With the pursuit of the ‘Silicon Valley Dream’ growing quickly Down Under, last week’s SydStart Conference saw over 900 attending from the startup community. The fourth annual conference was held at the Sydney Convention Centre and showcased some of the leading innovators and entrepreneurs in Australia.
Australians are charging ahead in the IT and Business sector, having created more than 60 startups in the Silicon Valley. Moving to the US is not unusual – about 15,000 Australians are currently working for tech companies in the San Francisco Bay Area.
However, the loss of Australian IT talent to the US reflects on the lack of support provided to the startup industry in Australia, and many blame the government and the venture capital industry. Initiatives like the SydStart conference focus on building a local startup community and providing professional support to young Australian entrepreneurs.
Pete Cooper, organiser of SydStart, believes that SydStart is a good way to bring together Sydney’s startup community with the goal to get Sydney ‘hyper-connected’ – the notion that a very well networked community of entrepreneurs is better than raw size, like in Silicon Valley.
“SydStart is one of the fullest days you can have in the startup world to meet a heap of like-minded people and share loads of knowledge.”
The conference kicked off with the day being split into two waves. Wave One included some big names sharing their professional journeys with the audience and Wave Two showcased a ‘pitch-fest’ in front of an expert selection panel decided on a winning pitch.
Focusing on people who had ‘done stuff’”, Wave One featured a panel discussion and an electric mix of speakers such as Mike Cannon-Brookes from Atlassian, Alec Lynch, Founder of DesignCrowd.com; Dominic O’Hanlon, Chief Strategy Officer at MYOB; and Matt Barrie, Founder of Freelancer.com.
Alec Lynch, who recently raised $3 million for his company, started DesignCrowd after pitching his own idea at the first SydStart conference back in 2009.
“At my first SydStart I met some potential investors, and a lot of the investors in DesignCrowd attend the conference. I think anyone doing the pitching will have that opportunity to make connections, but it’s also fantastic practice to get your elevated pitch right.”
With a range of entertaining and inspiring presentations, the key drivers of success were noted by the importance of having the right team and a focus on customer needs. But the message from all the speakers was loud and clear: there has never been a better time to start a business.
The afternoon saw Wave Two dedicated to over 30 pitches, live and via video, being presented by some of Australia’s best entrepreneurs to a panel of expert judges. The pitches demonstrated the large calibre of creative intellect, and gave an insight into the various stages of many different startup projects.
Noting the lack of women in the speaker line-up and the judging panel, it was great to see women also getting involved in the pitch-fest. Fiona Anson, creator of Hiremeup, pitched her idea for a new mobility platform for the part-time workforce.
“Part-time is a huge part of the workforce, over 30 per cent, but there is no resource for people in the part-time sector. If I’m looking for a barista for my coffee shop, I need them today.”
On the topic of female entrepreneurship, Fiona observed that “online and offline, the stats show that 55 per cent of new businesses are being started-up by women … we’re starting to see a lot of women getting involved. Just because guys have traditionally been the engineers and software designers, it doesn’t mean that a business idea can’t stand on its own.”
At the end of the day, the trophy went to co-founders Matt Allen, Tom Frazier and Doug Hudgeons for their winning pitch on ‘ProcessGo’, a new service that allows businesses to map out and align their process for tenders with tender submissions. The runners-up included:
‘WattCost’: a solution to read, measure and monitor the energy output in homes easily to keep bills low.
‘Evolvex’: customized, create-your-own furniture delivered flat packed to your door.
‘StartSomeGood’: a crowd-funding platform for social change.
SydStart was a day packed with knowledge, networking and inspiration. Moreover, the conference highlighted an interesting factor in today’s startup community – per capita, Australia has the most incubators globally.
As Alec Lynch put it, “screw the mining boom, let’s create a technology boom.”
Astha Rajvanshi is on Twitter: @astha_raj