New accelerator highlights Tassie as a hub for IoT and clean energy startups

EnergyLab co-founder and chair Piers Grove with Aurora Energy chief Rebecca Kardos. Source: Supplied.

A new startup accelerator focused on hardware Internet of Things solutions for the clean energy sector is opening its doors in Tasmania, having secured $150,000 in funding from the State Government.

Based in Launceston the new accelerator will be run by EnergyLab, which has a range of startup programs all over Australia, in partnership with local IoT tech firm Definium.

The accelerator will be headed up by Piers Grove, co-founder and chair of EnergyLab, while Definium founder and chief Mike Cruse will also be “absolutely integral”, Grove says.

Speaking to StartupSmart, Grove says the program will be open not only to startups from all over Australia but all over the world.

“It doesn’t matter where you are, if you’ve got a new energy idea that you want to commercialise, we want to be able to support you,” he says.

While designing, prototyping, testing and manufacturing IoT devices can typically take startups about 12 months, the accelerator invites founders to “come to Launceston and, in three months, do all of that in one hit”.

The accelerator program will run from February to April next year. Grove expects it will start accepting applications from next month.

Power networks

As well as working alongside Definium, EnergyLab is also partnering with the local government, the University of Tasmania, and the local energy market.

“You can’t just develop things in isolation,” Grove says.

“Unless you’ve got people you can test things with, it’s all a bit academic.”

The energy markets in Tasmania is “fully integrated”, he explains.

Hydro Tasmania is the main energy generator, while TasNetworks operates the grid, and Aurora Energy is the government-owned retailer.

“They play together really well. So, if you want to test something out on an energy grid, Tasmania is one of the most responsive, adaptable places to do it,” Grove says.

“They’re actually quite a progressive bunch down there”

The partnership with Definium also provides a strategic advantage to the startups participating in the accelerator.

The tech company is building a long range (LoRa) IoT network throughout Tasmania, Grove says, which will provide “the backbone” for IoT devices.

“You can’t go round sticking a sim card in every single IoT, it breaks most business models,” he explains.

The LoRa network will allow startups to have hundreds of IoT devices online anywhere in the state.

“LoRa is probably going to become the norm … it will be a network that covers most of the world,” Grove adds.

“The fact that we can do it in Tasmania now is a huge advantage.”

A hub for renewables

Grove has high hopes that the clean energy sector could put Tasmania on the map in startupland.

“I think there’s a whole bunch of things that Tasmania has up its sleeve,” he says.

One of those things is the relatively low cost of living. If a founder wants to get their head down for a year and focus on building their product, “I don’t think there are many better places to do it than Tasmania”, he says.

However, because it’s a small community, it’s also relatively easy to get the attention of the senior figures in it.

“It’s sort of strange,” Grove, who is based in New South Wales, notes.

“This was a $150,000 grant, and it’s got the attention of the minister for state development.

“If you’re in NSW or Victoria, it’s a rounding error.”

While the funding has allowed EnergyLab to offer the Launceston IoT program, it was already supporting startups in the Tasmanian market. These startups are working on things like electric vehicles, geothermal energy generation, and a startup reinventing the mobility scooter.

“There’s some cool shit going on down there,” Grove says

Energy startups are taking advantage of Tasmania as a market, he adds.

In electric vehicles, for example, one of the biggest problems is “range anxiety”, he says.

“Guess where in Australia you don’t have range anxiety?”

“You can go round and round in circles on Tasmania … there’s nowhere really more than a couple of hundred km away from you.”

Grove also points out that Tasmania largely runs on renewable energy, with a lot of its power coming from hydro.

Grove maintains that Tasmania has a future economy in exporting clean power to the mainland, including both water and wind power.

“If you’re sitting on the arse of Australia … you get a solid breeze,” he says.

“Energy in Tasmania has an enormous future, and a very very strong tradition of doing it really well.”

And if this is the future of the Tassie economy, then startups have a large role to play.

For the large energy players in the state to adapt and bolster their capacity, they will need new technologies to help them through the transition.

“Energy and innovation are at the heart of that, and startups are the fastest way to do it,” Grove says.

“These energy companies are built for reliability, not nimbleness.”

*This article was updated at 8.30am, July 4.

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