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Optus launches start-up seed fund

Optus is working with sister SingTel company Innov8 on a new start-up program offering up to $250,000 in funding for eight start-ups.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

Optus is working with sister SingTel company Innov8 on a new start-up program offering up to $250,000 in funding for eight start-ups.

The new Optus Innov8 Seed Program will begin picking start-ups that are referred to the program by incubators like Pollenizer, AngelCube or Pushstart from July. Optus will also hold a number of pitch events at Fishburners' offices in Sydney and York Butter Factory's office in Melbourne.

Successful applicants will be given up to $250,000 in funding, co-working locations in Sydney and Melbourne, mentorships and access to communications and hosting facilities. Optus, through SingTel, will also help the start-ups expand into the Asia-Pacific region, leveraging SingTel's 445 million worldwide customer base.

SingTel Innov8 CEO Edgar Hardless told journalists in Sydney today that Optus is seeking to address the challenges that start-ups face in trying to find funding in Australia, and to keep the companies here, rather than seeing them leave for Silicon Valley.

"It's very clear to me that there is a lot of talent down here in Australia, [but] funding is not easy to find, particularly in the early stages," he said.

Even if start-ups are successful in Australia, they won't just stop there, Hardless said.

"I don't think any entrepreneur in Australia worth his salt is going to want to stay in Australia," he said.

Optus' vice president of digital communities and ecosystems Austin Bryan said that the company will be looking for start-ups with "disruptive digital solutions" that are in the proof-of-concept or advanced-development stages, particularly in the areas of mobility and convergence. He said that Optus will focus on convergence areas, such as health and media.

Hardless said that Optus Innov8 will be looking for co-investors to get on-board. It will determine what it will ask from start-ups in return for the $250,000 investment — for example, an equity share — on a "case-by-case" basis.

"It's got to be something all [the parties] are comfortable with," he said. "We're not a charity. The companies we are going to invest in are going to be as good as Silicon Valley."

Although the seed program is limited to $250,000 per company in the first year (with a maximum of $2 million overall), Hardless said that Innov8 will be flexible, so that companies that come up through the seed program can get additional funding through other programs offered by Innov8.

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