It's time for Oz to reverse the brain drain

It's time for Oz to reverse the brain drain

Summary: Australian entrepreneurs tout themselves as visionaries changing the world, but by blindly fleeing to Silicon Valley, California, to chase the promise of riches and fame, these hordes conjure an image of "moths drawn to a flame".

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TOPICS: Start-Ups
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Australian entrepreneurs tout themselves as visionaries changing the world, but by blindly fleeing to Silicon Valley, California, to chase the promise of riches and fame, these hordes conjure an image of "moths drawn to a flame".

Entrepreneurs dogmatically believe Silicon Valley holds their only chance of success, treating Australia as a stepping stone to the start-up Mecca of funding, markets and "serendipity" to realise their lofty dreams. Australia's high-profile and influential start-up leaders reinforce this notion via accelerators and incubators, which mine our backyard for the best-and-brightest talent to be exported to America.

For example, Startmate start-ups are incorporated in the United States, which all but guarantees that Australian entrepreneurs have an accelerated safe passage to Silicon Valley, before they even have a chance to cut their teeth in the local market. The media regurgitates this message, confirming the defeatist "brain drain" mentality of Australian entrepreneurs.

This ignores the success of Australian start-up poster child Atlassian — reportedly considering a billion-dollar NASDAQ IPO later this year — but also 99designs and BigCommerce. This demonstrates that world-leading tech companies can preserve their Australian heritage, while securing the funding and respect of the Silicon Valley elite. Atlassian co-founder Scott Farquhar has previously said that the best Australian companies thrive because of, not despite, the harsh local commercial conditions. Confident, forward-thinking entrepreneurs are succeeding at home. Posse founder Rebekah Campbell and DesignCrowd founder Alec Lynch raised millions of dollars, as their start-ups grew to a mature business.

Melbourne start-up Rome2Rio recently validated the idea that start-ups can succeed at home. Engineers Michael Cameron and Bernie Tschirren left their jobs at Microsoft's campus in Redmond, Washington, where they worked in the Bing search group and the developer tools group, repatriating to Melbourne in 2010 to establish their multi-modal travel start-up.

The Rome2Rio is a story of "reverse brain drain", according to interim CEO Rod Cuthbert, demonstrating that entrepreneurs can succeed by ignoring the lure of the US and Silicon Valley.

"Rome2Rio is a long way from being a success ... but it's certainly on a nice path," Cuthbert said. "It will give confidence to others to say 'we don't need to relocate, there's money here, we can do the things we want to do here, and not have to uplift our family and all that dislocation'."

"It's like planets and moons, the one with the bigger gravity or mass attracts more things. Silicon Valley is bigger and the US has 300 million people. So it's always going to be like that."

"[But] I would certainly counsel people to think it through really carefully, before following the herd and say[ing], 'you have to go to Silicon Valley'. I don't think you always have to, not always."

Australians need to think twice before joining America's entrepreneurship cult.

Topic: Start-Ups

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