What’s wrong with Australia’s start-up scene?

What's wrong with Australia's start-up scene?

The startup community can be exciting and dynamic – yet it can also be filled with disappointment and frustration. I’m often inspired by the energy of entrepreneurs in the startup community. But I sometimes shake my head at those who believe they are the Next Big Thing … when they have no evidence they will even get customers.

I was particularly disappointed in the behaviour of a startup I contacted earlier this year. Regular readers will know that I went to South By South West – the interactive festival in Austin, Texas. Keen to support the Australian companies represented at the festival, I wrote a number of stories about their involvement. I contacted one company in the week prior to the festival because I wanted to write a story about them in The Sydney Morning Herald.

The arrogant attitude of their founder was palpable. He said he was too busy to speak to me and that he didn’t need any media coverage. In fact, his words were: “We are going to be the darlings of South By South West. We’re going to be the next Twitter. We’ve got lots of media coverage lined up anyway.”

Well, guess what? Fast forward seven months, the company didn’t get any media coverage. In fact, it no longer exists. The funding it received to pay for its massive booth at the exhibition part of the festival has gone to waste.

Remember, just because you have a bright idea, you still need to get consumers (and the media!) interested in it if you want to succeed. Thankfully, I’ve met other startup founders who are far more gracious and far less arrogant than this one.

The state of play of the startup community in Australia is an ever-evolving one and this inspired my Enterprise post this week.

Last week, I moderated a panel for the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship on the state of play of the start-up and venture capitalist scene in Australia. The message was loud and clear: it doesn’t even come close to the scene in the US where places like Silicon Valley are a hotbed for new companies and emerging technologies. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t be competitive on a global scale.

So what are some of the key factors to consider if you’re starting up in Australia?

1. Size matters

Here, I’m talking about the size of our population (relatively small), which leads to fewer customers if you have a locally focused application.

Melissa Widner is a founding member of the Sydney Angels, a group focused on investments in early stage companies. She is also founder and chair of Heads Over Heels, which helps women-led companies with high growth potential.

She relocated to Australia from the US in 2009, where she was very active in the venture capital (VC) space. For start-ups who are looking for funding, she points out that there are much fewer options.

“Quite simply, the scene is a lot smaller here, only a few firms that are investing,” says Widner. “So a lot of start-ups here have to go it alone, without funding. There isn’t the same access to capital so people are more conservative with cash and are careful about how they grow their company.”

You can read the full post here.

About Valerie Khoo

Valerie Khoo is founder and national director of the Australian Writers' Centre, the country's leading centre for writing courses. She is a journalist, blogger and author. Her latest book is "Power Stories: The 8 stories you MUST tell to build an epic business" (Wiley). Valerie is a keynote speaker, small business commentator, and investor and mentor to startups and businesses in Australia.
  • Mark Hayes

    Great article Valerie. Sometimes I wonder the same about Ottawa, Canada.