Stone & Chalk has finally unveiled its long-planned expansion into Melbourne, and it is doing it without the support of the Victorian government.
Stone & Chalk’s Melbourne operation will initially be run out of agri-tech accelerator SproutX’s office on Collins St in the CBD, with the FinTech hub given 60 desks for local founders.
The move is Stone & Chalk’s first foray out of Sydney and is the culmination of more than a year’s work and planning by CEO Alex Scandurra, who said it is a “historic achievement for the Australian FinTech industry as a whole”.
As part of the expansion, Stone & Chalk will run a joint “agri-fintech program” with SproutX to explore how “new FinTech innovation can help solve major issues”.
The Melbourne operations will be headed by former FinTech Victoria CEO Alan Tsen, who said the first announcement is just phase one of Stone & Chalk’s ambitious plans in the city.
“What we’re doing is launching with our partner SproutX to get our phase one off the ground. We want to be in market here in Melbourne as soon as possible. We’ll be launching here pretty quickly in August with a space alongside them in their current location,” Mr Tsen told InnovationAus.com.
“That’s the short-term plan we have around getting substance on the ground here in Melbourne and being able to generate the community and create activity around FinTech from a Stone & Chalk perspective.”
Across the last year, Mr Scandurra has been working to forge partnerships with large organisations based in Melbourne.
Founding partners at the new Melbourne space include AustralianSuper, Findex, Genworth, LibertyFinancial, ANZ and NAB, while Stone & Chalk has also signed a research and commercialisation deal with RMIT on blockchain, and partnered with One Roof to improve its own gender diversity.
What phase two of the expansion will involve is yet to be revealed, but it seems likely it will see Stone & Chalk move out of its temporary new home in Melbourne and into a significantly bigger space more closely resembling its operations in Sydney.
The Melbourne announcement comes just days after Stone & Chalk was revealed as one of four key anchor tenants in the NSW government’s $35 million Sydney Startup Hub. As part of that announcement, Stone & Chalk would entirely relocate its Sydney base to the new subsidised hub.
Surprisingly, the move in Melbourne has been done without funding from the state, despite Stone & Chalk previously applying to the state’s $60 million innovation fund LaunchVic.
It was also believed to be one of the frontrunners to win the tender to take head the Victorian government’s new FinTech hub in Docklands. Applications are still open for “experienced innovation hub operators” to apply to run the 1500 sqm space at Goods Shed North in Docklands, and Stone & Chalk had seemed like a natural fit for the state government.
But Stone & Chalk has got in ahead of the Victorian government’s own FinTech hub, and has decided to go it alone for the time being. It is believed Stone & Chalk would still be involved with the new FinTech hub in some capacity, and may look to partner with the Victorian government in the future.
“To be sustainable we need to be working with a range of partners here. At some point we’ll talk to the Victorian government about how we might work together,” Mr Tsen said.
The FinTech sector in Australia has long been calling out for an end to petty competition between states, instead calling on the states to unite to power Australian FinTech into Asia and beyond.
Mr Scandurra says the Melbourne expansion is a win for the national ecosystem, rather than Victoria, while Mr Tsen said this is one of the biggest things that drew him to the new gig.
“It’s a really necessary part of growing the ecosystem here in Victoria – to be connected to Sydney and working across both states,” Mr Tsen said.
“Australia isn’t big enough to be thinking about local rivalries and the like. We need to be growing a strong ecosystem that covers all major cities in Australia, and Melbourne and Sydney is where the density is,” he said.
It’s also another big play to address what is now perhaps the biggest problem facing startup communities across the country: affordable and accessible real estate.
Providing subsidised office and workspaces is now one of the key areas politicians and industry leaders have identified as where they can make a difference without interfering with the actual operations of startups, or without appearing to be picking winners.