Victorian government backs out of support for StartCon and funds three diversity-focused conferences instead


The Victorian government says it will no longer be providing support to bring the StartCon conference to Melbourne and will instead be providing funding to three other tech conferences with a particular focus on cultural and gender diversity.

Last year, Victorian minister for innovation Philip Dalidakis announced the SydStart conference, the biggest startup event in Australia, would be coming to Melbourne from this year and be rebranded to StartCon with $1 million in government funding and in-kind marketing.

But earlier this year it was revealed the conference would be staying put in Sydney for 2016 due to prolonged negotiations between StartCon organiser Freelancer and the state government.

Now Dalidakis says the government will no longer be backing the conference.

“We’ve not been able to finalise that deal with [Freelancer CEO] Matt Barrie,” Dalidakis tells StartupSmart.

“I wish him and Freelancer all the best.”

StartupSmart understands that the decision was due to StartCon’s lack of desire to negotiate with the government and to implement diversity metrics for the conference.

The SydStart conference last year was heavily criticised for an all-male first round of speakers, but Barrie says this year’s installment is different.

“We have a huge line-up of female speakers,” Barrie tells StartupSmart.

“It’s not 50-50 – the tech industry isn’t 50-50.”

Barrie says he doesn’t want this to taint this year’s StartCon in Sydney, and that he’s still open to bringing the conference to Melbourne next year.

Instead of StartCon, the Victorian government will now be providing commercial support to Above All Human, PauseFest and the Girls in Tech Catalyst Conference.

“There’s nothing we can do more to support great people doing great things – they are three tremendous conferences,” Dalidakis says.

He says that backing homegrown and international initiatives will boost Victoria’s aim to become a leading innovation hub in the Asia-Pacific, and one that is enriched by diversity and equality.

“That should be celebrated Australia-wide,” he says.

Dalidakis says he has secured an exclusive deal with Girls in Tech to make Melbourne the first place in the southern hemisphere to host the organisation’s conference from next year, and the minister says he’ll be bringing his daughters along.

Above All Human organiser Bronwen Clune and prominent Aussie investor Susan Wu opened the conference this year with a powerful speech calling it “bullshit” that reaching gender equality for tech events was a difficult task.

PauseFest has also made efforts to increase its diversity by bringing in a mix of voices, ideas and activities to the week-long event earlier this year.

Dalidakis says the government support will help to grow these events and the ecosystem as a whole.

“The desire and intent in supporting them is to absolutely grow them, to make sure their reach is greater, their ability to attract people of different backgrounds is greater and to create opportunities for students to attend who couldn’t afford to otherwise,” he says.

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Dinushi Dias is a journalist at StartupSmart and multimedia content producer. When she’s out of the office, she works on social projects with her We Love It Productions family and buddying filmmakers.
  • Thomas

    It’s great one see that Victoria is embracing diversity and tech. If you had just stuck to that it would have been a great article, however, bringing in StartCon adds no value to your story other than obtaining a higher volume of hits on media searches.

    Everyone wants to see a giant fall, however, what we should be doing in tech industry is helping each other and celebrating our successes – not tearing each other down.

    Everyone is working towards a more diverse workforce and leadership team, StartCon included – which also happens to be lead by a woman. And that’s the way it should be; there should be no glass ceiling for anyone of any gender, race or background.

    your article should add value to the reader itself without the aid of name dropping or smearing. Please think of that next time you write anything.

  • Andrew

    Why should conferences be 50/50 anything? Gender, eye colour. Whatever. How about best person for the job or role?

    • George Campbell

  • George Campbell

    This is the real reason why StartCon didn’t make it to Melbourne this year.