Comparing Brisbane’s start-up ecosystem
The only way to truly get to know a place, to truly understand what is happening on the ground, is to immerse one’s self in every facet of it. I only had a week, and so, from the minute I flicked my phone off flight mode, I was eager to get going. I messaged my friend, who had offered to pick me up from the airport, to arrange our meeting place. I’d only met this guy twice before, yet here we were, so keen to take advantage of every second I had on the ground, that we got down to business in the car. That’s the thing about entrepreneurs — not only do we get things done, but we support each other at every possible opportunity (check out Storyboard by the way — it’s awesome).
Within minutes, we’d worked out what time we could spend together around my schedule and who he could arrange meetings with for me. Then I was on email, announcing my arrival and finalising my schedule. I landed just before 7am; by 9am, I was already meeting the team running the accelerator program I was to lead for the next 5 days. By noon, I’d spoken at my first public event of the week and had picked up 4 good contacts — 4 extra meetings to fit into my already manic schedule. By early evening I was sitting in the auditorium of a brand-new co-working/incubator space in the centre of the City, one of several.
The panel at the event I was attending was comparing the start-up ecosystems in a number of different parts of the world, having just come back from a mission. Everyone in the audience was keen to learn what lessons could be used locally. The networking afterwards was no less enlightening.
I learned about how the city’s universities have put entrepreneurship at the heart of everything they do, from making it a part of every degree they award, to literally building a creative hub for students, in such a way that collaboration and entrepreneurship are fostered by the physical environment, and that’s before the staff get to work on them.
I learned about the generous and integrated incentive schemes offered by the Government to attract international start-ups to locate in the city, about the program to encourage rural participation in entrepreneurship and about the many successful, local entrepreneurs, doing their bit to support those coming up behind them.
Then I met some of the local entrepreneurs. I judged a pitching competition on my second evening — of the 8 pitches I heard, 2 were global businesses in the making. The cohort of the accelerator I was to work with for the week was no less impressive.
What makes all of this so remarkable, is the fact that I’m not describing the start-up scene in Berlin, or Shanghai, or even London for that matter — it’s that I’d flown 28 hours from London, to find this in Brisbane.
I was so impressed with how joined-up the scene was, how supportive every player was in helping me integrate into the community and how genuinely thrilled they all were to have me around. This felt like a place open to entrepreneurs, open to start-ups and open to the World. By the end of the week, I’d convinced myself to expand my business in Australia, using Brisbane as a base.
I was in Brisbane to run a week of the QUT Creative Enterprise Australia Collider Programme — an amazing accelerator for creative start-ups, offering investment, incubator space on the top floor of QUT’s brilliant Z9 creative space — and a 10-week program of support for participants, led by a world-leading Entrepreneur-in-Residence from Silicon Valley, not to mention a series of international guest hosts, such as myself.
Over the course of the week, I spent a good deal of time advising each member of the cohort individually on their plans for execution and collectively, on how to attract interest from corporates, on helping them understand the true meaning and power of a brand and passing on advice from my last decade as an entrepreneur.
The founders I worked with were as impressive as they were dedicated — most nights ended well after the sun went down, with mentoring sessions for whomever was still in the office. Better still, most days started with a conversation with those same founders, who had revised their pitch and plan based on the previous night’s conversation. My time with them all, and in Brisbane’s start-up ecosystem, has renewed my faith in entrepreneurship.
Don’t get me wrong, the Brisbane ecosystem isn’t about to start competing with Silicon Valley, with London, Berlin or Shanghai any time soon, but what it has, is the feeling of buoyancy, of excitement, of an ecosystem that has reached critical mass, of maturity even. It’s ready to start incubating some world-leading start-ups — I’ve already met at least two of them.
I’ve talked about the physical infrastructure, the business support programs like the QUT CEA Collider Accelerator, the entrepreneurial experience and the Government programs that are all playing their part in making Brisbane’s start-up ecosystem what it is today — a fantastic place to start and grow a business.
But when I think about its defining characteristic, the one aspect of the ecosystem that helps Brisbane to stand apart from everywhere else I’ve been, I’m reminded of a quote from the iconic Quincy Jones.
When asked for his advice for young musicians, he said: “have humility with your creativity and grace with your success”. The entrepreneurs of Brisbane embody this — and it will carry very many of them to great successes, all underpinned, of course, by this vibrant, collaborative and quite fantastic, start-up ecosystem.