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River City Labs launches with pledge to create Brisbane start-up “ecosystem”

Tuesday, 7 February 2012 | By Michelle Hammond

Queensland tech entrepreneur Stephen Baxter is preparing to launch his latest project, a co-working space known as River City Labs, as he attempts to fill a gap for Brisbane tech start-ups.

 

Based in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley, River City Labs is a converted warehouse covering 550 square metres, which hopes to house 70 entrepreneurs in the next 20 months.

 

“It’s a co-working and shared working space. It’s about creating an ecosystem in Brisbane for early stage businesses… The reason I did it is because it doesn’t exist,” Baxter says.

 

Baxter says while the state does play host to a business incubator known as ilab, supported by the Queensland Government, it has left a “foul taste” in the mouths of many Queensland companies.

 

“Most people tend to believe it didn’t hit the mark… There is nothing tailored towards the early stage mobile and internet space, with a healthy program,” he says.

 

While River City Labs will not provide funding to any of the start-ups it accommodates, they will gain access to a host of mentors in addition to office facilities.

 

“It’s an open plan space. They key is the delivery of low-cost services such as internet, boardrooms, desktops, chairs, etc.,” Baxter says.

 

“We also provide a shared experience with other businesses on a similar path so you’re not alone, effectively.”

 

“We’re running regular fortnightly programs, developed by our supporters, as well as weekly events otherwise known as pizza and beers on a Friday.”

 

According to Baxter, there is a “real gap” between long-term incubators such as ilab, and short-term incubators such as Startmate, which “have a short concentration period at the front”.

 

“For most of the investments I have, they would never get up [in such a short timeframe] – it’s potentially too small of a window,” he says.

 

“We might say to someone, ‘You’ve been going at this for 12 months and you still have no customers. Do you think this is working?’ But there’s no fixed timeframe.”

 

Baxter says the role of River City Labs is to “create an environment through a social program”, leaving it up to the start-ups to develop their ideas and secure funding.

 

“We try and stay out of that transaction. River City Labs is a forum – it’s a marketplace,” he says.

 

Baxter himself has set aside up to $10 million for private investments over the next five years.

 

In the last 10 months, he made six investments including start-up cloud provider OrionVM and mobile coffee procurement app developers TXT4Coffee.

 

He has also taken a non-executive directorship in ASX-listed data centre and fibre operator Vocus.

 

“I generally like [to invest in] the mobile technology and internet space. That being said, I am investing in an eclectic mix… including an indoor skydiving venture,” he says.

 

Baxter says the key to securing investment is simple: have a business plan.

 

“You can’t operate without a plan. Have a plan, know your plan and then be prepared for it to change if need be,” he says.