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Australia’s own Silicon Valley; Invest Wollongong launches with focus on attracting startups and scaleups

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Nicholas Muldoon

Invest Wollongong, a partnership between the NSW Government, Wollongong City Council and the University of Wollongong (UOW), has launched with a clear mission: to make Wollongong known nationally as a superior location for startups and scaleups.

Invest Wollongong is focused on implementing practical programs that tangibly support startups and scaleups considering the thriving region as a place to call home; where business innovation is a priority, the talent pool is plentiful, and a work-life balance is normal.

It’s a powerful offering that’s already created an energetic startup/scaleup business community where thriving commercially is the rule, not the exception.

Invest Wollongong’s latest figures suggest the outlook for the city is extremely positive. Wollongong’s CBD is currently home to over 26,000 jobs, with a 20 per cent jobs increase since 2011. It has seen $1.5 billion in infrastructure investment since 2012, and boasts over 40,000 square metres of new commercial space in progress.

What is the motivation behind Invest Wollongong?

Mark Grimson spokesperson for Invest Wollongong comments Wollongong offers startups and scaleups lower operating costs, a lower turnover of employees and the ability to recruit the high-quality staff needed to make their business a success.

“We’re proud to have access to a highly skilled workforce and a continual supply of graduates from UOW, amazing infrastructure and an impressively supportive business environment. We also have diverse co-working options available throughout in our city including iAccelerate, the UOW’s business incubator and accelerator, which provides programs for startups and scaleups.”

Location is critical for many startups and scaleups, and Wollongong’s location is no hindrance to doing business nationally, or internationally. The region is only one hour south of Australia’s biggest city, Sydney, and its international airport, and there are direct flights to Brisbane and Melbourne locally.

Wollongong-based scaleup Easy Agile provides agile software development services and is further proof the city is a smart choice to start and scale a business successfully. With 13 staff and a client base including Twitter and Dell, the business has doubled in size in 2019.

Co-founders Nick Muldoon and Dave Elkan were both keen to raise their families in Australia after building impressive careers in Silicon Valley, so they moved back from San Francisco to Wollongong where they saw potential in starting a tech company from scratch.

Nick Muldoon, Co-founder of Easy Agile comments: “Wollongong is a great place to live, which makes it a great place to start a company. When we returned from San Francisco, we wanted to base ourselves somewhere similar, in a place that has a progressive, communal and aspirational feel and provides a work-life balance. We’re now an international company thriving in a regional area.

Mr Muldoon continues: “The majority of our team have a 15 minute or less commute, meaning they have more time with their families. This results in superior service to our customers as the team is well rested and ready to throw all their energy into the day, not to mention the quality of talent we attract who are aligned with our values of leading a high-quality life. I strongly encourage other startups to come and try it out.”

Ken Kencevski, Founder of Devika, is another Wollongong-based Australian tech startup kicking goals from a regional base. Devika now has 14 full-time employees and announced this month it is an official partner and approved software vendor (ISV) for Virtual Reality content creator, HP Australia.

Mr Kencevski comments: “Starting a business in Wollongong has huge operational advantages. Operational costs for one are much lower than major cities. Not having as many local sales opportunities on our doorstep means we’re forced to think global. We’re a prime example to demonstrate it’s entirely possible to build a successful company outside of capital cities, and to love where we live at the same time.”

Another critical factor for startups and scaleups is gaining access to and attracting quality talent – a common misconception about launching a startup or scaleup in a regional area. Wollongong-based engineering startup, Me3D attributes its national success and reason for staying in Wollongong to the local labour force.

Leanne Connelly is Co-founder of Wollongong-based Me3D, Australia’s premier provider of 3D printing for education. Currently employing 6 people locally, Ms Connelly says the access to talent out of UOW and the broader Wollongong labour force is what has kept her business here:

“Being in Wollongong has truly enabled our business to grow and succeed. UOW is a world-class university, so we’ve been able to attract highly-skilled graduates that appreciate the lower cost of living and coastal lifestyle, so we don’t lose them to Sydney. Organisations like Invest Wollongong help to draw interest and connectedness to our region and our ecosystem.”

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