There is one week to go before the curtain goes up on StartCon, Australia’s largest and most important conference and expo aimed at the ecosystem of entrepreneurs and investors, and that galaxy of designers, developers, growth hackers and corporate innovation leaders that surround them.
In a startup event market crowded with puffery, StartCon has been a stand-out success, with its long-running focus on the transfer of practical knowledge.
Its speaker program is outstanding, with an investment in bringing the smart, successful international brains to Sydney to share experience of what works and what doesn’t.
There is a lot to like about the tech and innovation scene in Australia right now. The momentum continues to build.
And even though Malcolm Turnbull and his government don’t like talking about it in public anymore, federal government policy has done pretty well: R&D Tax scheme is a winner and incentives for early stage investors has attracted large chunks of new capital.
If they can sort out the difficulties around 457s and access to talent, we’ll be on our way.
From a Team Australia point of view, for the IT and tech-based startup sectors there are two events that should be the focus of government and industry support. That’s StartCon, with its cultural and organically grown roots back into Silicon Valley and the temples of US tech, and CeBIT Australia and its direct connections in the industry 4.0 heart of Germany and the rest of Europe.
Not only should the Australian Government pile into these two events as sponsors and supporters as the windows into Australia, but other states should too. State versus state rivalry does not help here.
Everyone wins if we can build events with an international outlook, and a regional significance.
StartCon began life modestly in 2009, set up as SydStart by The Start Society founder and serial entrepreneur Pete Cooper. The first event attracted about a hundred people.
Run as a sideline ‘hobby’ by Mr Cooper, SydStart was acquired by Matt Barrie’s Freelancer.com in 2014 and re-branded as StartCon to better reflect its national prominence.
It has grown in size and scope each year. Freelancer.com’s Head of StartCon Cheryl Mack says they expect to get about 4,000 people to event this year, up from 3,000 in 2016.
Last year they added a dedicated FinTech stage to StartCon. This year, in addition to the FinTech stage, StartCon will add an Artificial Intelligence dedicated stage. “As we grow, and as we attract more attendees, we’re able to expend the content into a broader audience,” Ms Mack said.
The event also hosts the largest pitch contest in the country – with 90 companies pitching last year, and preparations now underway for an expected 120 companies this year.
International speakers include:
- Zack Onisko, CEO at designer community platform Dribbble and a former VP of Growth for Hired
- Jager McConnell, CEO of Crunchbase
- John Egan, Growth Engineering Manager at Pinterest
- Joanna Lord, chief marketing officer at ClassPass
- Sarah Bird, CEO of online marketer’s community Moz
- Marcus Segal, General Partner at Upshift Capital
- Jimmy Young, product manager at Lyft
Local speakers include:
- Scott Farquhar, co-CEO and co-founder at Atlassian
- Matt Barrie, CEO and founder Freelancer.com
- Luke Anear, CEO and founder at SafetyCulture
- Jack Zhang, founder and CEO at AirWallex
- Fred Schebasta, co-founder at Finder.com.au
- Julie Stavanja, founder and CEO at StyleRunner
- Roshni Mahtani, founder and CEO at theAsianparent.com
The StartCon event is again being staged at the Australian Turf Club’s Royal Randwick, a somewhat surprisingly suitable venue. The event was held over a weekend last year, while in 2017 it will run over a Friday and Saturday (December 1 and 2).
StartCon has good support from Jobs for NSW and the backing of the Sydney City Council. It also attracted participation and sponsorship support from Austrade and the Department of Industry’s low-profile Accelerating Commercialisation program, which is a good start.
Of course as host city, the NSW Government and City of Sydney should be pillars of support. But the Australian Government, if it really is still serious about this sector, should get serious about supporting this event to scale.