Back in January Startmate CEO Michael Batko spun up a casual running group. A handful of founders met in Centennial Park every Saturday morning to clock 5km, chat, and have a coffee. Eight months later the Startup Striders initiative has exploded across eight cities, with over 500 runners meeting every week to build their fitness and a community.
“To be honest I initially started it to get myself out of bed on a Saturday and run 5km,” Batko laughed on a call with SmartCompany.
“I posted online and a few people joined a WhatsApp group and honestly that was the best motivator to get up when it was still dark outside.”
Every Saturday morning the group would meet up, run 5km and then reward themselves which some much-needed caffeine.
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Startup Striders spreads across Australia and New Zealand
But those few people on WhatsApp quickly grew. Word was spreading throughout the Aussie and New Zealand startup ecosystems and was helped along by Batko, and other members of the Startup Striders, posting about the group on social media. It was inspiring for people.
“People were naturally saying they wanted to start this in their city. I just empowered them to get it off the ground and invite their friends along the way,” Batko said.
Those running the groups in each city each have their own WhatsApp groups for runners and are rather sweetly referred to as the ‘pace setters’. Each individual group meets at 7am or 8am, depending on the city. At the present time, there are groups in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Gold Coast, Brisbane, Perth, Canberra and Auckland.
Batko equates some of the Startup Strider’s popularity to COVID due to social sports being shut down and a lot more people taking up running. But they still craved social contact on top of the health element — and this group provides both.
“It’s just been growing and growing. And the beauty of it is that it’s actually a community. It’s kind of self-perpetuating but also just decentralised — it’s not about one person. Each one of those groups has a consistent crew who comes every single week. The consistency is so great to see and just building really healthy habits.”
The ideas are running rampant too
Most are still founders, but the Startup Striders also consists of some investors and people who work at various startups. And unsurprisingly, the conversations are fire.
“Life is stressful — startup stress is even more. So some of the best conversations I’ve had have been on Saturday morning and 8.30am — you just had a great run, great chats, and lots of ideas which have sparked off the back of it,” Batko said.
“It’s people just exchanging ideas — and they’re pretty wide-ranging. There’s no agenda or expectations. You can talk about everything and anything. It could be talking to the MVP of an AI startup to talking about the latest funding rounds.
“That’s when the serendipity happens and random ideas come to life. That’s actually been the best.”
The group has become so popular that some of the members even took it upon themselves to organise merchandise. This is being aided by three corporate startup sponsors — PuddlePod, NetNada and Overnight Success. All of the proceeds from the sales will be going to charity.
“It’s amazing, it’s really just the community taking over and me stepping back and letting it happen.”
And it’s certainly still happening, with people from other regional cities such as Wollongong reaching out. As a born and bred Gong girl myself, I may have audibly whooped in approval at this revelation.
According to Batko, anyone is welcome regardless of fitness level. You don’t have to be able to keep up with the front of the pack to join — the group waits for everyone to finish before heading off for coffee.
“If anyone wants to exercise and talk about startups, it’s just such an easy way to get involved,” Batko said.