Lighthouse kicks off without a home

Sydney's newest startup accelerator Lighthouse has aspirations to give entrepreneurs genuine business experience, however with no official place to call home, founder Annie Parker is kicking off the program out of KPMG's Barangaroo office.

With the backing of the likes of Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft, KPMG, and Gilbert + Tobin, Sydney's new startup accelerator Lighthouse is in limbo while it finds a place to call home.

Lighthouse is the latest venture from Annie Parker, co-founder of Telstra's startup accelerator Muru-D, which she left in February to focus her energy on Lighthouse.

However, with ambitions of making an impact and giving early stage founders as much help as possible, Parker told ZDNet that Lighthouse's home is still up in the air after initially targeting Sydney Barangaroo precinct.

"Partially because when we announced that we were coming -- we actually made the first announcement back in December -- since then, the Jobs for NSW New South Wales government agency has announced that they want to put some money into the startup ecosystem here as well, so what that's done has given us potentially more options," she said.

"So we're looking at all the different things out there because at the end of the day, it has to be affordable for the founders because if it's not, we need to be having a cold, hard look at ourselves to figure out if it's the right plan.

"The good news is that we have lots of options -- obviously the downside of that means that we've got to do a little bit more work to model through which of those is the right option."

While Parker said she expected to have a facility up and running already, she said it is more important to ensure Lighthouse passes the test of time.

With location put on the shelf, Parker and her team are hosting a six-week founder one-on-one workshop at KPMG's offices at Barangaroo, where she said they will trial the accelerator's content and get it moving as a prototype before scaling it through Lighthouse when it's physically built.

"The place part might still be an unanswered question but we're absolutely heavily investing in designing those educational programs," she explained.

In addition to temporary space and pro-bono accounting advice from KPMG, as well as support from AWS, Microsoft has also agreed to bring in some of its folks who are already involved with the startup ecosystem to work out of Lighthouse for a few days a week, Parker said.

Law firm Gilbert + Tobin has also jumped on board, offering to contribute by providing IP and legal knowledge and expertise to the accelerator.

Since moving to Australia about four years ago, Parker said she's seen cracks in existing startup incubator models and said it is important to keep supporting startups as they grow, as well as provide a community-like space that sees startups and industry learning from each other.

"One of the things really interesting for Brisbane, Melbourne, and Sydney right now is we have this ground swell of early stage talent and I think we do need to provide a bit more structure to keep supporting those amazing founders as they continue to grow," she said.

"Brisbane already started, they opened up a startup precinct in Fortitude Valley a couple of weeks ago ... and it's great to see that kind of thing pulling the whole ecosystem together.

"We don't really have that kind of warm, natural home for founders in Melbourne and Sydney, and of course I live in Sydney, so I wanted to fix that problem first and that's really what Lighthouse is trying to do -- to provide place, structural education, and structural learning so we can continue to keep those founders on that path of growth and success."

Of high importance to Parker is demystifying some of the buzzwords that get thrown around the industry every day. She is also keen to make Lighthouse successful by doing things a little bit different to other accelerators.

One such initiative she hopes to implement is having a sliding scale to measure how much rent a startup pays.

For example, a startup with a small amount of seed funding might only be charged AU$50-AU$100 per desk, per month in rent, whereas a Series B, C, or D startup might have this boosted to AU$500.

"Basically what we're trying to introduce here is this concept of everybody pays what they can afford, but they also pay it forward so those who actually have a bit more funding pay a bit more rent so that everybody else who are at the earlier stages can benefit from being in that larger community to help them grow and scale," she explained.

In addition, Parker said Lighthouse is not anticipating taking equity from individuals moving through the program until they have proven their product market set and produced a prototype.

"I've always been very much on the angle of whatever we do has to be for the benefit of the founders first," she said. "I think if you look at the successes that Muru-D has had it has been because it was set up right from the get-go with founders in mind, not necessarily to make money for Telstra."

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