Sydney-centric StartupAus under fire from Melbourne
There are fears the StartupAus board make-up will ensure Sydney takes a bigger slice of Australia’s innovation economy. Photo: Les Cunliffe
Melbourne start-up stakeholders have cried foul over the Sydney-centric board of a new Google-backed group that advocates on behalf of entrepreneurs.
The StartupAus group was recently established to campaign on issues affecting Australian start-ups, but the self-appointed inaugural directors were drawn entirely from the Sydney talent pool.
They include Google Australia director of engineering Alan Noble, Freelancer.com founder Matt Barrie, Shoes of Prey co-founder Michael Fox, Peter Bradd from Fishburners, Southern Cross Ventures' Bill Bartee, and Startmate founder Niki Scevak. The latter two are also managing directors of North Sydney firm BlackBird Ventures.
The board make-up will ensure that Sydney takes a bigger slice of Australia's innovation economy, according to one Melbourne start-up community leader who declined to be named.
"The short answer is, [Melbourne] is more likely to be nudged out of the spotlight somewhat. The actual long-term effect may be something like, our investment scene becomes more insular," they said.
The stakeholder, who helped establish the start-ups ecosystem in the country's second biggest city, was not consulted in the formation of the group and said it would foster further divisions between the two cities.
"Without groups like StartupAus to represent start-ups needs, attract global interest and promote the sector in the Melbourne region, we can't expect to be able to provide the same opportunities to start-ups. There's already a cultural difference in the start-up scenes in both cities – this will likely further isolate these cultures.
"And, seriously, what kind of industry body strategy eclipses a major city like that? It's most certainly shortsighted, especially given the track record of successful start-upss coming out of Melbourne."
StartupAus director Scevak said it would address the issue.
"This is an active process that we are addressing — getting a diversity of board members beyond the initial catalysts," said Scevak, adding that Google's Alan Noble hails from Adelaide.
Google commissioned consulting firm PwC to organise a two-day summit at which 60 founders, investors and peers agreed on outcomes that could be achieved immediately without government permission.
"This is where I think most committees fall over," Scevak said.
PushStart managing director Kim Heras, who participated in the summit, said the Sydney push was needed to launch the organisation. He expects a transition to a more democratic model that will inject StartupAus with greater geographic diversity.
Also among summit attendees was Jolimont-based Starfish Ventures partner Tony Glenning, who estimates there were "five to 10" of his fellow Melburnians there.
He praised the efforts of everyone involved, and said the Sydney stakeholders grasped the opportunity to create the group.
Melbourne's Scott Handsaker, who founded start-up Attendly, believes the group will benefit all Australians in the long term.
But he said it would not have any immediate impact on his day-to-day activities.
"I don't think ecosystem activity, success or health will be driven by start-upsAus. Melbourne founders are responsible for our own successes and failures. While Sydney may get more media attention due to Sydney-based media, Melbourne has a fantastic and vibrant community with clear, well-established leaders," Handsaker said.
His compatriot Ned Dwyer – whose firm Tweaky won $5000 at a Startup Weekend Melbourne event hosted at the York Butter Factory – views the organisation as having limited impact.
Dwyer said that by "building stuff people want" successful entrepreneurs and companies could contribute additional funding and experience back into the local community.
Tweaky recently received a $450,000 investment from Melbourne's 99designs, whose founders Mark Harbottle and Leni Mayo nurture local entrepreneurs.
"The government isn't restricting the ability for me to grow and build my business," Dwyer said.
"I wish the people behind StartupAus the best but for now I'll focus on my knitting."