Creatives + coders = massive startup opportunity? The emerging startup power industry

Innovation experts and incubators are tipping creative sector startups as the next big thing, and are calling for Australians and investors to back them.


Nowhere is this rise of art and tech fusion clearer than in Queensland, where Brisbane is home to Australia’s first creative startup fund and the Gold Coast to incubator Silicon Lakes, which is running a creative industries themed Startup Weekend this week.


A Startup Weekend is a three-day event to turn ideas pitched on the Friday night into new businesses by the end of Sunday.


Cofounder Greg Burnett told StartupSmart this will be Australia’s first creative industries focused hackathon-style event.


“Our feeling is the creative and tech industries do go hand in hand. Both are strong industries here but there hasn’t been much collaboration yet,” Burnett says. “We want to help creatives go from hobbyist to business owner and grower.”


He adds some of Australia’s biggest startup success stories are essentially creative startups, such as design crowdsourcing platform 99designs and art marketplace Red Bubble.


Australia’s only creative industry focused incubator, Brisbane-based Creative Enterprise Australia launched several years ago.


CEA chief executive Anna Rooke told StartupSmart there has been a rapid rise in both interest and success of creative startups since then.


“There are a combination of factors that make this the really exciting sector at the moment including a phenomenal amount of investment worldwide from universities, governments and venture funds,” Rooke says. “We’ve been working really hard to show there is a clear path to market for creatives that goes beyond hobby businesses.”


The success of startups such as 99designs, music app We Are Hunted and games development Half Brick Studios have had an almost evangelistic impact on the creative and startup communities.


The escalating interest and growing talent base enabled CEA to launch a $1.2 million fund late last year.


Over 200 startups have applied so far. CEA announced their first investment, in visual search engine for trademarks startup See-Out, last week.


“We wanted to highlight at startup that had thought about the international scalability from day one, so that creative ventures could see that was what we’re looking for, and that global goals are possible for creative startups,” Rooke says.


Rooke is confident the creative industry will continue to thrive over the coming years as Australia has both the talent and startup incubators and accelerators to support it now.


But for any startup ecosystem to take off, there also needs to be enough capital available to fund high-growth early stage companies.


At a startup investors event in Sydney in August, startup mentor Hamish Hawthorn tipped creative startups as the best industry to back in the coming years.


“Some of the most brilliant people around are in the creative arts and industries. When you combine that with tech to get the ability to scale, you’ll get a boom and they’ll be off.”


Hawthorn is also the director of accelerator program ATP Innovations. They recently ran an evening workshop to equip creative startup founders with the professional skills they need to turn their great ideas into profitable businesses.


At the time, Hawthorn told StartupSmart creative entrepreneurs face subtly different challenges to the wider start-up scene, especially around raising capital.


“Often creative entrepreneurs are focused on the essence of their ideas, but investors want to invest in the business on top of being attracted to the essence,” he says. “You need to speak in the language of the investors and be able to articulate the value proposition so an investor can latch onto it.”


The Australian creative industries sector employs more people than the mining sector and contributes $35 billion to GDP every year.


Several years ago, the UK government launched a series of policies targeted at supporting startups to boost the creative sectors, which are now estimated to bring in 20 million pounds an hour.


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