The rise of Queensland’s tech start-up scene

feature-queensland-thumbMuch has been made of Sydney’s tech start-up scene, particularly by the NSW Government, which is seemingly determined to promote Sydney as Australia’s version of Silicon Valley.


But venture north across the border, and Queensland is quietly making a name for itself as a technology hub. This is evident in the many developments coming out of UniQuest.


Established by the University of Queensland in 1984, UniQuest is widely recognised as one of Australia’s largest and most successful university commercialisation groups.


With an intellectual property portfolio of more than 1,500 patents, it has created more than 70 companies.


Since 2000, UniQuest and its start-ups have raised more than $450 million to take university technologies to market, while annual sales of products using UQ technology and licensed by UniQuest run at $3 billion.


In February, a start-up formed by UniQuest was named a finalist in the $US200,000 Imagine H20 prize.


It went on to win the Pre-Revenue Track award, receiving cash and in-kind services.


The start-up, Bilexys, saw an opportunity to biologically convert the organics within wastewater into high-value chemical products, including sodium hydroxide and hydrogen peroxide.


Chemicals produced by the Bilexys method are potentially less expensive and have a lower carbon footprint relative to traditional chemical manufacturing techniques.


In June, UniQuest negotiated an agreement for UQ-start-up Q-Sera, which wants to develop technology for producing a serum based on the blood-clotting properties of snake venom.


In the same month, UniQuest facilitated an R&D contract with a US biotech company on behalf of a UQ associate professor, and saw another of its start-ups secure $1.4 million in funding.


It should come as no surprise to hear UniQuest managing director David Henderson say UniQuest is in the midst of a growth phase.


“We’ve created something like 70 start-ups since 2000. The average is five to six a year,” Henderson says.


“There are a few players around now who have got a bit of money… The normal ones are Uniseed, MRCF [Medical Research Commercialisation Fund] and there’s been a couple of new players like OneVentures.”


“We’re also seeing interest from overseas as well, both from traditional investors and also strategic investors.”


According to Henderson, the main area of growth is the life sciences, although new materials – namely nanotechnology – is also emerging as a promising category.


Mark Cracknell, co-founder of Brisbane-based live video network Kondoot, agrees Queensland has seen great technological growth over the past few years, particularly in the electronic games sector.


“We’ve seen many start-ups grow into successful companies,” Cracknell says.


“A prime example of this growth is Halfbrick Studios, a Brisbane-based company that has grown to be one of the most popular iPhone game developers in the world.”


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