Another large international tech company choosing Melbourne as its Asia-Pacific base has capped off a huge year for the Victorian innovation minister, but according to the man himself, things are only just getting started.
Texas-based B2B software outfit AgileCraft revealed last week that it would be opening its APAC HQ in Melbourne early next year, with plans to also establish a software development hub in the state by 2018.
“It’s a really exciting announcement,” Victorian Minister for Innovation Philip Dalidakis tells InnovationAus.com. “Yet another US company is choosing to have Victoria on their global map of places they need to be.
“When we compete, we compete not just with cities like Sydney, but also with Singapore and the Philippines and Hong Kong, so to be able to attract AgileCraft to Melbourne for its Asia-Pacific headquarters is really just fantastic for the community.”
These high profile announcements and boasts of luring tech giants to Melbourne have formed the central facet of the Victorian Government innovation strategy over the last 12 months.
And Mr Dalidakis has perhaps been able to do what Malcolm Turnbull could not when discussing innovation: connect it tangibly to jobs and the local economy.
Every announcement from the Victorian innovation department has come with a proclamation of how many jobs would later be created for locals.
Cognizant’s arrival is said to bring up to 110 new tech jobs to Melbourne, Appster’s local expansion will create 100, GoPro’s local headquarters will create an estimated 50 jobs and countless others.
“At each and every turn, everything we’ve done is about boosting and creating jobs and industry,” Mr Dalidakis says. “We want to create an environment where people feel like they’re supported.”
This focus on international companies has earned the state government its critics, with some local startups calling for more of a focus on them and their various struggles.
But Mr Dalidakis is unapologetic about this central focus, and says the presence of these big world players will boost everyone in the ecosystem.
“It’s not just for the government – yes, it’s gratifying that all the work we’re doing is paying off, but the real thanks and appreciation is because it’s an acknowledgement of what companies in the ecosystem here in Victoria are doing,” Mr Dalidakis says.
“It means everything. It reinforces that we’ve got the policy settings right and we’re creating a sector where people want to be.
“There’s no greater validator for government policy than that.”
And if you ask Mr Dalidakis, the government did help pave the way forward for local startups, with the belated launch of the $60 million innovation fund in the form of an independent body, LaunchVic.
In contrast to many other states, LaunchVic focused not on individual startups and founders, but on projects that aim to help build the ecosystem as a whole.
The first round of grants saw $6.5 million dished out to 18 projects, including the establishment of a “world-class tech and startup destination” in Abbotsford Convent and a university-led female entrepreneur leadership program.
It has undoubtedly been a landmark year for the Victorian government’s innovation efforts, and although he’ll happily reel off the long list of big names they’ve drawn to Melbourne, Mr Dalidakis prefers to point to the future.
“As great as all the work we’ve done to get to where we’re at, that pales in significance compared to the work we need to do in the next 12 to 24 months,” he says. “Buckle up and get ready for a pretty intense period of time. This is only just the beginning.
“We’re going to fight hard to make sure that Melbourne becomes the number one tech destination in the Asia-Pacific region. You don’t get to that position by sitting on your backside, sipping a pina colada and watching the yachts.”
Mr Dalidakis points to the government branching out its innovation focus to several other sectors, including medtech, biotech and agritech, as well as reaffirming a focus on fintech and cybersecurity.
With the latter, the minister has found himself a powerful ally in Victorian premier Daniel Andrews.
“Every time I’ve gone to the premier and asked for support on cyber, he has backed me in every single time,” Mr Dalidakis says. “I could not hope or wish for a more supportive boss. He has been fantastic.
“We’ve done a lot of great work in the startup and tech sector, but now we need to branch out. That’s a big part of our push.”
The year will also start off strongly, with LaunchVic set to hand out its second round of grants in late February.
“That’s another way we can support the ecosystem,” Mr Dalidakis says. “There are some really exciting opportunities coming out of round two, and if they come off they will blow you away.”
When prodded to reflect on his time in office, Mr Dalidakis says he is proud of his focus of changing the culture in tech but, just like the government’s innovation push in general, he’s just getting started.
“If on my political tombstone it says that if nothing else I’ve worked hard to change the culture and make it supportive that people reflect on failure not as a sin and success is celebrated, then I could do far worse when it’s my time to move on,” he says.
“That’s what I’m working on. At the end of the day we will succeed or fail by the culture we create and the environment people work within. Far more than any other thing that’s what my focus is on.”
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