Revamped Spark Festival kicks off, spreading startup cheer

Brandon How

Monday marks the return of Spark Festival, one of New South Wales’ largest tech sector gatherings which boasts a week long celebration of entrepreneurship via a multitude of in-person and online events.

In its seven-year history the festival has connected tens of thousands of people across 800 events, with this year aiming to continue that rich heritage through panels, roundtables, pitch nights and networking forums.

The last full in-person offering took place in 2019, when the festival extended across a month. This time, the revamped Spark Festival has condensed 100 events into a week,  as is promising to deliver richer experiences for attendees.

Events centre around Western Sydney and Tech Central.

Spark Festival co-chief executives Harry Godber and David Lillo-Trynes flank former festival director Maxine Sherrin.

Now led by two new co-chief executives – backed with funding from the federal Industry department and the Australian Computer Society.

Of the new co-chief executives, David Lillo-Trynes was a former program manager of UTS Startups. Meanwhile, the other co-chief executive Harry Godber is the head of strategy and general counsel of local FinTech Flare, who also sits on the board of FinTech Australia. He has previously been an advisor to the Turnbull and Morrison Governments.

According to a collaboration with and Investment NSW, there more than 3,500 startups that were founded in or are headquartered in the state, attracting just under $5 billion worth of venture capital investment last year.

Mr Godber told that the festival hopes to build startup connectivity and visibility across its various components.

“Essentially, what Spark is seeking to achieve is to bring together disparate parts of the ecosystem in a collaborative way. Without wanting to be political at all, there is a sense that government support for the startup ecosystem has been less visible than it has been in the past,” he said.

“One of the things that we really want to prioritise is making sure that people are able to see what the real impacts of supporting investments in and across the startup ecosystem are for the economy. That includes not just the creation and commercialisation of new ideas, but also the creation of new jobs in new sectors, and the scaling of Australian IP and the commercialisation of it beyond our borders.”

A key part of Spark Festival will be the launch of the 2023 Startup Muster survey, which will release on Monday. It provides a snapshot of insights into Australia’s startup ecosystem from the perspective of “startups, people thinking of founding a startup and businesses that support startups”, according to its website.

It is the first time the survey is being released since 2018 and is a document that Mr Godber said he relied upon when advising the former Coalition government.

“Availability of data on startups and on innovation, entrepreneurship more broadly, is a big challenge is a challenge everywhere in the world. When I was an advisor in the Turnbull and Morrison governments, that was certainly something we found quite challenging,” Mr Godber said.

Among the events to expect this week are several public policy panels featuring representatives from the private sector and from within the federal government.

On Tuesday, Spark will also launch its Investment Network, which will host a series of events throughout 2024. The intent is “to allow key local and international venture capital, private equity family office investors, to get in a room with a couple of 100 startups and help those startup founders learn about emerging trends in capital markets, and understand how to pitch themselves effectively”.

Investment funds that are joining the event include CSIRO founded Main Sequence Ventures, AirTree Ventures, and Reinventure Capital.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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