Is Queensland Australia’s very own Silicon Valley?
Queensland is fast becoming a new hub for tech startups in Australia, creating what could soon be the country’s own Silicon Valley. We spoke to the people getting going in the sunshine state to see what’s making the techies tick.
When you think of Queensland, the things that come to mind are probably beaches, surfing, bikinis and sunshine; somewhere where successful entrepreneurs go to retire after selling their tech startup for millions overseas. Not the place where the tech startup actually has its inception, unless they’re all millionaires already, working on their laptops between surfing…
“I think that would be the romantic view of a startup,” laughs Mike Page of MitchelLake, a specialised recruitment firm in emerging technology and digital ventures. “I think the reality is that they’re shut in their home offices or shared working spaces, working 15 hours a day, and not even seeing the surf. That’s the reality.”
But with all the startups locking themselves up in their garages, trying to get the next, best app off the ground, how do they know what’s going on in the outside world?
Noticing a need to get these startups working together in a collaborative environment, MitchelLake organised its first Silicon Beach event in Brisbane. “Silicon Beach is a format that was successfully launched in Sydney some years ago and is called a meetup,” Page explains. “It’s really a social gathering of like minded professionals and an opportunity to come along and share ideas, network and really get to know other people that are having the same challenges as you in startups.”
The idea of getting people together in this area is not new – there have been many successful meetups and joint think tanks working together in Sydney and Melbourne. But organising these emerging startups to share ideas in Brisbane was proving difficult until now, despite it being something that could potentially help businesses get the success they’ve been looking for.
“The idea is to also be introduced to people that can help you further your business,” Page says. “It’s worked in Sydney so that’s the format that we’ve taken up to the Central Coast and Brisbane. We’ve had six events in the last eight or nine months and the last event we had in Brisbane had about 220 attendees which was fantastic.”
Daniel Filmer, from Brisbane-based tech startup TXT4Coffee, says that the community in Brisbane is incredibly enthusiastic. “The big thing in the tech space in Australia in general is not wanting everything to go straight to the US. In saying that, we’re going to the US next month! But I think a lot of guys are trying to raise capital and get things going in Australia rather than having to rush overseas.”
Staying on top of the market then is incredibly important to make sure Australia doesn’t get left behind. “This space moves very quickly, so what’s relevant today as far as technology solutions or marketing solutions might not be next month. One of the key elements to success is the ability to move very quickly and be very nimble. “It’s also about getting in contact with the investment community,” Page explains.
Eye for investment
Getting the cash in is obviously an important step for tech startups to advance from idea to application. While it’s still difficult, some industry insiders believe that there are more opportunities arising for tech startups in Australia to get the money they need. “The barrier to entry is getting much lower,” says Sebastien Eckersley-Maslin from BlueChilli, a company that specialises in software development for startups. “Unlike the big dot com boom which was a bubble and a bust, what we’re seeing now is a much stronger emphasis on building the underlying core business models which make the business itself a lot more sustainable for future growth. Because the barrier into tech is much lower, you’re seeing a lot more tech startups created.”
In order to further assist startups in getting that much needed investment, Brisbane will soon be hosting its own angel investment forum. “We’re introducing the model that we use in Sydney, called Innovation Bay,” Page says. “The idea is to get investors in the same room. We do it on a quarterly basis in Sydney and that helps facilitate funding conversations. We’ve been able to help raise about nine million in the last three years through that forum in Sydney so we want to replicate that in Brisbane.”
Sydney however has been a home for tech startups for some time. Who are the investors in Brisbane? “I think it will grow,” Page admits. “I think these things take time to develop and so from the attention and the numbers we’re generating as far as the meetups are going, then that will start to get the message out. We don’t anticipate it to be as big but the Sydney one started with small steps as well.”
Sharing means caring
The tech business has long been known for its extreme privacy, people fearing someone else stealing their idea and getting it to market before they do. So how does this attitude correspond with a collection of tech startups getting together and sharing ideas? “I think it’s a whole new revolution of how people are going to be thinking about these things,” says Eckersley-Maslin.
Filmer agrees. “We’ve been one of the best examples, or me specifically. For a lot of years I was trying to play a very low profile, thinking if you were too open about everything then some big guys would knock it off. Then I started to see the success stories of guys being more transparent and being more out there and attracting investment and interest. It can actually start a bit of excitement and start to develop a community.”
This even includes businesses coming out of Brisbane. “Pipe Networks that Steve Baxter and Bevan Slattery kicked off and sold in recent years for millions and other companies like that, made us more aware that you can be a Brisbane-based company and still attract interest on a national or global scale. Those kinds of things increased awareness of people starting to network together and it’s grown from there,” Filmer says.
One to watch
Daniel Filmer’s startup TXT4Coffee is one of those perfect ideas that really fills a hole in the market. Sick of waiting outside your favourite café every morning for your coffee? Instead text your order in early and you can skip the queue and grab your piping hot, ready-to-go latte with plenty of time to tweet about it along the way.
“There’s quite a bit of a VIP thing that comes with it,” Filmer explains. “I laugh because I tell people that I convert a customer at least every day because I use it every day on the way to work. When I duck in, the cafe have my coffee ready and someone always says, what’s going on, and I hand them a brochure on the counter and say all you do is sign up and this could be you tomorrow. The next day that person is in there skipping the queue. That’s the whole point. It’s to streamline the process.”