Microsoft Australia's State Director for QLD Sharon Schoenborn. Photo: Liam Kidston
The Australian start-up scene looks set to receive a further boost with the opening of the country's first Microsoft Innovation Centre in Brisbane yesterday.
The software giant will invest $3 million over the next three years in the centre, and team up with local incubators and universities to accelerate the growth of software start-ups and small businesses in the state.
Microsoft state director for Queensland and NT Sharon Schoenborn said the project, headed by program manager Emily Easterby, hoped to help up to 100 new ventures get off the ground by 2015.
Encouraging them to do so hand in hand with Microsoft is a priority for the software vendor and the innovation centre program has proved an effective marketing strategy elsewhere in the world. While the Brisbane facility is Australia's first, Microsoft has 100 similar centres globally, the bulk located in Europe and North America.
"It's about enabling creativity around the Microsoft platform," Schoenborn said.
"Microsoft has always had a strong desire to help foster innovation and a strong partner network of businesses that develop based on our platform."
The Brisbane centre aims to help early-stage entrepreneurs develop technical and business skills and create networking and business development opportunities for themselves.
Microsoft had chosen to open the centre in Queensland, rather than the southern states, because of its strong base of start-ups, Schoenborn added.
Brisbane is home to a number of private incubators including iLab, a joint venture between the state government and the University of Queensland's commercialisation arm, UniQuest. The recently opened River City Labs already has 20 fledgling businesses working out of its city fringe premises.
The founder of the specialist systems integrator Mexia, Dean Robertson, is an alumnus of the iLab program, after spending 18 months under its auspices growing his firm to seven staff and revenue of $1.5 million.
Mexia would have stagnated, Robertson says, were it not for the incubator and the business expertise he acquired via its mentoring program.
He says the Microsoft centre should act as an 'aggregator' for existing players in the start-up arena.
"They have enormous marketing power...they have a huge number of networks and contacts into other businesses that have succeeded," Robertson said.
Allowing start-ups to tap into the global Microsoft network would be the biggest benefit the new centre could offer, River City Labs technology evangelist Colin Kinner said.
A lot of informal collaboration and business networking already occurred within the tight-knit Brisbane scene and the opening of the new centre was "another piece of the puzzle", he said.
"There's a lot is going on in Brisbane but there's not much maturity in the market – it's a year or two behind Sydney and Melbourne."
Chair of the Queensland branch of the Australian Information Industries Association Maree Adshed said many tech savvy young players lacked the business nous to crack the corporate world without a little help.
"This will bring them together and introduce them to the right people and help them to make something out of what they've built. It's a great thing for Brisbane. Looking at it from the perspective of the AIIA and as the co-founder of a young start-up, I know the difficulties of reaching out and knowing where to go."
Commenting on the Microsoft initiative, recently appointed Queensland ICT Minister Ros Bates said ICT had the potential to create thousands of new jobs in the next decade.
"Microsoft's investment in this innovation centre will significantly advance our efforts by expanding the IT skills of our local workforce, giving local companies broader access to innovative technology and cultivating greater market opportunities for new business," Bates said.
Launch partners include Lean Market Research, QUT Innovation Space, IdeaNetwork, River City Labs, Sales Monkey and Australian Capital Investment.