This article was first published on 61-Bit.
It’s not just cheaper rent and a sunnier climate which is drawing more startups north as Commswork head of communications, Liam Fitzpatrick, discovers…
“We chose it because of the community”.
“Queensland is very relaxed and less affected by status”.
“There’s more collaboration than in any other ecosystem, including Silicon Valley”.
These were a few of the reasons given by founders I spoke to, about why they chose to set up in Brisbane. But what are some of the other environmental and political factors which may affect the relocation decision for startups?
Get **it done
One area of benefit in the Brisbane ecosystem is the ability to execute at a faster pace.
“You can get stuff done in a day up there. In Sydney it can take weeks,” says Graham Ross. The Kusaga Athletic founder believes it’s this enthusiastic attitude which allows direct conversations with government ministers – one of whom is usually in attendance at the numerous startup events throughout the city each week.
“I’ve had follow up calls with senior government officials just to check in. That’s unheard of elsewhere.”
And this governmental support is another reason why startups are drawn to Brisbane – in Queensland it goes beyond just words and feel good policies. In fact, Queensland is the first and only state with a government office for the ‘Chief Entrepreneur’, a position currently held by Steve Baxter.
Testing the responsiveness myself, I received a call back from the local government the morning after first lodging my online request for a contribution to this article.
Paul Martyn, Deputy Director General of the Department of Innovation, confirmed: “The $650 million Advance Queensland whole-of-government initiative fosters the spirit of entrepreneurialism across the complete process of innovation, from the research stage to the implementation phase, encouraging innovative businesses to bring their ideas to market in a way that is globally scalable.”
One of the government initiatives, Hot DesQ, is now in its third cohort. The program offers funding up to $100,000 for interstate and international companies to relocate to Queensland for at least six months. The idea behind the $8m initiative, inspired by a similar Chilean example, is for successful organisations to impart knowledge, experience and new networking potential for existing Queensland businesses.
Admittedly I haven’t seen any ROI stats, but anecdotally I’m informed it’s been a standout success. Sydney-based Citizen Wolf co-founder, Eric Phu, added: “It’s a great opportunity to build up your network with other like-minded entrepreneurs, potential investors, and mentors in a super-supportive environment”.
Hot DesQ has brought over 70 companies through the sunshine state. Brennan Hatton, founder of Wollongong-based Equal Reality, was one of those convinced to up sticks and he was instantly impressed. His startup uses VR in diversity and inclusion training for a variety of organisations including the Royal Navy.
“Brisbane’s attitude towards collaboration was above and beyond – I haven’t seen a large community get together to be unanimously inclusive and supportive of each other. In many places, it’s ideal but in Brisbane, I think they’ve managed to achieve it.”
A startup hub in the making
It’s not only government providing funding to startups. Investment funds and accelerator programs are also contributing to the growth and viability of the region as a startup hub. The state is home to Australia’s only creative tech investment fund. QUT Creative Enterprise Australia (CRE), had its most recent demo day recently. Since 2013, there have been 30 companies across its accelerator and Startup Fund which have received investment, including Cardly, Trademark Vision and Audience Republic.
The new CEO, Mark Gustowski, recently got the chance to showcase the brightest startups from the Collider Accelerator, when leading a delegation to Bangkok for one of the region’s biggest events, TechSauce, at the end of June.
Ranked as Australia’s second startup hub, according to Startup Muster’s annual census, reveals maybe not the size or number of startups in Queensland’s capital, but definitely the collective eagerness in the city. This is what I’m assured of by CEA’s Gustowski. “Come survey time, the entire community participates in some form, to ensure a good showing. Something perhaps overlooked in some of the more traditional startups centres.” The 2018 Startup Muster survey is currently open.
Myriad of reasons
Brisbane now plays host to one of the region’s finest events. Myriad’s second full year curated the best line-up of speakers announced so far in 2018. But co-founder Murray Galbraith admits they’re only at stage two of a 5-10 year process.
— Advance Queensland (@AdvanceQld) May 16, 2018
The whole feel is different. Big names from Google, NASA, Apple, Stripe and Slack were Qantas’d in on a special Myriad Air chartered flight. But it’s the side events that turned the conference, into a real tech festival. Dozens of complementary events took place around the city. “We have designed Myriad as a platform. We want it to be super fun and accessible for others to build their brand on top of ours, whether that’s launching something new or just telling their story” says Galbraith.
The real success for him though lies in the impact created beyond the event itself. He admits people attend events like Myriad and SxSW “cause Elon Musk says he’s talking”, but what matters most, are the connections made there.
Brisbane an investment capital
What’s the overall aim for initiatives like this? For Queensland to be viewed, not just as a tourism, but also as an investment capital.
To challenge the willingness of those operating in the ecosystem to help out, I messaged QUT CEA’s Entrepreneur in Residence, Alan Jones for comment. And sure enough, I got a reply within a couple of hours. After conceding he’s only been up there for a couple of months, he observed the comparatively reduced price of coworking and rental spaces. Adding “UberX is muuuch [sic] cheaper and faster than Sydney and Melbourne”.
“There are plenty of places available on AirBnB at reasonable prices to allow a startup team or a founder to be flexible in their initial commitment to being based in Brisbane”.
Many of those I spoke to for this article has drawn comparisons with Melbourne in the late 90’s in terms of feeling around the ecosystem and maturity of the market. As Sabrina Chakori, founder of social enterprise Brisbane Tool Library expresses, people like her come and stay in the area “most of all because of the potential to create new things” and “challenge the current system”.
I’ll leave the last word to Mark Gustowski who explains, “While other cities have their niche, Brisbane is still deciding what it’s going to be known for.
“I hope it stays agnostic and never decides. Because the melting pot of experience we currently have is really exciting and works for everyone.”