A day after our Federal politicians disputed about whether science policy is only about innovation or includes wider goals, the City of Sydney has taken the discussion of support for tech innovation to a whole new level.
At an event in Sydney Town Hall, hosted by Lord Mayor Clover Moore, the City released its Draft Tech Startups Action Plan. An audience made up of many of Sydney’s startup entrepreneurs, financiers and supporters, heard the outline of a plan to encourage technology entrepreneurs to start and grow global businesses in the City.
The outcome is intended to be the creation of more jobs and a boost to Sydney’s economy, strengthening global connections and making the city a more desirable place to live, work and visit.
The City of Sydney is not just the CBD as visitors might know it, it extends to the West to include Annandale Forest Lodge and Newtown, and to the East to include Darlinghurst and Moore Park. It runs South from the Harbour to Roseberry and Alexandria. It includes the University of Sydney, UTS and the Australian Technology Park in its footprint.
Reliable data on Startups is hard to find. Part of that is that the definition isn’t just new innovative technology firms, but firms that have the capacity to grow and scale up to serve global markets.
A 2012 survey calculated there were 1500 startups in Australia, of which 64 per cent were in Greater Sydney. A 2014 survey found that 48 per cent of all startups were in NSW. This survey also found that the largest number of startups in Australia were located in the Sydney CBD; Ultimo was fourth and the Surry Hills/Darlinghurst area was seventh. All suburbs are in the City of Sydney local government area.
In fact during the course of the presentation the cataloguing of the impressive array of startups, accelerators, incubators and financiers raises the question of why the City needs to do anything more to support startups.
The Plan cites a McKinsey report ‘Creating growth clusters: What role for local government?’ which argues that government policies may not be needed to seed entrepreneurial activity, but they can be critical in enabling a cluster to scale. Government policy should focus on tackling the bottlenecks and constraints that might otherwise inhibit a vibrant startup ecosystem.
That is what the Action Plan sets out to do. The Plan also makes the convincing case that other leading cities are doing just that, and that relatively mobile startups will move to where the environment suits them.
In speaking of the Plan, the City’s Economic Development Coordinator Charnelle Mondy noted that while it is a ten year plan, the detail will depend on annual budget allocations by Council.
The Draft plan has an ambitious scope with five areas where activity will be focussed. Each of these is supported by lists of initiatives, ranging from one to fifteen proposals for each area.
The five focus areas are:
- Build the entrepreneurial culture
- Create skilled and connected entrepreneurs
- Increase the density of the ecosystem
- Support entrepreneurs’ access to funding
- Develop entrepreneurs’ access to markets
The City is not being unrealistic in the scope of its activity. For example, in the area of skills it realises that it doesn’t control the education system to increase the flow of IT or entrepreneurial graduates. But it can promote the work of the city’s entrepreneurs so that students can see the opportunities as they plan their study and post study careers.
It can also support coding initiatives and clubs for the City’s youth. They can sponsor a Visiting Entrepreneurs Program that enables international experts to share information with the Sydney entrepreneurial community.
Overall through their support of the City’s startup ecosystem they can make the City the place where talented Australians with an idea and the willingness to back themselves will choose to locate. A greater density of talent will bring more of the financiers to the City looking for opportunities. And a denser ecosystem creates more viable pathways between Sydney and global markets.
In short, the Plan avoids coming across as a pipe dream or an overblown sense of the City’s economic function. It is a measured set of realistic initiatives that will facilitate the next stage of the City’s startup ecosystem growth.
In the face of the big government levers like regulation, taxation incentives or direct spending it is often forgotten that having Government just talk about things can really help generate community activity; in many ways the Action Plan contains a lot of that.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a gathering of Sydney’s entrepreneurs without quite a lot of moaning that the sector doesn’t get written about in the main stream media and that there isn’t any plan at the national level to support young innovative tech firms.
One thing the sector can do is take the opportunity presented by the Draft plan to provide comments; not only to potentially improve on the Draft but to show the Lord Mayor and Councillors that you really do appreciate their support.
In closing, Clover Moore told the audience not to be disheartened because Tony Abbott doesn’t want to talk about innovation.