While it’s not unusual for a startup to operate in ‘stealth mode’ for a number of years, it would be unusual for an entire capital city to do the same.
But that’s what an array of Aussie entrepreneurs believe the northern capital of Brisbane has been doing for a while now, and they say it’s time for the hot’n’steamy capital to stop flying under the radar and claim its spot as one of Australia’s bone fide startup hubs.
A number of efforts from the Queensland state government have gone a long way to bolstering the city’s startup community, such as appointing a chief entrepreneur for the state, and initialising the HotDesQ program, which offers local and international startups $100,000 to move their startups to the state.
Furthermore, the government’s Advancing Small Business Queensland Strategy has given over 743 grants worth more than $4.5 million since launching last year.
These initiatives are part of the reason Jarrad Skeen, founder of $4 million recruitment startup Affix, decided to bypass Sydney and choose Brisbane as the site for his company’s first interstate office.
Skeen tells StartupSmart the driving factors determining where Affix would place its next office mainly revolved around the market size and potential for customers, but he says Sydney would have provided that customer base just as easily. In the end, the choice came down to the talent available in the Brisbane ecosystem.
“Having access to the right talent and leadership is key for us, and Brisbane is certainly creating great local talent. There’s lots of individuals who are moving there because of not only the lower cost of living, but also the thriving tech scene,” Skeen says.
That talent includes Affix’s new manager for their Queensland operations, Simon Harris, who is a Brisbane resident.
“Once upon a time if you were working and wanting to get involved with leading technology companies you couldn’t do it in Australia, full stop, you had to move overseas,” he says.
“Now you can do it in Australia, and do it in Brisbane.”
Some say talent still lacking
However, the area of talent depth in the Brisbane startup community is one space Damien Vasta, the born-and-bred founder of fintech startup Sniip, says the city is lacking in. He believes startups looking for deep technical talent might be out of luck.
“I still think it’s not quite as easy to find the skill level of technical staff the same as you can find them in the southern states. But thankfully, people are sold pretty quickly on the idea and merits of working in Brisbane,” Vasta tells StartupSmart.
“If you can get a worker excited about your startup and the product you’re building, Brisbane and Queensland will do the rest for you. It’s not quite there in terms of deep talent pool, but it’s only a matter of time before Brisbane’s tech capability measures up with anywhere in Australia, and the world.”
Vasta says there’s also been a lot of activity from the government in working on the startup scene locally, which is paired well with independent and private efforts from companies such as River City Labs and Fishburners.
“There’s no shortage of support and great people feeding off each other,” he says.
But that doesn’t mean there’s no room for improvement.
But when it comes to government support, Vasta says the state government is still eschewing startups and young businesses when it comes to things like government contracts.
He believes startups don’t want fiduciary handouts from the government, they want the opportunity to work with it. And it’s here he believes there is a disconnect, not only in Queensland but in most Australian states and territories.
“The government will publicly support startups in principle, but when it comes to working with startups for contracts, there’s still this fear or reluctance,” he says.
“Governments need to take a chance on working with startups in order to help the business further validate what they’ve built. But, you know, no one ever gets fired for hiring IBM.”
Brisbane still under the radar
Skeen is appreciative of the state government’s initiatives, which help startups like Affix relocate to the state to continue building their businesses. He sees a growing trend of startups moving to the Queensland capital, pointing to success stories such as Kate Kendall’s Cloudpeeps.
As for if Brisbane could be Australia’s next thriving tech hub, both Skeen and Vasta think it could — with a little work.
“I think it does have potential. The latest Startup Muster reports suggests that Brisbane is second behind Sydney in terms of the number of tech startups, and there’s a growing appetite for further growth,” he says.
“The only thing is that Brisbane is still seen as flying under the radar, but I think that will change with further promotion and more things happening in the state.”