Sydney’s grab for startup talent

James Riley
Editorial Director

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian says the newly-launched Sydney Startup Hub gives the state a huge competitive advantage over its domestic rivals in attracting startups and stamps the city as an international centre for entrepreneurial activity.

Ms Berejiklian said the decision by Microsoft to bring its ScaleUp accelerator program to Australia and base it within the hub was a “huge validation” of the state’s focus on the startup ecosystem, and Jobs for NSW $35 million Sydney Startup Hub investment.

“The decision by Microsoft to move in [to the hub] is a huge vote of confidence in our city, our economy and the people that make up our startup community,” Ms Berejiklian said.

Gladys Berejiklian

While NSW is already home to about 44 per cent of Australian startup companies, the Premier wants to boost that proportion to more than 50 per cent in the near future, by growing faster than rivals.

The launch of the Sydney Startup Hub, a $35 million investment by government via the David Thodey-chaired Jobs for NSW, is a key strategic plank in the Berejiklian ecosystem plan.

The hub aims to rival internationally renowned facilities like Kendall Square in Boston and Station F in Paris, and the state government has a global marketing plan to use the hub to brand Sydney as a startup destination.

Sydney Startup Hub began life as a discussion about finding additional office space for Fishburners and Stone & Chalk, but quickly grew into a far bigger project. In addition to Fishburners and Stone & Chalk, the space is now home to Tank Stream Lab, The Studio, H2 Ventures, Westpac’s Fueld, Slingshot, as well as Transport for NSW’s digital accelerator and a team from Department of Finance.

But it’s the arrival of the Microsoft ScaleUp program that puts the venue in lights.

Sydney is the eighth city where Microsoft has established the program, and it joins illustrious company. Others include Seattle, Beijing, Berlin, London and Tel Aviv as a global centres.

Microsoft recently announced that former Muru-D chief and Fishburners CEO Annie Parker had been tapped to lead Microsoft startup programs globally, including ScaleUp. Ms Parker will be based out of the hub.

Since it was launched in 2012, the Microsoft Scale-Up across all its locations has put more than 730 companies through the program and raised almost US$3 billion in venture capital, with 48 exits.

NSW Deputy Premier and small business minister John Barilaro said the new hub had been a hugely ambitious project, and one that had been delivered in just 18 months – from idea to opening. He said its aim was to enable ideas to grow into large and successful Australian businesses.

“NSW and Sydney already represent 44 per cent of the startup space, but by building the Sydney Startup Hub we are sending a clear message that we want to see great Australian entrepreneurs remain in Australia – and just as importantly remain in Sydney and NSW,” Mr Barilaro said.

“The saying is ‘If you build it, they will come.’ Well we built it, and Microsoft came.

“The reality here is that we are sending a message not just to Australia, but to the world and to our counterparts in other states that we are serious about innovation, and we are serious about building an innovation sector, and we are serious about building a network,” he said.

Microsoft Australia managing director Steve Worrall said the decision to set up a Microsoft ScaleUp program in Australia had been the result of several years of internal lobbying, with intense competition among the various subsidiaries. The decision to base the program in Sydney was made after discussion with several state governments.

“We had conversations with other state governments [in addition to NSW] and obviously looked at the location of our [other] investments in this country,” Mr Worrall said.

“Given our head office is here in Sydney, we thought it was the right location, in addition to the wonderful facility [at Sydney Startup Hub.]

Jobs for NSW chairman David Thodey told there had been no additional inducements from the state for Microsoft to set up in Sydney beyond the establishment of the hub.

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