LaunchVic is giving Victorian startups an extra boost with $7 million of funding going to three accelerators to run four programs, which will support a total of 170 startups over three years.
Selected after a competitive assessment process, the accelerators include international program Techstars, and two Australian operations: SBE Australia and Skalata Ventures, the accelerator led by Rohan Workman, who previously headed up the Melbourne Accelerator Program.
Each accelerator partner will meet the investment with cash and in-kind funding, bringing the total investment to $13.45 million.
This is the fourth round of funding from LaunchVic, the Victorian government’s startup support agency. Last week, it announced $2.4 million in funding to support startups based in regional and outer-metropolitan parts of Victoria.
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Earlier this year, LaunchVic also announced a $2.9 million investment into educating and upskilling Victorian startup founders.
This time, LaunchVic chief executive Kate Cornick says the funding is focused on “thinking about how we can better connect Victorian startups into the global startup ecosystem”.
Cornick tells StartupSmart while there are several existing accelerators that have a “very strong local purpose”, for those startups with international potential, “going through a global accelerator gives them every opportunity of succeeding”.
As part of the funding, international accelerator and startup funding network Techstars will establish a sports technology accelerator program, supporting 20 startups over two years, while also running a series of community-focused events.
Skalata Ventures will open a new accelerator program to support 60 scale-ups — companies that are between the accelerator and fundraising stage — over three years.
SBE Australia, an organisation designed to help female founders build sustainable businesses, will be bringing its Springboard Enterprises Accelerator program to Melbourne, specifically to support female-founded life sciences and biotech startups.
At the same time, it will run its E3: Empower, Evolve, Escalate program for early-stage startups.
Having received $1.5 million of funding from LaunchVic, which it has met with in-kind funding, SBE is committed to supporting 20 companies through Springboard Enterprises, and 60 through E3, over three years, as well as running a community event each year.
Strength in science
SBE Australia’s life sciences-focused program is licensed from Springboard Enterprises in the US and is designed to provide introductions and assistance to founders, as well as helping them identify and address any issues with their business, and develop their pitches and slide decks.
Larisa Chisholm, director of the program in Melbourne, tells StartupSmart she anticipates a lot of interest from companies that are interested in gaining access to “quality network introductions”.
She stresses the program isn’t only open to Victoria-founded startups, but will accept applications from all over Australia.
“It’s quite difficult for Australian companies to get those introductions in the US,” she says.
“The Springboard network includes people that can help them in regulatory strategy, in fundraising, in IP development.”
Accelerator participants will have access to “industry leaders and networks and influencers and investors”, Chisholm says, “helping them to find whatever it is that their businesses are currently missing”.
“There are people who will come from a medical and science background, and some of them will have undertaken commercial training, some won’t,” she adds.
For those that may not have the business expertise, the program is designed to give them a bit more support.
According to Cornick, the accelerators selected to receive the LaunchVic funding reflect some of the key strengths of Victorian startups: health and wellbeing, and sports technology.
“That wasn’t something we asked for, but it was recognised by the accelerators,” she says.
“They want to succeed off our strengths.”
In Victoria, some 20% of startups are focused on health and wellbeing, Cornick says, and life sciences and biotech companies make up a big part of that.
Connections are key
The Springboard program is for founders with an established idea or concept, and a business that is ready to scale internationally, raise its next round of capital, or seek a pharmaceutical partnership.
The E3 program, on the other hand, is more geared towards early-stage startups that do not belong in incubators anymore, but still might be filling in gaps in their business.
Again, it’s female-focused, and provides support and mentoring for companies looking to scale and grow.
“There are not a lot of programs out there for those in-between companies,” says Chisholm.
Designed and run by SBE alone, the program requires a minimum viable product, and is not restricted to the life sciences sector. Founders in this program will likely have a business model, but will be looking to scale, and learning the fundamentals of pitching their products. Much of the eight-module program is about networking and building connections.
“It’s designed to form their investment slide deck and help them to raise capital, build networks and build confidence,” Chisholm says.
“You can have a wonderful startup with a fantastic idea and a wonderful team, but you also have to have a network. You’ve got to find your first customer,” adds Cornick.
However, “founder-to-founder support is really, really important,” she says.
Through accelerator programs, startup founders can connect to each other, learn from each other and support each other, which “supports growth in the community”, says Cornick.
For SBE, it’s all about building up a strong community of female founders, Chisholm says, “creating a strong network of women that can support one another as they grow and scale their businesses”.
And Cornick agrees with this sentiment. Only one in four startup founders are female, she says, and “there’s a long way to go”.
“We should be doing everything we can to be supporting female founders,” she adds.