Aussie startup scene needs more commitment and less conversation

There’s a difference between interest and commitment, said Bill Bartee, co-founder of venture capital firm Blackbird Ventures. “If we’re really going to succeed, there has to be a real, real commitment”

By Ariel Bogle (for Mashable)

The Australian startup scene is in good shape, but it needs less chatting and more doing.

That was the message from a panel of some of Australia’s top startup and business leaders Thursday. The discussion, held in Sydney as part of the CSIRO’s accelerator program aimed at commercialising technology and science, touched on whether the Australian government’s innovation rhetoric is becoming reality.

It’s great the conversation around improving funding and tax incentives for startups has started to ramp up here, but it’s not enough, suggested Geoff Culbert, CEO of GE Australia and New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. “You have to take the next step. You have to move from conversation to action,” he said.

There’s a difference between interest and commitment, agreed Bill Bartee, co-founder of venture capital firm Blackbird Ventures. “If we’re really going to succeed, there has to be a real, real commitment,” he said. “I’d encourage everyone to understand the difference between interest and commitment. It’s vast.”

Enough money

Often people blame the small amount of money on the table in Australia to fund prospective startups for the gap between innovation rhetoric and reality. Not so, according to Andrew Stead, director of strategic initiatives at IAG Customer Labs.

“If you have too much, you end up funding bad deals. In the U.S. last year, the valuations were getting outrageous,” he said. “Too much capital means too much noise in the market. It’s better to have more deals, I think, than money.”

“There’s often this complaint there’s not enough money in Australia,” Bartee added. “The reality is, the really good deals actually find money because they’re great ideas. They find it here, or they do it somewhere else.”

Nevertheless, he does think Australia could use a touch more capital. “I’m happy to see the CSIRO and the corporate-side get their funds together,” he said. “One of the problems when you’re a venture investor is oftentimes you want to syndicate the investment. Often because you want to spread the risk, but also to double or triple the contact base that can be used by the company.”

Stead also welcomed the increase in corporate activity in the space. Fintech startups, for example, can now get in touch with finance-focused industry funds like NAB Ventures, among others. “There’s an opportunity there to get money from people who have a strategic alignment,” he added. “That’s sometimes really valuable: Money, and some kind of strategic fit.”

What to invest in

The panel agreed Australia should identify its strengths and play to them. There is a tendency to gravitate towards the consumer market in Australia, Culbert suggested, but it’s the small breakthroughs in technology for sectors like mining, agribusiness, fintech or healthcare that are going to generate real economic growth.

“These are places where technology opportunity is really ripe,” he said. “It’s kind of fun to invent a consumer app that puts a watermelon on the head of a cat, but that’s not going to drive real wealth in the Australian economy.”

For his part, Culbert is excited about opportunities in the emerging “industrial Internet” — matching the mechanical with the digital. Take, for example, a project putting sensors on Qantas’ plane engines: “On a flight between Sydney and [Los Angeles, we get a terabyte of data off that machine, but historically we haven’t known what to do with it,” he said. “Now we can analyse that information and help an airline like Qantas run their engines more efficiently.”

After all the hype though, could we be approaching startup saturation point? Not at all, Bartee said. “Are there too many startups? No. It this great that we’re having this conversation? Yes. But let’s … go from conversation to action.”

This article was originally published here.

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