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Brisbane's booming tech start-up scene ready to stand with Sydney and Melbourne

Wednesday, 11 September 2013 | By Rose Powell

The Brisbane start-up scene is beginning to take off, as a range of organisations and government departments begin to gather together the increasingly active and diverse start-ups.


With co-working space RiverCity Labs thriving, and a new $12 million fund for creative start-ups launched by Brisbane-based Creative Enterprises Australia in July, Brisbane’s start-up ecosystem has never been stronger.


CEA’s chief executive Anna Rooke told StartupSmart that creative industry start-ups were thriving.


“There is a real level of optimism in the start-up scene,” Rooke says.


“The tech scene is really strong. Brisbane has had a really strong games industry historically so there are a lot of skills and talents and expertise, but we’re seeing real growth in the screen, design, fashion and music scenes as well.”


Rooke says the Brisbane start-up scene is just getting started, and looking to other strong start-up cities for synergies.


“Brisbane is trying to define their own identity and we need to be focused on the international stage, not with other cities. We’ve got to all work together and support each other’s ecosystems and look for synergies between businesses in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. It’s all about getting great traction for Australian start-ups on a global scale,” Rooke says.


After the high-profile sale of We Are Hunted to Twitter Music, and with Brisbane-based start-up Ollo Mobile regularly winning awards and pitching competitions, the start-up sector is grabbing Australia, and the wider world’s, attention.


Chris Kettle is the founder of meal-deal app Hungry Hero, which recently passed 125,000 downloads and is in six cities. He coordinates the Mobile Monday tech meet-ups in Brisbane.


Kettle told StartupSmart the ecosystem had definitely found its feet.


“We’ve got co-working spaces, we’ve got companies who are going overseas, Brisbane companies are starting to get funded which is fantastic. You can now have a global business that is headquartered in Brisbane, and we’ll see more of those,” Kettle says.


He says the only missing ingredient in the Brisbane start-up scene is adequate access to funding, but that was evolving slowly also.


“Funding is the thing that is holding everyone back, but things like RiverPitch are beginning to happen. There are more companies that need to be funded,” Kettle says.


He adds Brisbane, as a small but growing city, was a great test market for apps.


“It’s a small enough city to know people but big enough to be able to get a local app up with lots of customers. Whereas if we were in London, or in Sydney, it would be so much harder,” Kettle says. “Once you expand beyond Brisbane, reaching the rest of Australia is good practice for going global as you’re working over multiple time zones and great distances.”


Sarina Quinlan, digital marketing entrepreneur and start-up mentor, told StartupSmart the start-up scene was building momentum quickly.


“It’s really alive and buzzing with technology. Our events are filling up, and more people are getting out there and interested,” Quinlan says. “It’s going to keep moving faster. We’ve got traction, and we’re really getting momentum now.”


Quinlan adds successful start-ups such as Hungry Hero, Swipe Ads and Perch are raising the profile of the tech scene in Brisbane.


“The quality of the tech start-ups coming through is going up, but also the support has been getting bigger and better too,” Quinlan says.


There has also been a range of government support, including the Queensland Premier’s Open Data Awards. Just this week, five start-ups were named as being in the running for “ANZ Made in Brisbane Award for High-Growth Business Start-up” in the city council backed Brisbane Marketing awards.


The start-ups are Expo News, HSK Instruments, Liquid State, RedEye Drafting, and Veilability.


Lord Mayor Graham Quirk said in a statement: “It’s very exciting to see such talent in our city and especially in the digital realm. The Brisbane Marketing-led Digital Brisbane Strategy encourages exactly this kind of entrepreneurial and innovative approach to business.”