Aussie co-working space Stone & Chalk is broadening its horizons, opening a hub in Adelaide for the first time, with a new focus on defence and space startups.
Stone & Chalk is best known for its focus on supporting fintech startups.
However, as an anchor tenant of Adelaide’s Lot Fourteen, the seven-acre innovation precinct on the site of the former Royal Adelaide Hospital, the new hub will focus on catering to startups working on spacetech and defence solutions, as well as on big data and artificial intelligence.
It may seem like a bit of a leap, but Chris Kirk, a member of the Stone & Chalk founding team and now general manager of the Adelaide space, says actually, the startup hub’s mission “has been much broader than fintech for a number of years”.
Stone & Chalk’s mission has been “to help great Australian startups to commercialise and scale”, he says.
Typically, a large part of this has been through helping startups attract customers.
Where there was a strong fintech ecosystem, it was able to connect startups to banks and financial services companies they could work with.
In Adelaide, “there’s a fantastic concentration of defence companies”, Kirk says.
Australia’s new space agency and other relevant organisations are also based in the area, he notes.
“The model around helping connect startups to corporates really makes sense,” he adds.
“Ultimately, it’s supporting entrepreneurs to commercialise and scale great businesses. That is industry agnostic,” Kirk explains.
“As you go into different geographies you find there’s a natural strength for different industries.”
Stone & Chalk’s new hub in Adelaide follows steadily increasing activity among Aussie spacetech startups.
There is “unprecedented investment coming into South Australia at the moment”, Kirk notes.
In March last year, Adelaide-based nanosatellite startups Myriota raised $19.4 million, including investment from Boeing.
“There has been a conscious decision, with the location of the Australian space agency, to really lay claim to South Australia, to have it as an area that will be a regional focus,” Kirk says.
Already, there are strong spacetech startups here, and “that’s ultimately what you need”, he adds.
“A clustering of talent, of expertise, of customers and of capital, to make the ecosystem work … we’ve got the beginnings of that.”
That said, there is also space-focused startup activity elsewhere. In Queensland, Gilmour Space Technologies secured $19 million in Series B funding in October last year.
Earlier this month, Northern Territory-based Equatorial Launch Australia announced it had secured a deal with NASA, which had chosen the startup’s site for its first ever private launch outside of the US.
In Melbourne, a pair of 16-year-olds won Startup Victoria’s spacetech-themed pitch night for their reusable, hybrid rocket technology.
Speaking to StartupSmart, Gilmour Space Technologies founder Adam Gilmour said the new hub is generally a step in the right direction for the industry in Australia. But there’s more work to be done in other states, and on a federal level.
“Anything that helps Australian companies moving forward into space is fantastic,” he says.
“It should be a combination of federal and state governments, and other government organisations helping out as much as they can.”
There are some people in governments who don’t necessarily see the potential of the space industry in Australia. But every startup’s success increases the sector’s visibility.
“Every time another Australian company sends a satellite up into space, that helps,” he explains.
“Every time there’s more investment, that helps,” he adds.
“The story keeps getting built upon.”
Rocket fuel required
However, for Gilmour, the focus shouldn’t be entirely in South Australia. In fact, he says when it comes to rocketry, Queensland is where the industry is.
“South Australia has done a fantastic job of carrying Australia’s space industry. But they shouldn’t have to do it by themselves, other states have to get on with it,” he says.
“If everybody moves to South Australia that’s not good for the whole country.”
Gilmour believes support for space startups should simply be more evenly distributed — and that doesn’t mean the same solutions in every state.
Gilmour Space Technologies has been campaigning the Queensland Government for a launch site in the state, he explains.
Rather than a co-working space for early-stage startups, this would provide “a tech park” allowing for satellite manufacturing and rocket assembly, he says.
However, he argues that both on a state and federal level, there’s just not enough money going into spacetech to propel it to the stratosphere as quickly as it could go.
“The government has good goals for what it wants to do in the industry but it’s just not spending enough money yet to get it there.”
Ready to launch
In the next five years or so, Gilmour says there are some leaders in the industry that he would like to see “putting stuff into space, being recognised as world leaders, and being very visible to the country”.
While the founder says we don’t have enough of a global presence just yet, he says “there’s nothing stopping Australia at being very good at certain activities in the new space industry”.
Kirk, however, suggests that the Aussie space sector is already a player in the global industry and that its only set to increase in importance.
“There are Australian startups supporting the mission to Mars and looking at clothing that can support astronauts or alternative ways of growing food,” he says.
“These are areas where actually, although Australia represents a tiny part of the global supply chain, we have the opportunity to really bat above our weight.”
It may take time, but Kirk anticipates these new technologies, important on a global scale, to come out of Australia. Specifically, now, out of South Australia.
“It’s a nascent industry, it’s got a long way to go in the spectrum of near-to-long-term,” he says.
“The commercialisation period for companies like that is significantly longer, but they have the potential to be the legacy of South Australia.”