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Exploring the Australia & New Zealand Tech Start-Up Scene

Although no Silicon Valley or Silicon Fen (otherwise known as the Cambridge Cluster), there are areas in both Australia and New Zealand that are perceived as being the places where the tech scene does well. In Sydney, this is the emerging “super” digital precinct in the Western Harbour area, which comprises Surry Hills, Pyrmont, Eveleigh, The Rocks and Ultimo (where my company is based). In New Zealand it’s surprisingly in Wellington and not, as most people assume, Auckland.

There is some debate about which country is doing more to support its burgeoning tech start-ups. In New Zealand, where the technology industry is the fastest growing sector, they are working to establish the elements that are needed to develop an ‘innovation ecosystem’. These include tech business incubators, access to angel and venture funds, and hubs where start-ups can find low cost office space.

For these reasons, it is Wellington, the New Zealand Capital rather than Auckland, the largest city, which seems to be taking the lead on encouraging entrepreneurs to settle within its city boundaries. In this part of the world we talk about ‘tech precincts’ and very recently, Wellington Council announced that it is planning the development of one based on establishing a tech hub in the central business district where business accelerators and incubators, start-ups and small enterprise can all share collaboration spaces and event and function facilities.  You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out that if you have geographical proximity, you encourage connections and the opportunity for people to pool knowledge, ideas, and innovation. If it’s all in one place, this melting pot can more easily be found by established businesses, training providers, investors and national and international markets.

Successful initiatives like this to develop entrepreneur-support businesses in the technology sector seem to be working as New Zealand’s high tech industry exports have doubled over the past six years and at more than $6 billion (for 2014) it’s the country's third largest export earner. 

In Australia, StartupAUS, a not-for-profit group with a mission to foster and build the technology entrepreneurship community, reports that Australia has not kept pace with other countries, including New Zealand. With investment of just $4.5 per capita in start-up capital, compared to $120 in Israel and $15 in the UK, it now has one of the lowest rates of start-up formation in the world and one of the lowest rates of venture capital investment. Compounding this is the 2014 budget decision to abolish two of Australia’s primary start-up funding programmes – the Innovation Investment Fund and Commercialisation Australia.

Against these odds, Australia’s green shoots start-up scene is growing and there are a number of business accelerators and incubators around to help entrepreneurs kick-start their businesses. Australia boasts a number of successful entrepreneurs and business leaders who are helping new companies by investing their own money and taking places on advisory boards. Entrepreneurs like Dr. Eugene Dubossarsky, the founder of Analyst First, an international think tank and community dedicated to promoting effective business management, provides strategic advice and guidance for development as well as providing hands-on mentoring. Dubossarsky also created the Sydney Users of R Forum (SURF), one of the world's largest and most active user groups designed to highlight the power of the predictive analytics platform ‘R’. Another notable figure in this regard is Steve Killilea who is the founder and Chairman of Integrated Research, and the brain behind the Global Peace Index study as well as a renowned donor to overseas aid.

New Zealand and Australia have proud histories of innovation in agriculture, horticulture and mining driven from their abundant natural resources and the need to overcome the distance from world markets. There is an open opportunity for both countries to leverage their rich human capital to get some great results from the entrepreneurs, industry, education and policy makers in Australia and New Zealand to create vibrant technology ecosystems. Both countries need to maintain and increase funding to succeed.

 

Greg Armstrong is COO at Emagine International

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