Adelaide the next Aussie start-up hub?

Summary:America's TechStars is migrating to Australia but will bypass our two largest cities of Sydney and Melbourne.

America's TechStars has long been recognised as one of the world's pre-eminent organisations supporting entrepreneurs via its accelerator program, so, like many others in the local start-up ecosystem, I was confused to discover that its migration to Australia would bypass our two largest cities of Sydney and Melbourne.

Instead, the TechStars-inspired ANZ Innovyz Start program selected Adelaide, an economy built on churches, wineries and arts events.

Innovyz program founder and Kauffman Foundation fellow Jana Matthews is relocating from Boulder, Colorado, to lead the program in Adelaide, and aims to break down this perception by laying the foundations for a viable, thriving technological economy.

Adelaide is not dissimilar to Boulder, she said, which has grown to become one of the top start-up cities in US, along with the likes of New York, Boston, Washington DC and Austin, Texas.

"What are the elements that I saw in Boulder that I see in Adelaide around which you build a tech-based economy?" Matthews said. "One is some kind of power, it could be tax-based, population-based; it could be politicians.

"[In Adelaide] you have a very nice place, good quality of life, three universities producing some great technology, three wine areas, which are an hour's drive, which contributes to the quality of life."

Matthews played a part in establishing the ATP Innovation Park in Redfern, Sydney, in the 1980s, and she said that Adelaide's selling point is the quality of life that is crucial to securing people for the long term, and is a different proposition to the immediate financial returns on offer in Silicon Valley.

"When people are saying, 'where do I want to go in terms of building up tech economy' ... it's [about] the quality of life; affordable housing; universities producing great research and a steady flow of students that are coming out; industries that are innovative, or looking to innovation, or have R&D and leadership, people who are leading in terms of vision of what this could be.

"If you have all those elements, it could create an interesting move to a tech-based economy."

If she's successful in achieving her goal, Adelaide could leapfrog its way to the top of Australia's start-up pile, and add a new generation of players to its colourful entrepreneurial history.

Innovyz is one of 35 accelerators that are part of the of the Global Accelerator Network (formerly the TechStars Network), and is patterned on the TechStars model, but it is not a franchise, according to Matthews.

She said that it replicates particular elements of the TechStars program, including investing $18,000 in cash to the founders, providing free rent and "tuition" during the three-month program and the ambition that over half of the companies will get some form of follow-up funding.

She said that over 150 applications would exceed their expectations, and they have already taken applications internationally, including from the Ukraine, the UK, Canada, Romania, South America, South Africa, India, Thailand and even the United States.

The program is sponsored by ANZ Bank, and applications close on 20 April. The winners will be announced on 14 May.

SWOT analysis

Strengths

It has access to the knowledge and resources of a proven American model, and Matthews is very experienced in laying the foundations of start-up industries. Adelaide is a blank canvas, rich in resources, with little start-up legacy or competition.

Weaknesses

There's no guarantee that the American model will easily translate to the local context. Lack of start-up competition is also a double-edged sword, as Adelaide entrepreneurs haven't proved themselves in the same way as their counterparts from Sydney and Melbourne.

Opportunities

The goal is to build a long-term, sustainable economy, not just churn out successful entrepreneurs/businesses like other accelerators, and as such it could be the foundation of a genuine tech economy.

Threats

It will be interesting to see up how the tie-in with ANZ plays out; whether this will encourage or stifle entrepreneurship. As always, accelerators live and die by the drive of the entrepreneur.

Conclusion

Initially, I was very sceptical about another Yankee coming "down under mate" and showing us simpletons how it's done, an approach that is doomed to failure. However, that is definitely not Matthews' intention.

She really wants to build a sustainable technology economy; an ambitious goal, but a positive one, in contrast to local accelerators, which largely focus on furthering the interests of entrepreneurs and mentors before considering the impact on the local ecosystem.

Matthews prioritises quality of life as a way to build a solid foundation for sustainable long-term growth, which in turn will deliver the best result for entrepreneurs, mentors, investors and the Australian economy.

Verdict: BOOM

Topics: Start-Ups, Tech Industry

About

Mahesh Sharma earned his pen licence in his homeland, where he covered the technology industry for ZDNet, SMH, Sky Business News, and The Australian--first as an FTE, and later as a freelancer. The latter fueled his passion for startups and empowered a unique perspective on entrepreneurs' passion to solve problems using technology. Armed... Full Bio

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