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Sun starts to shine on Brisbane start-ups

Monday, 16 January 2012 | By Michelle Hammond

Population: 2.04 million

 

Start-up survival rate: 72.3% (2007 to 2009)

 

Nestled in the population boom area of south eastern Queensland, Brisbane is Australia’s third most populous city, although it is occasionally overshadowed by its showy neighbour, the Gold Coast.

 

While Queensland is first and foremost a tourist destination, Brisbane is home to a buzzing start-up scene, with a strong IT focus.

 

But like many Australian cities, Brisbane is suffering from a brain drain as innovative companies look to larger markets.

 

Indeed, many of the city’s most successful start-ups depart Brisbane early, such as Kondoot, a live video network founded by University of Queensland graduates Mark Cracknell and Nathan Hoad.

 

 

Launched last year in the United States, following a soft launch in Australia, it was revealed earlier this month that Kondoot is set to close a $3.2 million funding round led by US investors.

 

The company is planning to open a New York office, with the IT team expected to relocate there.

 

Fellow Brisbane start-up We Are Hunted recently struck a partnership deal with online music giant Spotify, which will see its technology rolled out on a global basis.

 

Spotify chose 10 partners to work with on its new App Finder, and We Are Hunted was the only Australian business to make the cut.

 

Co-founder Richard Slatter says the company is considering a relocation, also to the US.

 

“We get 75% of our traffic from the US and it’s challenging to grow the site when we don’t have anyone on the ground there. We will look at having a New York office,” he told StartupSmart.

 

Other up-and-coming Brisbane start-ups include group buying website AdviDeals, which offers daily advertising deals to small and large businesses, and iPhone music app LiveScene.

 

Then there’s Reload Media, a Brisbane-based consultancy specialising in search engine optimisation, internet marketing, online strategy, IT management and usability.

 

Founded in 2006 by Llew Jury, the business is now a leading digital strategy firm, appearing in StartupSmart’s Top 50 in 2011.

 

 

Brisbane is also home to OnTheMenu.com.au, which allows restaurants to post last-minute and unlimited future booking availability, as well as display offers and photos.

 

Another one to watch out for is multimedia website Space Hero, founded by Grey Rogers, who is making a name for himself in commercial property marketing.

 

While new businesses in the Queensland capital may have global ambitions, Brisbane is also home to arguably Australia’s finest university commercialisation centre.

 

UniQuest, located in the inner city of suburb St Lucia, was established by the University of Queensland in 1984. It specialises in global technology transfer and granting access to world-class university expertise, IP and facilities.

 

Since 2000, UniQuest and its start-ups have raised more than $400 million to take university technologies to market and have enjoyed a string of recent successes, such as needle-free vaccine innovation Nanopatch and pain relief product Spinifex.

 

 

There’s no shortage of networking opportunities in the city, including Entrepreneurs Brisbane and Mobile Monday Brisbane. There’s also StartUp Brisbane and OpenCoffee Brisbane.

 

If start-ups are really keen, they can sign up for Brisbane Innovation Camp.

 

Meanwhile, Brisbane City Council has created the Brisbane Innovation Scorecard in partnership with Deloitte, Brisbane Marketing and the University of Queensland Business School.

 

Enterprise Connect is also involved in the initiative, along with the Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation.

 

The objective of the scorecard is to measure innovation within the city’s businesses and its effect on their growth, productivity and the region’s economic prosperity.

 

“Brisbane’s growing reputation for innovation in key knowledge sectors continues to attract vital social and economic benefits to the city,” Brisbane Lord Mayor Graham Quirk says.

 

“From digital technologies to life sciences, aviation to mining technology, food and beverage to logistics and distribution, Brisbane is rapidly proving its worth… at home and internationally.”

 

“Our commercial ties to lucrative global markets, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, continue to flourish.”

 

 

John Mactaggart, chairman of Brisbane Angels, says while Brisbane isn’t as high-profile as Sydney, there is a lot happening in the city as far as start-ups are concerned.

 

“We did eight deals last year, so we’re fairly active. But it’s difficult – a lot of investors up here are more interested in property. It is a little hard to get them motivated in newer areas,” he says.

 

“We don’t brag about the start-up scene here very much… There are some good deals up here – good deal flow. From an investor’s point of view, there are good pickings.”

 

According to Kondoot co-founder Cracknell, Brisbane was an ideal starting ground for his business, with strong IT and business networks that provided ongoing support and advice.

 

“Brisbane has room to grow in many different areas. I feel that places like [online creative community] The Edge really facilitate the initial growth stages well,” he says.

 

“That said, as there is less competition and less generally happening in the IT start-up scene here in Brisbane, there are fewer opportunities for growth in general.”

 

“Many of the talented IT professionals decide to leave and move to the US.”

 

Brisbane’s Silicon Valley

 

The inner city suburbs of Milton and Toowong are the traditional home of ambitious start-ups, and there’s still some activity there, while Eight Mile Plains is known as a biotech hub.

 

However, tech ventures are starting to gravitate towards “trendier” suburbs such as Fortitude Valley, which has a strong IT community.

 

Strengths

  • Small but thriving IT community.
  • Burgeoning biotech industry.
  • Agritech and clean technology are also major growth areas.

Weaknesses

  • Often overshadowed by Sydney and Melbourne.
  • Suffers from a brain drain.
  • Investors are often focused on established industries rather than new ones.
  • State economy is still recovering from 2011 floods and Cyclone Yasi.

Notable start-ups

 

Kondoot

We Are Hunted

Reload Media

 

This is the third of StartupSmart’s city’s profiles. To read how Adelaide’s start-up scene compares, click here, or for Perth, click here.

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