Startup News & Analysis

Amazon Web Services’ head of startup ecosystem says money “tends to follow talent”, and there’s plenty of investment in the Aussie landscape

Dominic Powell /

Despite Australia’s startup landscape being “very different” to just three years ago, the head of startup ecosystem at Amazon Web Services believes it’s changed for the better and faces a promising future with a number of talented entrepreneurs coming up through the ranks.

Speaking to StartupSmart at the AWS Tech Summit in Sydney, Ian Gardiner said there was only $200-300 million in venture capital for tech startups in Australia three years ago, compared to around $2 billion today.

While he admits money isn’t everything for a successful ecosystem, he believes cash “tends to follow talent”.

“We’re starting to see a lot of great startups coming into the ecosystem, such as Canva, Atlassian, or Freelancer,” Gardiner told StartupSmart.

“We’re also seeing a number of them come through the other end thanks to the IPO markets being relatively healthy here in a way I’m not sure it is overseas.”

Despite a number of startups moving to the US soon after launch, Gardiner thinks the challenges facing startups in Australia “aren’t that different to anywhere else”, and a startup’s greatest challenge is the same wherever you go.

“The toughest thing for any startup remains how to build a product, get that product to market, and get customers to pay for it whilst hopefully making a margin,” he says.

“In one form or other that’s the fundamentals of any business.

“We are who we are, and our job is to do everything we can to make this ecosystem better.”

At the same time, it’s important to learn from what’s being done well in other countries, says Gardiner, believing having a global view is an important trait for startups to possess.

“With modern technology the world is so much more global in nature, and a lot of great startups are globally focused from day one,” Gardiner says.

A common issue raised by many Australian startup founders and small business owners alike is the difficulties they face when searching for stellar talent.

Though Gardiner notes Australia hasn’t had “breakout successes” in the way of talent recruitment, he generally disagrees, saying we “shouldn’t be too down on ourselves”, and that the country has plenty of “real talent”.

“We’re seeing talent come back into the market, it’s coming through. Once we start seeing talent being recycled in the way we’ve been seeing Silicon Valley do for decades, there’s going to be much more,” he says.

“[This will create] a positive feedback cycle, bringing in talent and prompting formation of new companies.”

Agtech amongst most exciting startup trends

Looking to the future, Gardiner believes agricultural technology, or agtech, could be a breakout area for Australian startups.

“Australia’s got a good track record in agtech, looking at making farms more efficient,” he says.

“I think this will become an emerging trend, so I’ve got some excitement around it.”

A report from KPMG revealed Australian fintech startups received  $US600 million ($780 million) in funding in 2016, at the same time investment in the US was sliding almost 50%. Gardiner highlights the strength of Australian fintech startups, saying they’re “where the VC money is going”, amongst others.

“Fintech is really big here and it’s still growing with a lot of good startups in the sector. The internet of things is another big area, and as a result we have lots of stuff cascading off IoT, like big data,” he says.

StartupSmart attended the Amazon Web Services Tech Summit as a guest of Amazon Web Services. 

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Dominic Powell

Dominic Powell is the lead reporter at StartupSmart.

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