A week in Australia

I’m writing this on my way back from Australia. Brad Feld and I just visited several cities on this trip to learn more about the great startup communities there. Techstars recently launched our first Techstars program in Adelaide focused on the defense industry and related applications such as robotics, security, IoT, etc. (applications are open!). It was really exciting to be able to spend quality time in Adelaide on this trip.  We met with a group of founders who were all successfully building startups there. Some were running brand new companies, some had already been acquired, and others had scaled up to $100M+ in revenue.  Not surprisingly, they all love their city (it’s a little bit bigger than Denver) and were all anxious to figure out how to help by mentoring in the Techstars program and helping us recruit more companies to come there to get started and to leverage the resources of the community. It was clear that there is great stuff going on in Adelaide and we felt incredibly welcomed. We even had a chance to sit down with the Lord Mayor (an entrepreneur himself) and the innovation minister. I can’t say enough about the job our team on the ground has done there to get this program off on the right foot. It’s going to rock! It was also fun to catch up with Voxon Photonics, a Techstars alum that relocated to Adelaide some time ago which is building holographic display technology and boy has it come a long way. I saw many similar “deep tech” companies in Adelaide and it was fun to hang with Terry Gold and Jana Matthews who are now based there doing great work in the startup community.

Photo: @iccunisa

We also spent some time in Sydney. It will probably not be a big surprise to you to know that there is already vibrant startup activity there, as well as some strong venture capital funds. We met with some of the gang at AirTree VC and learned quite a bit about some of the challenges and opportunities of investing in Australia from them. We spoke at a luncheon (thanks BDO!) and engaged with the community on the topic of how big companies interact with startups. Much of what I heard reminded me of anyplace else in the world, but it was clear that the community was actively trying to figure it out and make progress. We talked about the short and long term thinking of larger companies, and how that played in the Sydney ecosystem. And of course, we met several successful startups and investors doing some amazing stuff. 

Next, we were off to Melbourne. It’s close to the same size as Sydney at around four million people. Because it happened to have the benefit of the Australian Open (yep – we saw both Williams sisters and Federer win on one epic day), we spent a little more time there. Outside of the tennis, one group that is really on their game is Startup Victoria. What really struck me was their resolve to make Melbourne better for startups every day. And it’s paying off. We did a big public event at inspire9 which is an awesome co-working space there and learned that several startups I knew were based there or in the same building, including Rome to Rio and 99 Designs. Instead of having a fixed idea of what we’re going to talk about at events like this, it’s more fun to just react to questions and this time a good chunk of that talk was dedicated to work life balance. Brad, always the book salesman, was able to talk about a bit about Startup Life. We also talked about the natural rivalry between cities in Australia and related that back to our own experiences with Boulder (vs Denver, vs Silicon Valley, vs the world). In another event that day we hosted a more private/intimate gathering for “scale-ups” (startups that were already funded and working) and made great new friends at Square Peg Capital who hosted this. We also have them to thank for our tennis tickets to the Australian Open (ok – the trip wasn’t a total coincidence!).

Photo: @__pw__
Lunch in Melbourne hosted by PWC. Photo: @brandanyell

Thanks to @squarepegcap – we got see Federer and Serena and Venus win!

I hadn’t been back to Australia since my first startup company (Pinpoint Technologies) installed RescueNet in Brisbane many years ago (check out the old school images below).  I remember loving that city and meeting a few other startups there during my visit. I wondered back then how it would evolve over time. Now Brisbane and many other cities in Australia are hubs of activity and the ecosystems are really evolving nicely. It’s a pretty amazing transformation.

Queensland Ambulance Dispatch Center, running our software, circa 2000
Queensland ambulance – circa 2000
There is absolutely no way we could have managed this trip without the team at Innovation in the Wild. They and so many others are working their asses off to make Australia a great new place for startups. Gang, I have news for you – it’s working.  One of the things Brad kept talking about on this trip was how when you’re on a geometric curve, it’s hard to observe. The progress feels small. Then one day you look up and you’ve come so far. As an outside observer spending time in Australia more occasionally, I can see that curve more clearly and it’s quite steep.

With the amazing crew at Innovation in the Wild
We hope that someday soon Techstars can become a part of Australian startup culture more broadly across the country, and we’re thrilled to be getting off to a great start with this trip! We hope adding the #givefirst attitude there can help make a difference over time. If you’re in Australia or have friends there, please let them know that Techstars is off and running!

file under: Startups