Ask anyone to list the startup hubs based in Sydney’s CBD and at least half a dozen names will be quickly rattled off: Fishburners, Stone & Chalk, BlueChilli, Hoist, Tank Stream Labs, Muru-D, Tyro Fintech Hub, and the list goes on.
Now, take a minute to think about the ones that are based in western Sydney. Not too many come to mind, right?
That’s the challenge Don Wright has on his hands. He is the co-founder and manager of Launch Pad, one of only a handful of startup co-working spaces based in western Sydney, and he’s determined to put the region on the startup ecosystem map.
Launch Pad was established in mid-2015 by the Western Sydney University in partnership with the NSW government, and corporate partners KPMG, National Australia Bank, and Landcom. There are about 90 startups situated across three major Launch Pad locations in Werrington, Parramatta, and Liverpool.
“The big focus for us is to bring digital tech out to the west. It’s all about how do we take good tech startups in the west,” Mr Wright said.
“Because we already have an enormous research base, we have institutions that have world-leading technology in biomedical engineering and neuroscience, agribusiness, energy, we are trying to bring that innovation support platform through Launch Pad.”
The other part of the agenda for Launch Pad is also recognising the advantage western Sydney-based startups have over their CBD counterparts, which is being able to work closely with the region’s small to medium businesses and using the relationships to build a collaborative model, according to Mr Wright.
Launch Pad received an additional $1 million funding boost in June last year to further drive this agenda.
“Western Sydney is a beast compared to central Sydney. We’ve got a very large concentration of SMEs out in the west,” Mr Wright said. “We’ve got 160,000 plus [SMEs], so we wanted to look very specifically at how to we leverage that as well, and not just say, ‘Right, we’re just going to be all about startups’.”
“What we’ve done is integrate SMEs within our program. We get SMEs working with startups now, so we get this cross-fertilisation between the two.”
“In our incubator in Penrith, we’ve got three SMEs in here that have collocated their engineering team and they now interact with startups, so it’s a bit of a different flavour out here.”
Both Juan Pereyra and JP Liew, who each have their own startups based in the Werrington Launch Pad campus, agreed the reason they chose to be in western Sydney was because it is where all their customers are located.
“I was originally at Fishburners, but most of my clients were in western Sydney or the Blue Mountains, so it was a bit silly to be in the city,” Mr Pereyra said.
But while there are some clear advantages of being part of the western Sydney startup ecosystem, there are also some unique challenges, too.
“It’s a bit a different to Sydney CBD that’s a compact ecosystem in terms of them being geographically close. We’re one incubator supporting seven campuses across western Sydney. We’re a very large catchment area,” Mr Wright said.
It’s not the west versus the CBD situation either. Rather, Mr Wright said he wants to be able to bridge the gap between the CBD and western Sydney, adding however, it will require much needed balanced support from the government.
“If anything we want to work with that ecosystem. I’ve got really good relationships with the guys that run the incubators in UNSW, UTS and Macquarie. This is how do we grow Sydney to be a more globally competitive hub,” he said.
As for whether there is enough funding coming through from angel investors and venture capital, Mr Wright said “money is not the problem”.
“Anyone who ever tell you a lack of money is the problem has got it wrong; it’s a good deal flow for the investors. They want quality ideas to invest in and if you take good ideas to them, there’s plenty of money around. We’re very focused on the business model.”
Looking forward, Mr Wright hopes to eventually see a similar building as the Sydney Startup Hub, due to open early next year in Sydney CBD, be opened in western Sydney.
“We’d love to see an equivalent level of investment in the west because you really have this set of challenges in the west because it is very spread out. It is a challenge to provide support in a much bigger geographic area, but we have incredible strengths through our multicultural population.
“The Chinese community can provide fantastic insight into China and we’re really trying to harness that. Same with the Indian community around Parramatta, we see this potential to create this fantastic international trade hub where startups can get fantastic access to international markets through western Sydney by leveraging that multicultural population we have.”
Launch Pad is now in the process of applying for a grant through the federal government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda’s business incubator support program to continue to build out the local ecosystem.
“We want people talking about western Sydney as the next big innovation hub. Western Sydney is a massive, untapped potential for knowledge job creation and for huge innovation,” said Mr Wright.