As first published on The Australian
What if Australia was named the most ideal environment to create a global start-up? It sounds like an unlikely prospect but it’s not as unlikely as we would like to think.
Examining the current appetite US venture capital funds have for the Australian market, there’s something unique at play in Australia, which makes it a great birthplace for start-ups.
We are a booming nation in a transition period and with the “golden age” of mining perhaps behind us, diversification is the new watchword for investors.
This appetite provides a great opportunity for start-ups. Most Australian investors are on the lookout for new ventures and high returns, and start-ups are looking for backers. This is a match made in heaven!
In addition, the federal government has a number of well-established programs and grants, which aren’t exactly perfect but still rank highly when compared to similar schemes in Europe or the US.
The R&D grant, for example, is a fantastic way to lighten the financial weight of a start-up’s innovation development, while the Export Market Development Grant, lends significant support to plans for overseas expansion. These can be accessed by any start-up, and don’t need you to complete an application, taking the complexity out of the process. Not perfect, but great move Australia!
A few entrepreneurs may look at traditional start-up sites like Silicon Valley, London and Israel as the benchmark, and insist Australia is far less expanded, dynamic, connected or funded. But our energetic ecosystem is vibrant, small enough to care and not be preoccupied with transforming founders’ ideas into simple numbers as the big “VC factories” do.
The Australian market is also expanding by the minute, making it a far less isolated ecosystem than it was only a few years ago. It’s true that one would need to be in one of the larger cities to see all of this, stroll among all the meetups, events and networking opportunities to realise it — but isn’t this the same in every other country?
The Australian start-up ecosystem harbours a great spirit, where the concept of fair-go still prevails. Be humble, honest, hardworking and motivated and you will find an abundance of people on hand, ready to assist, offer advice and challenge your ideas for the better. This is invaluable and in my view makes our start-up ecosystem one of the rising stars of the global scene.
The Australian domestic market, even if we were to include our neighbour New-Zealand — with around 25 million people, poses a significant hurdle for aspiring entrepreneurs. But while scale might be an issue for start-ups we are blessed with a wonderful diversity, a factor that’s often overlooked by many in the market.
Australia is by nature a country of immigrants and this has resulted in creating a global consumer melting pot. I call it the greatest global laboratory ever made — entrepreneurs can observe “global” reactions across the various communities at a local level.
Once you have tried and tested your idea in this heart of diversity, you can then make it fly worldwide and address the relevant scaling-up challenges. Australia benefits from healthy connections to the US.
The European trade and industry commissions are extremely active, and our proximity to Asia is a great gateway to a massive market. This doesn’t make global expansion trivial or reaching large markets easy, but it does make success possible in a relatively shorter time.
This dynamic has certainly proved conducive for the success of my company Maestrano, which went from commercial launch in January 2014, to establishing two offices in the US, one in Dubai and establishing a strong partnership in Singapore on top of the Australian Sydney-based headquarters in less than 14 months of operations.
It was a lot of work for us but we got everything we needed to get started in Australia.
So to my fellow Australian entrepreneurs I would extend one piece of advice — we are not any worse off than anywhere else — on the contrary — we just have a different set of cards and can play the global start-up game on an even playing field.
We have predecessors who have paved the way and shown that Australian start-ups can make it to the top. It’s now up to us to build the next generation!
Stephane Ibos is chief executive of software-as-a-service aggregator Maestrano.