StartupAus brings on star-studded new board members as group focuses on breaking down barriers for new players

SBE Australia

SBE Australia chair Topaz Conway.

With four new talent-stacked board members, newly appointed StartupAus chair Topaz Conway says the next 12 months for Australia’s leading startup advocacy group “certainly won’t be boring”.

But the group acknowledges they have their work cut out for them to make Australia as attractive as possible for both global investment and talent, with those issues top of mind for the newly refreshed board.

StartupAus announced last week that Blue Sky’s Elaine Stead, ex-500 Startups lead Rachael Neumann, University of Technology Sydney vice-chancellor Attila Brungs, and Startup Catalyst chief executive Aaron Birkby would be joining the group’s board.

This brings the board to 10 members, with chief executive Alex McCauley continuing on the board, along with Teresa Engelhard, Alan Noble, Bill Bartee and Peter Bradd.

Conway has moved into the position of board chair from her previous role as director, and speaking to StartupSmart, she says the new board additions bring both “true diversity” and diversity of experience, saying the only representation the board was missing was someone with experience from the big end of town.

“It’s definitely not ‘likethink’ around the table — we’re after that melding of viewpoints to come up with solutions that are a lot more impactful,” Conway says.

“It’s an impressive group, the only thing missing is someone with deep big industry experience. Big players are the end customer at the end of the day, and everything we do is to serve them in one way or other.

“It’s a huge industry sector that we need as customers, and they need the innovation from the companies we represent to stay competitive.”

The board views the current startup climate as a time ripe for impactful decisions and strong leadership — something that lead the advocacy group to instigate a board refresh.

It also comes ahead of its 2017 Crossroads Report in December, which will delve into the current state of the startup sector in Australia and, Conway says, will “put a lot of things out there”.

Push to up Australia’s attractiveness for investors

The new members of the StartupAus board will now have a four fresh pairs of eyes to lay upon the residual issues prevalent in the ecosystem, which Conway says the team will be digging into in 2018. This includes ways to push Australia as an attractive country for investment and talent, and how to better enable young founders to start successful startups.

“At the end of the day everything we need to work out as a country is how to position Australia as an attractive place to do business, and how to foster and improve on that attractiveness,” she says.

“To do that we need to remove barriers from everything — from starting a business to tax treatment and facilitating investment. We need to give founders the best access to everything they need to build global companies.”

“[StartupAus’] job is to find what those barriers are, and come up with constructive fixes for them.”

This includes “deep and meaningful” change around attracting tech talent Down Under, a concern often echoed by startup founders when comparing the local talent pool to those of other international startup hotspots.

A census of Australian fintech companies released last week revealed one of the greatest concerns for local players is a need for improved regulation and legislation, and Conway notes that as one of StartupAus’ focus points as well.

“Any effort to help this is a good effort,” says Conway, who is a commercialisation advisor for the government’s Entrepreneurs Program. But the board sees their role as providing a more holistic approach.

“There has been a huge amount of effort by the government to find the right answers and find things they can easily do and contribute to, and we applaud and support those efforts,” Conway says.

“We’re hoping to provide a more ‘helicopter’ view. A little broader, and working with the government around how to bring this all together for Aussie startups.”

With more and more startups looking to break through and land funding, Conway says she believes the pendulum is at its apex compared to five years ago where there was “no money and no good entrepreneurs”.

“The pendulum’s back the other way now — everyone’s an entrepreneur and there’s a lot more money in the system. That money is still trying to go to the best companies though,” she says.

“I think the pendulum will come back to rest in the middle of those two extremes, but we’re still seeing it getting more and more difficult to raise capital at certain stages.”

“With the volume of companies out there, founders will need to be smarter and truly innovative.”

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