Sydney’s flash new startup home
Karen Borg: Driving initiatives that will increase density, capture gazelles, and create jobs
The NSW Government will today call for expressions of interest for a massive new Sydney Startup Hub of up to 15,000 square metres, to become the physical and spiritual home of the city’s innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem.
The multi-million dollar investment would lease and fit-out workspace and ecosystem infrastructure in a single CBD location and would house incubators, accelerators, Co-Lo’s, VCs, startup consultants and sundry parts of the community.
Venerable Fishburners and high-profile fintech newcomer Stone & Chalk are expected to become anchor tenants.
The initiative, which is funded by the Funded through the government’s $190 million jobs-growth agency Jobs for NSW, is all about density.
The David Thodey-chaired Jobs for NSW wants to bring the ecosystem together in what is likely to be the largest co-located entrepreneur community in the southern hemisphere.
Certainly it is the most ambitious property-related investment into the entrepreneur by an Australian government, a fitting mantle for property and status-obsessed Sydney.
Discussions with potential anchor tenants and influential sections of the ecosystem have been underway for the best part of a year. You now have three weeks – until March 4 – to apply to join the hub.
Jobs for NSW chief executive officer Karen Borg said the agency wants to have notified potential tenants of the success or otherwise of their applications by the end of May, and to have leased and fitted-out premises ready for move-in in the second half of the year.
While the ambition is to create up to 15,000 square metre facility – which would equate to ten floors or more of a good-sized city office block – its size will ultimately depend on the applications Jobs for NSW receives. There are locations in mind, but the agency won’t be signing leases until it has seen the EOI responses.
The timetable is a relief for Stone & Chalk – which has a lease on its current premises that expires at the end of the year – and for bursting-at-the-seams Fishburners.
Initially the Sydney Startup Hub is based on a 5 to 7 year funding horizon as a “bridging measure” ahead of the tech hub within the government’s massive Bays Precinct project to come online. With White Bay not expecting tenants for at least five years, Jobs for NSW said it was crucial to act now.
Having taxpayers subsidise the CBD rent of entrepreneurs is not everyone’s cup of tea – and many of the tenants could reasonably be expected to be offshore companies setting up in Australia – but Ms Borg says the investment will have a big pay-off for NSW and for Australia.
The hub is all about ‘density’ and creating a place where the production collisions between different parts of the ecosystem can occur. It is thought that one of the spaces being considered is at the CBDs edge and connected to the existing Harris Street precinct.
Jobs for NSW says the Sydney Startup Hub has three simple objectives.
- Create jobs
- Increase the diversity of the NSW startup community, with more startups from regional NSW and non-ICT industries
- Grow the size and strength of the Sydney ecosystem
Ms Borg said the hub would interact with the Sydney School of Entrepreneurship, announced last year as a joint-venture between NSW TAFE and 11 universities – and $25 million in state government funding – to be housed at the prime TAFE site in Ultimo.
Jobs for NSW had identified the creation of more ‘gazelles’ – that is the high-growth companies that scalable startups aspire to be in their next phase of growth – in its Jobs for the Future report last year as the fastest route to jobs growth.
Ms Borg says the Sydney Startup Hub is the logical next step to creating those high-growth companies.
“Startups and the subsequent gazelles that follow them are the critical job-creation drivers,” Ms Borg said. “We believe fundamentally that this comes down to numerics: We need more startups.”
“We need to activate and accelerate the startups, and simply recognising that this is a critical part of driving more capacity in the market,” she said.
“Aggregating and congregating the community [in a single location] is a critical part of ensuring we create those ‘collisions’, where we have all of the right people in the right space.”
She said there were limited opportunities in Sydney right now to lease 15,000 square metres, given the amount of construction and renewal currently underway. Having government drive the project was fundamental to enabling it.
“Sydney is the innovation entry-point for entrepreneurs and startups to access opportunities across NSW. It is also the landing pad for essential foreign investment, technology and talent.
“Sydney ranks in the top-three startup ecosystems in Asia – a sector worth $70 billion to the NSW economy.”
“The proof will be in the outcomes. And we will certainly monitor those outcomes.
“This isn’t where we take some space and hope for the best. People will sign-up to KPIs and will be held accountable for them,” Ms Borg said.