Unearthing a new start-up scene out West
Population: 1.69 million
Start-up survival rate: 73.1% (2007 to 2009).
While Western Australia is heavily associated with the mining industry, its state capital is playing host to an increasingly diverse start-up sector.
Despite being the most isolated city in the world, Perth’s proximity to Asia gives it an advantage over other states, with new tech companies and consultancies forming an increasingly key part of its profile.
Perhaps the most well-known start-up success story to come out of Perth is iiNet, founded in 1993 by Michael Malone, who insists it was far easier to start up in a smaller market.
“It’s an isolated environment and an isolated business community as well. It makes it possible for you to set up here,” Malone told StartupSmart.
Filter Squad, formerly known as Jammbox, was founded by Dave McKinney and Stuart Hall in January. Despite its funding success, the company has no intention to relocate.
“We’re pretty happy in Perth actually,” McKinney says.
“We acknowledge that there is a strong culture of investment with start-ups in the Silicon Valley and we don’t have that here. But in another way, it’s good for us to do our own thing.”
That’s not to say Perth-based businesses don’t have their eye on international markets.
In July, Perth-based mobile social networking company MOKO.Mobi acquired US mobile site mbuzzy.com as it attempts to make its mark in the US market.
MOKO.Mobi founder Ian Rodwell says the acquisition will serve as a stepping stone for future deals, not only in the US but in Europe and South East Asia, “to cover that global footprint”.
Another Perth success story is TheBroth, founded in 2005 by Markus Weichselbaum, who worked as a research scientist before founding TheBroth to focus on internet projects.
In 2008, the company relocated its headquarters to San Francisco while still maintaining a strong R&D centre here in Australia.
There’s lots of help on hand for Perth start-ups, from the Centre for Entrepreneurship at Curtin University, to the Centre for Entrepreneurial Management and Innovation.
The City of Perth Small Business Grants are available to all city-based entrepreneurs and small businesses looking at undertaking unique or innovative projects.
Paul Shields, a director of Perth-based boutique mining consultancy Oyster Consulting, says the resources backdrop “gives an earthy, outback tinge” to Perth’s start-up scene, helping it to stand out from the technology-centric cities on the Eastern Seaboard.
“The ready availability of cash [means] starting up in Perth is probably easier than any other location in Australia right now,” Shields says.
“The distance issue with Perth is overrated. Technology means that many start-ups could be located anywhere in Australia.”
“The majority of our initial income was internationally sourced and we found being located in Perth no impediment to this.”
Matthew Macfarlane, co-founder and investment director of Yuuwa Capital, says Perth’s start-up scene has become “substantially more vibrant” in the last couple of years.
“It’s picked up dramatically in the last few years as people have seen that they can do things in Perth you couldn’t do before due to the remoteness,” he says.
“Filter Squad is a great example – they’re available in 93 countries.”
Macfarlane points out that there are five universities in Perth, which churn out a huge number of graduates with degrees in computer science and technology.
And while many of these graduates have their sights set on cities such as Sydney and Melbourne, many older, more experienced entrepreneurs are returning to Perth for lifestyle reasons.
“I would rather back a second or third-time entrepreneur than someone fresh out of university,” Macfarlane says.
Macfarlane says there are plenty of business opportunities related to the mining boom, but he’s more interested in helping start-ups in biotech and life sciences.
“It’s pretty mixed. A lot of start-ups are linked to the mining industry but most do so well they don’t need me,” he says.
Perth’s Silicon Valley
Technology Park in Bentley is Perth’s premier location for technology-driven and innovative organisations, while inner city suburb Subiaco is also gaining a reputation as a start-up hub.
- A huge volume of cash flowing into the state as a result of the mining boom.
- A hotbed for medical research.
- Agribusiness and clean technology are also major growth areas.
- Often perceived as an isolated, slightly backward city.
- Restricted retail trading hours can make it difficult, not to mention frustrating, to do business.
- No incubation hub at present.
- Still overlooked by many Sydney and Melbourne-centric investors.
- No central hub to connect the disparate branches of support for start-ups.
- Filter Squad
StartupSmart will be uncovering the start-up scenes of all of Australia’s capital cities in the coming months to see how they measure up. To see our profile of Adelaide from November, click here.