It’s a warm and breezy Thursday evening, and a crowd is gathering around Sydney Town Hall. Already resplendent with Jacarandas in bloom, the building is decked out with a red carpet leading people through a huge red ‘A’.
There’s a maze of dressing rooms and corridors backstage, and around every corner there’s a founder with their head in a laptop, concentrating, headphones on, or pacing and muttering as they squeeze in last-minute pitching practice.
On stage, in front of 900 empty chairs, there are three more newly capped chief executives, each rolling through their well-practiced spiel. Among them, Antler Australia chief Bede Moore practices his jog onto stage and his opening lines of the night.
Our StartupSmart team has been meeting with these founders throughout the week leading up to the Demo Day, and as we pass them in the halls or run into them setting up their exhibition stands, they wave, hug and greet us with smiles.
They’re nervous, understandably. But the atmosphere is overall electric. There’s excitement and anticipation in the air.
As the room starts to fill up with startup folk — VCs, angels and curious observers alike — we also see friends and family members of all the founders, and of Antler staff, arrive. Seats fill up fast, and the team has to bring in extra chairs to accommodate the overflow.
And then, after an intro from Moore, and a moving welcome to the country from Auntie Norma Ingram, we’re off.
— StartupSmart (@startupsmart) November 7, 2019
This is the first ever Demo Day for the Antler startup generator program in Australia. Having already run programs in Singapore and Stockholm, co-founder and chief Magnus Grimeland rolled out the blueprint in Australia (and simultaneously in London and Amsterdam) in March this year.
Applicants don’t necessarily have to have a co-founder and experience, or even a startup idea. Rather, successful participants are invited to collaborate and build, sharing knowledge and expertise to create a business with global potential.
The 12 most promising ventures nab $100,000 apiece, and after four months of perfecting their product and their pitches, these are the founders who will share their startup with the world. The goal is to then grab the attention of some of Australia’s most prominent investors.
Speaking to StartupSmart ahead of the event, Grimeland said this kind of exhibition event gives Antler’s startups the opportunity to reach a broad spectrum of the community in one fell swoop.
At the same time, it’s a showcase.
“It’s also a testament to them having done an incredible job over six months. It’s a celebration of what they have achieved,” he says.
Grimeland himself has always been fascinated by “what great individuals and exceptional people can do if they put their minds towards doing it”.
He has seen founders build global platforms; he and Moore were at Harvard at the time Facebook was born.
“There are exceptional people everywhere,” he says.
“But not everyone jumps on that opportunity, or not everyone has access to the network that is necessary to scale that skill set into a truly global impactful company.”
Antler was conceived to solve that very problem. This year it’s already seen 120 companies launched around the world. Over the next three to four years, Grimeland predicts 150 coming out of Australia alone.
“That impact will be seen in terms of thousands of jobs,” he says.
“And some of our portfolio companies are solving very important problems.”
The focus is on companies that have big, global ambitions. And that’s especially true for the Aussie cohort.
“In smaller countries like Australia, you need to have that global mindset from day one,” Grimeland says.
With founders hailing from the UK, the US, Italy, India, France and the Philippines, this year’s cohort has that side of things pretty much covered.
But there are big benefits to being Australia-based, Grimeland explains.
Here, we have the combination of “incredibly hardworking and smart talent” with a culture that is easily adaptable across large parts of the world.
Of course, Australia has a natural affinity with other English-speaking countries, he says. At the same time, it’s also geographically close to southeast Asia and has “very strong connections” with that part of the world.
With the vast array of industries represented here, and the global reach, “we should try to disrupt every single industry in the world out of Australia”, Grimeland says.
Moore tells StartupSmart Antler is about building on the ecosystem here.
“Traditional forms of VC have always looked for existing companies to invest in. This is great because it makes growing the company easier, but it doesn’t actually add to the pie,” he explains.
“By recruiting exceptional individuals into our programs, and helping them to form co-founding teams, Antler is actually adding new companies to the ecosystem.”
Now a week on, the demo day is over, the red carpet removed, and the startups are entering the whirlwind of pitching for their first batch of external funding. Perhaps the hard part is only just starting.
Already, the founders are fielding “hundreds of in-bound requests” from both local and foreign investors, Moore says.
“In fact, two large European VCs have organised one-on-one meetings with every company in the local portfolio off the back of the event.”
Meanwhile, at Antler, they’re getting ready to do it all again. Applications are open for the next run.
“It’s not for everyone. It’s hard work building a business. This is for the dreamers out there,” Grimeland says.
“But, nothing happens unless you try.”
The first Antler Australia graduate startups are:
- Avertro: A cybersecurity platform for executives.
- Caia: A healthcare platform for women.
- Hollis.io: A mental health tool for the workplace.
- Nuzzl: An on-demand vet platform.
- Quicka: A fintech designed to help businesses get paid faster.
- RecycleSmart: A recycling solution for ‘problem’ waste.
- Scouta: A platform helping startups hire via referrals.
- SiteHive: IoT devices for construction sites.
- Story Antics: Personalised children’s books.
- Upcover: Insurance for gig economy workers.
- UpStreet: A solution allowing shoppers to invest as they spend.
- Xailient: An AI solution allowing computers to ‘see’.
StartupSmart was invited to Antler Australia’s Demo HQ as the official media partner.