Microsoft’s Annie Parker to head up Sydney’s Tech Central precinct

Annie Parker

Annie Parker. Source: supplied.

Microsoft’s head of startups and legend of the Aussie tech scene Annie Parker is taking on a new role as executive director of the The Greater Sydney Commission’s Tech Central innovation hub.

Currently global head of startups at Microsoft, Parker was previously interim chief executive at Fishburners and also founded Code Club Australia, a volunteer-led after-school club teaching kids to code.

She is also a sector advocate for diversity and inclusion in tech — a passion she will be bringing into her new role.

As she wrote on Twitter: “in news that should surprise no one, I’ll be pushing for equality and inclusion from the get go”.

At the same time, Liza Noonan, director of company creation and former leader of the ON Accelerator at CSIRO, has been appointed to lead the Westmead Health and Innovation District.

Having moved to Australia eight years ago, Parker tells SmartCompany she has seen the startup ecosystem change from one that was full of life and talent, but relatively nascent, to one that’s home to several multi-billion-dollar companies, serial founders, angel investors and a much larger pool of VC capital.

It’s time for NSW to fulfil its potential as globally recognised tech centre, she says.

“This is Australia’s future, I want to be a part of shaping that.”

Creating “magnets” for diverse talent

The Greater Sydney Commission is heading up coordination efforts between four key precincts deemed to have the most potential for economic growth.

The Tech Central precinct is focused on development of the tech sector, including creating business spaces for tech companies, startups and ecosystem partners, and creating some 25,000 innovation jobs.

Greater Sydney Commission chief executive Elizabeth Mildwater said the appointments come at a “critical time” in the planning for the future of the city.

“Knowledge-intensive industries will fuel our future economy, attracting investment and talent,” she said.

Cities need to be ready to deliver talent and infrastructure, she added. That means the growth districts need to be “more than just places to work”.

“As magnets for talent and investment, they must be great places to live, and diverse and vibrant centres of creativity and culture, leisure and innovation.”

Building a place like such a place will be no mean feat. But Parker points to examples such as Station F in Paris and the MaRS Precinct in Toronto as successful tech precincts we can learn from.

She also plans to listen closely to the needs of the local communities, ensuring she and the team build a hub known not only for its innovation but for celebrating the diversity of NSW.

Diversity, culture and creativity are “crucial” to tech success, Parker says.

“It’s been proven over and over that if you have a more diverse workforce your company will be more profitable, more innovative, have higher employee satisfaction — the list goes on,” she explains.

However in the tech sector particularly, we often don’t see equity in the workplace.

Parker sees Tech Central as an opportunity to elevate underrepresented founders, breaking the structural and cultural barriers holding them back.

“There is so much untapped potential out there,” she says.

“As a wonderful founder friend Leila Janah used to say: ‘talent is equally distributed, but opportunity is not’.

“It’s time we changed that.”

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