scale-up program that provides targeted, time-efficient value-adds for ambitious growing companies.


One of the unique features of CBRIN is its commitment to equity and diversity. This is intentional and reflects Craig’s values. ‘Right from day one, equitable gender spread was on the radar. To me, that’s non-negotiable. The second bit is that our style was, and is, very much driven by treating the entrepreneurs as unique individuals building on their talent and experience. Everyone was on board with this. If we just sit in a particular demographic, we’re missing so much talent,’ he said.

“Right from day one, equitable gender spread was on the radar” — Dr Craig Davis

Craig said that in today’s world, there is no excuse for thinking that innovation only comes from young tech guys in their 20s. ‘I used to surprise people when I told them that that was my smallest category on the GRIFFIN Accelerator program,’ said Craig. ‘From day one, we have seen a wide range of demographics, including middle-aged people and older people with experience in an industry or sector. As a founder, I didn’t start straight out of university. I did it sort of mid-career, actually, because that’s just when it happened. I never liked to be influenced by those sorts of generalisations.’

‘If you are looking carefully at the project and the potential of the people involved, a lot of those other biases just go away because you’re focusing on the right things. It doesn’t mean you can’t or don’t need to sometimes do other activities to make sure you are reaching and engaging everyone you should be. And that’s a constant focus.’

“CBRIN is creating a much better future for us Canberrans. And if that future isn’t diverse and inclusive, why are we here?” — Dr Craig Davis

Craig believes that CBRIN has had a strong role in activating change by championing inclusivity and will to continue to strive to make the community a welcoming place for all. ‘Change just doesn’t happen without being pushed. You’ve got to push for change, and look what? CBRIN is creating a much better future for us Canberrans. And if that future isn’t diverse and inclusive, why are we here?’ he said.

‘I engage with senior business people, and I think a lot of people will be surprised at how open and progressive they are on matters like this.’

What next for Dr Craig Davis and CBRIN? They are always innovating, so ask him what he’s working on when you see him at First Wednesday Connect or other events.