State of Startups Speech

On 5th December StartupWA hosted the ‘State of Startups’ event, a review of the startup ecosystem in Western Australia for 2017.

You can read the full event report on the StartupWA blog, and below is the script of the prepared speech I gave as Chairperson leading into the panel discussion.

StartupWA’s Vision is that WA is an internationally attractive location for growing innovations that have global impact. Our Mission is create the local foundations to enable global success for the ventures of tomorrow. Our values are:Trusted . Driven . Open.

To realise those aspirations we facilitate events like these that have progressed significant issues with, this year, more than 700 attendees at events. Events like this, surveys innumerable phone calls, chats and one-on-one meetings are what drives our Advocacy to government through very frequent meetings and calls with Ministers, advisers and bureaucrats.

Because we have limited resources, we are focused on creating opportunities for community, industry and government to collaborate. Policy development is actually really exciting and important, not only government policy, but guidelines for the industry itself.

Our new alliance model is a critical component of this: developing formal partnerships with spaces, networks and programs across the ecosystem. As affiliates we can have stronger representation, clearer communication, better data collection and aggregation and even more effective advocacy for our sector, and to benefit all West Australians.

Statistics

You’ve heard other interesting statistics, and since our 2015-16 report there have been changes. While TechBoard are tracking 667 startups, only a third of that number participated in StartupMuster survey. Based on our own estimates 2017 comparisons to 2015 are
  • 1 x Incubators and accelerators – similar numbers with increased quality and quantity of ventures,
  • 2 x Coworking spaces – and, some of those have double or tripled in size,
  • 2 x Growth in early stage activities – networks, accelerators and hackathons,
  • Up to 50,000 people are now members of 150+ different groups and meetups.

Narrative

We heard from Techboard about the $400 million raised. This is another graph about hundreds of millions invested, but from another context. Rather than Silicon Valley, I though to look closer to home – at mining exploration, millions of dollars in exploration. We are talking about new industries, so perhaps we can learn from some slightly older.
Wave of Investment
The landscape of our state is enormous, it’s beautiful, and what we export (like steel) has enabled global economic growth and development, however it is limited, the resources non-renewable, it’s been at great cost, including to the environment. The digital landscape is the equivalent in some ways, however unlimited in expanse and potential for future development, we do the value-add here,rather than shipping low value bulk commodities overseas, and perhaps without equivalent the ecological impact.

Coworking spaces are the ports, accelerators the processing facilities, NBN the rail lines, data scientists are the geo scientists, entrepreneurs are the exploitation geologists. And, with our industry is so young and emergent, the ecosystem, the culture, is what we are all growing.

Like a child it’s what every act you contribute: mentoring, volunteering, investing is growing.

Which brings me to this mapping, statistics and reporting. If it were your child, wouldn’t you want to know how it’s growing?

I do find it a little fascinating in WA that we are happy to map rocks that haven’t moved in a billion years for the Geological Survey of WA, and spend billions on stars whose light emissions are all that’s left of them through the SKA.

Yet what we are talking about here, and advocating for is mapping our own creative expression and industry development. It’s not just a matter for our industry, where (by definition) most of the ventures don’t have any money. Innovation, startups and the ‘rockstars’ of our local scene are growing the industries that will employ our children, so isn’t that of public interest?

Further, isn’t it necessary to develop our brand for attracting talent? As Scott Farquhar from Atlassian has said in the StartupAus report there is a “Global gold rush for talent” for people, people aren’t just jobs, they are humans who need nice places to live. Isn’t WA just the best place to live on earth? I think it’s incredibly interesting and that our attitude to startups and innovation is not separate from our vision for the state – it is our aspiration.

With that in mind it was a little disappointing the other day to receive feedback from someone in government suggesting that they didn’t think it wasn’t important (i.e. worth working with our other partners) to contribute to ecosystem mapping for at least another few years, because not much has changed. Those and others things could be taken as disappointing or challenging, or also just the reality of a resource-constrained government. But, like for City of Perth who have contributed to previous reports and ‘get it’, couldn’t that be a great ROI for WA?

There’s something about that which I won’t attribute to them, but as a general comment, and I think this view from our highest mountain – Mt Meharry – is illustrative. Rather than aspire to live in Silicon Valley or have that as our aspiration, I’d rather live here, frankly, this can be our Mountain View.

2017-01-13 19.04.50
2017-01-13 19.05.26
Anyway, it’s near Karajini, surrounded by mines and rail lines. These photos were taken at the same time – a split panorama. The sun is setting, but it could be rising, the storm and rain is coming and your may be fearful or excited. It is the same with our future.

My point is that there are some industries that are growing and some that are emerging, whether we benefit or suffer from this moment (and it is THIS moment) depends on our perspective.

So, what is our orientation to the future and to each other?

Invitation

We can all, individually and as a collective, begin to realise the vision for our ventures, industry and state directly, immediately. For example:
  1. If you want a stronger ecosystem – contribute to it! Get involved, attend, volunteer and collaborate to make it better.
  2. If you want to see more WA innovations that have a global impact – grow one! There are more than enough examples of WA companies getting incredible traction with global ambition. Is yours one of them? Make it, now.
  3. If you want WA to be an internationally attractive location to live – enjoy it! WA is awesome, generally, so let’s make the most of it and look after it.

It’s up to us – yes, StartupWA, but also you – to take seriously our role in growing new industries and creating the local conditions, enabling global success, for our current ventures and those of tomorrow.

Future generations of Western Australian’s won’t care who led, who followed, who was right. They will just know if they have an interesting job in a WA-owned business in an awesome industry in an amazing state.

Creating that reality, really, is up to all of us.

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