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Happy Startup Spring Festival! What we’re celebrating and what’s next for the Australian start-up community

Friday, 20 September 2013 | By Rose Powell

The Australian start-up community is one week into a three-week celebration and outreach festival, Startup Spring, with over 100 events taking place across the country.


The communities in Sydney and Melbourne continue to thrive, with younger ecosystems in Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Canberra and Tasmania taking off.


StartupSmart spoke to a range of community leaders to find out what they were celebrating, and how the national start-up ecosystem could keep moving forwards.


Kim Heras, investor and founder of start-up community PushStart told StartupSmart the ecosystem had seen a lot of positive change in the last few years.


“Everything from education, to the number of people starting up, to the amount of investment available and successful businesses built has increased in scale. Dramatically,” Heras says.


“I've often said that the strength of a start-up ecosystem is the number of people who can make a living off it and we're seeing more and more people fit into that category.”


Heras says the start-up community needs to focus on transforming its rapid growth into a sustainable ecosystem.


“That involves short-term things like keeping the number of start-ups growing, getting more investment dollars into start-ups and getting more people making a living in the tech start-up industry,” Heras says, adding this will include education reform and policy changes, especially to make innovation and the tech start-up industry a priority.


“We're competing with a flood of nations who are all positioning themselves to be global innovation hubs, but I honestly think we have a shot of making it happen,” Heras says.


Laura McKenzie, co-founder of angel investor network Scale, told StartupSmart the increasingly close collaboration between different parts of the ecosystem was worth celebrating.


"It's exciting to see an increasing amount of visible collaborations within the Australian investor and incubator/accelerator community - whether it be co-hosting events, co-investing in deals or convening to understand how we can best grow the ecosystem together," McKenzie says.


She adds the team at Scale has been thrilled by the range of excellent female entrepreneurs in Australia, and says the ecosystem can and will do more to support women entrepreneurs.


Orsi Parkanyi, founder and coordinator of national Women as Entrepreneurs network told StartupSmart the community needed to focus on raising awareness in the wider community both during the festival and in the coming years.


“We need to make the words "start-up" and "entrepreneurship” household words. I wish to hear more and be able to use these words in mainstream media and wish that everyone in Australia knows what these words mean. We are yet to achieve this,” Parkanyi says.


Parkanyi adds political pressure is still needed for the community to get the results they need.


“Although recently there have been many heated discussions on the importance of small business in our economy, unfortunately there has been very little attention paid to the importance of entrepreneurship and start-ups in our future economy. I wish to see more discussions and more support from political parties in the space,” Parkanyi says.


Phil Morle, founder and chief executive at Sydney incubator Pollenizer, told StartupSmart the Startup Spring Festival was a sign the ecosystem was maturing.


“It has become quite large and is starting to demonstrate wins but it is still fragmented and invisible in places. Now is the time for the community to work together for deeper impact,” Morle says.


He adds that the start-up community is getting stronger, and increasingly adept at self-organising.


“People are working together to look at the fabric of the ecosystem to see where we are strong and where we are weak. This is happening in each city. While Melbourne and Sydney have a bit of a head start, communities in Brisbane and Perth are surging.”


Claire Robertson, co-coordinator of the Perth chapter of the Founder Institute accelerator program says Sydney and Melbourne’s increasing international recognition was stimulating a healthy competitive desire for the rapidly growing Perth community to be counted.


“The number of people interested in and participating in tech start-ups has seen a sharp increase in Perth,” Robertson says. “This change was initially catalysed by the opening of SpaceCubed and a rise in the number of events in the city such as Startup Weekends and meet-ups.”


She adds that Perth, and Australia more broadly, still needs to address some of the funding gaps holding start-ups back.