Smart strategies and good returns: how VC in Australia can reach ‘critical mass’

Australians do not shy away from taking risks and government support is not necessarily the best way forward for the future of venture capital, according to local startup investors.


Sebastien Eckersley-Maslin, founder and chief executive of BlueChilli, told StartupSmart the myth that Australia is averse to risk is “easy to bust”.


“We’re the only economy in the world with a horse race ‘that stops the nation’ risking more on that race online each year than Australia’s venture capital industry has been able to invest in the past five years,” he says.


“The agricultural and mining industries we’re overly dependent upon are fraught with risk from fluctuating global commodity prices entirely out of our control, to insurance risk and the growing influence of climate change.”


Eckersley-Maslin says perhaps the reason why Australians are seen to be risk-averse when it comes to technology is because we understand it less than sectors such as farming and mining.


“Yet since the collapse in iron and coal prices our small tech stocks have been outperforming junior mining stocks,” he says.


“A rational investor would be piling onto Australian tech venture capital right now, seeing the listed tech startups performing so well.”


The way forward for VC funding in Australia


Dr Elaine Stead, investment director at Blue Sky Venture Capital, told StartupSmart she is of the view that Australia will eventually see a “critical mass” in venture capital like markets such as the United States.


“I don’t think government support is the answer – I think the only way through is for fund managers to develop their own strategy, execute well and develop a track record,” she says.


“I think having access to people with expertise and experience is one of the critical challenges Australian funds struggle with. While we have a great pool of talent in Australia, fund managers are blinkered if they are not developing partnerships with other funds both in Australia and internationally where they can leverage often decades of experience, expertise and networks to give their investee companies the best chance to become Unicorns and to generate the best returns for their investors.”


Rick Baker, managing director of Blackbird Ventures, agrees.


“This is not about government mandate or more concessions, it’s about returns,” he says.


“We already have three wonderful schemes which help startups and venture capital in this country – the R&D tax credit, the EIP and the ESVCLP schemes.  Apart from continuing to support these, the best thing the government can do is make sure it’s not creating regulations which have side effects that damage startups, for example employee options and superannuation disclosure.”


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