Five Aussie-led start-ups making their mark overseas
By Oliver Milman
One of the big advantages of the increasing ubiquity of technology in start-up businesses is that national borders have become less of a barrier for them.
New businesses can start selling instantly to international customers thanks to the internet. Some are going further and decamping from Australia to try their luck overseas.
This trend could be set to accelerate with developments this week such as the push for a new visa for arrivals to the US to start-up and a plan by the European Union to encourage entrepreneurs to raise finance and launch businesses in the 27-nation member bloc.
Several Aussie start-ups are looking to make it big overseas. We’ve picked out five to keep an eye on:
ScriptRock, which offers an automated way for businesses to test their systems, was one of four NSW businesses chosen in April to join Startup House, an entrepreneurial incubator in San Francisco.
This was swiftly followed by the landmark announcement of a $1.2 million investment in the business by Peter Thiel, marking the first time that the PayPal co-founder has backed an Aussie venture.
ScriptRock is now looking to make a serious mark on Silicon Valley, and beyond. And a key ingredient, according to co-founder Michael Baukes, is good old-fashioned Australian honesty.
“Being honest is so underrated. A lot of people have this propensity [to exaggerate]. Seeing an Australian guy pitch and then seeing a US guy pitch, they’re so different,” he says.
“With the Australian guy, you know he’d always tell it like it is. Being honest, having a great product and telling the truth about what you think – being really candid about it – is important.”
2. blu eCigs
Australian-born entrepreneur Jason Healy has been on something of a global business journey, setting up a basketball gear manufacturer in China before heading to the US to concentrate on the slightly surreal area of electronic cigarettes.
Healy launched blu eCigs in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 2008. The business’ product is a battery powered electronic cigarette that mimics the look and feel of real cigarettes and delivers vaporised nicotine to users.
This market remains a controversial one for many people, but it didn’t prevent Healy’s business pulling in $30 million revenue last year. This success prompted tobacco giant Lorillard to spend $135 million acquiring blu eCigs earlier this year.
Healy clearly wasn’t content with the mere innovation of blue glowing electronic cigarettes. He’s taken it a step further by incorporating social networking – each pack can indicate where there are other electronic smokers nearby.
"More and more smokers are becoming lepers," Healy told FastCompany. "We're not just selling electronic cigarettes – we're selling freedom."
3. Barefoot Power
Some people would probably put Barefoot Power on the different end of the moral spectrum to Blu Cig, but it’s clear that both businesses are impressive, albeit for very different reasons.
Barefoot Power manufactures and distributes solar phone charging, lighting products and business development services to people in less developed countries.
The enterprise is targeting the $10 billion kerosene energy market, claiming that the fuel – widely used in the developing world – is expensive, inefficient and has terrible health impacts.
Barefoot Power-designed solar chargers and lighting are distributed by partners on the ground in various African and Asian countries.
Not only does the Sydney-founded business have most of its resources overseas, it has also secured funding from a foreign source, closing a $5.8 million round in July with a group of backers.
Stewart Craine told StartupSmart last year that is still a long way behind with regard to social entrepreneurship.
“It’s a shame. We’re an island – Africa is a distant concept and PNG is an uninvestable country,” he said.
“Companies don’t have a strong enough imagination to change the world. If you have to battle with philosophies before getting the money, it’s very difficult.”
“It’s very hard to find the funding in Australia. All the government programs are very expat-focused.”
Wanting to launch a business based on the sharemarket, Aussie entrepreneur Michael Giles did the obvious thing – he moved to New York, the home of global finance.
Giles’ venture, Roboinvest, allows people to follow the decisions of top sharemarket investors and match their moves.
“Roboinvest is a social investing platform that allows you to "look over the shoulder" of top investors in real time,” Giles explains.
“We allow these top investors called “leaders” to accept followers who pay to see what they are investing in.”
Giles bootstrapped the company from its creation in September 2010 in Australia to July 2011 when it switched to a US corporation. He now regularly blogs for StartupSmart about his exploits in the Big Apple.
5. Wyngle (or is that Wynbox.com?)
What’s in a name? Well, quite a lot, if you take the example of Sydney start-up Wyngle.com.au.
The business, which offers so-called “ratio” buying to online shoppers, has big hopes of cracking the US market but faced an unlikely roadblock.
Unfortunately, the company’s name sounded a little too much like “wangle” – a big turn off for US consumers. Therefore, the name was changed to Wynbox.com for the American market.
“We did a lot of user resting, and spoke to friends and family. ‘Wyngle’ was too close to words that have a negative connotation, so it was a fairly easy decision for us [to change it],”co-founder Sebastian Langton told StartupSmart in May.
After securing funding from Sydney Angels and Green Lane Digital, Wyngle is now looking to secure further investment in Silicon Valley.
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