How Sydney will become the new Silicon Valley

A who’s-who of the Australian tech and  start-up scene have ploughed money into a new industry group that aims to mentor fast growing tech companies and lobby for changes they say can make Sydney a leading global tech centre.

The group to be known as TechSydney has been founded by serial entrepreneurs Dean McEvoy, Mick Liubinskas, Kim Heras, Riley Batchelor and Gen George, in a bid to address problems that have seen Sydney fall behind other global cities in terms of start-up ecosystem rankings.

The group will be signing up members from technology companies of all sizes, including start-ups and the local operations of fast growing and established global technology players.

It will operate as a not-for-profit and has been backed by companies including Atlassian, Tyro, Canva, SAP, Airbnb, Prospa, LinkedIn, Airtree Ventures, Reinventure, Blackbird Ventures and over 30 other funded start-ups.

Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes, TechSydney boss Dean McEvoy and StartupAus CEO Alex McCauley at the launch of ...
Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes, TechSydney boss Dean McEvoy and StartupAus CEO Alex McCauley at the launch of TechSydney.

Mr McEvoy, who is best known as the founder of group buying website Spreets, will be TechSydney’s chief executive officer. He said the group had been concerned by the annual 2015 Compass start-up ecosystem rankings, which saw Sydney falling to 16th place against global peers.   

He told The Australian Financial Review that he and peers in the tech community felt that, despite the increasingly positive rhetoric from government, more needed to be done to create a world leading tech centre in Sydney.

Talent and a home

It will focus on numerous issues, with immediate concerns being the need to attract a lot more highly skilled workers from overseas, and a perceived need to create a physical precinct as a Silicon Valley-style focus for tech firms.

“Government is happily more interested in this area now, but they are not entrepreneurial as their method of implementing policy is to look at what’s happening overseas and identify best practice and try to copy it,” Mr McEvoy said

TechSydney is backed by a who's who of the Australian tech scene.
Front Karen Doherty, (UTS,), Sam McDonagh (AirBnB,), ...
TechSydney is backed by a who’s who of the Australian tech scene. Front Karen Doherty, (UTS,), Sam McDonagh (AirBnB,), Riley Batchelor (Tidy Me,) Dean McEvoy (TechSydney,) Craig Blair (Airtree Ventures,) Brent Harman (Atlassian,) Middle Cameron Adams (Canva,) Greg Moshal (Prospa,) Niki Scevak (Blackbird Ventures,) Mick Liubinskas (Muru-d,) Danny Gilligan (Reinventure,) Adam Rigby (Nabo,) Nick O’Donnell (LinkedIn,) Alex McCauley {StartupAUS.) Back Dean Jones (GlamCorner,) Alex Baker (Criteo,) Kim Heras (25Fifteen,) John Ruthven (SAP,) Mike Cannon-Brookes (Atlassian,) Matt Symons (SocietyOne,) Andrew Rothwell (Tyro,) Rob Regan (Kaplan.) Supplied

“But if all we do is follow what is going on in Tel Aviv and New York and London then we will always be two or three years behind them at best.”

Mr McEvoy said the idea behind TechSydney is that nobody knows better about the challenges of building and managing fast growing companies than entrepreneurs, so it will look to be a strong lobbying presence as well as providing mentoring services to member companies.

One such backer is co-founder of Nasdaq-listed Atlassian Mike Cannon-Brookes, who unsuccessfully sought to acquire the Australian Technology Park in Redfern, Sydney with a view to establishing it as a tech hub. 

Attracting skills

The 2015 annual Compass startup ecosystem rankings saw Sydney falling against global peers.
The 2015 annual Compass startup ecosystem rankings saw Sydney falling against global peers. Compass

He said he had initially been against the idea of the formation of a new lobby group, but had been convinced it was necessary if Sydney was to push itself back into the top ten global locations for tech firms.

He said there was lots of evidence that suggested that density of companies in close proximity was helpful for a tech community looking to grow quickly.

“You are never going to get everyone to move into the same building, but you can certainly have a gravity towards a certain area of the city,” Mr Cannon-Brookes said. 

“I had a mate from overseas running a unicorn business and asked me where in Sydney he should setup and there were really six or seven different options … we need start-ups and overseas players like Dropbox, Uber and Airbnb together,  because they have the same set of issues and all hire lots of staff.”        

Co-founder and managing partner of Sydney-based tech venture capital firm Airtree Ventures Craig Blair said that, while it had no urban bias in terms of backing companies from other Australian cities, his firm was backing TechSydney as it recognised that a deeper pool of concentrated tech talent was needed to breed more viable global companies. 

“Sydney needs a more vibrant technology ecosystem if it is to navigate the disruptive forces facing most industries and continue as a top place to live in the world,” Mr Blair said.

He said he was encouraged by the people involved in TechSydney, that it would avoid the pitfall of becoming the latest in a long line of lobby groups asking for government assistance.

He said he believed the organisation could help make necessary changes, such as attracting skilled workers from around the world and initially championing the creation of a central tech precinct.  

“Too often lobby groups are descending into cries for help which are often self motivated. TechSydney is a group financed and run by leading tech companies in Sydney with a very pragmatic set of agenda items,” he said.

Local tensions

Mr McEvoy said he wasn’t worried about his organisation upsetting the vibrant start-up communities in Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane, saying healthy competition was good for companies.

Mr Cannon-Brookes has previously upset Melbournites by suggesting that Australia should focus its attentions on making Sydney a global tech powerhouse. However he said the domestic rivalry was irrelevant in the global context.

“This isn’t an exclusive thing if they want to start a Tech Melbourne or a Tech Perth and there was a lot more energy going into making their city great, then I would think that would be excellent,” he said.

“But Sydney is not going to get into the top ten cities in the world for technology by beating Melbourne, we are already  ahead of them in the rankings and it’s not going to go to get us from 16 to ten.”  

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