Could the island once best known for apples, Ricky Ponting and environmentalism be emerging as a start-up power house and technology hub?
As the rest of Australia contemplates a Startup strategy like Start-Up America, Tasmania has quietly been running its own show since 2009.
Founded by Gen Y entrepreneurs Oliver George and Byron Teu, Startup Tasmania was the result of George’s experiences working in the heady world of UK tech start-ups pre GFC.
“In London we had an open coffee group that would get together and let all the energy and anxiety of the start up hang out. It was a great place for friendships support and collaborations to grow,” says George.
When he returned to Tasmania for a sabbatical from the ravages of the GFC on the London tech scene, George met Teu and decided to start an open coffee group in Hobart, which they subsequently named Startup Tasmania.
Teu took a break from a career as a newly qualified doctor to pursue an idea he had for a radically disruptive instant website development engine, and was grateful for some peers to share the often isolated experience of being in a fast growth start up.
“Just having a mix of experiences in the group, from other start-ups to people who had launched, scaled, funded and exited who were wanting to help you with their stories was invaluable in the early days,” said Teu.
“Those coffee’s, beers and conversations converted to introductions, leads and ultimately pitches and deals. I knew all along the way I could make a call to any of the group and get their advice.”
Teu has just returned from the US on a whirlwind pitching tour where he met with a number of potential customers and funders.
“What I leaned that blew me away was they what we were doing in Tasmania was leading edge and several steps ahead of our competitors. Small and remote definitely does not equal uncompetitive.”
Dr Polly McGee, co-organiser of Startup Tasmania agrees. McGee has spent the last five years working with Tasmanian technology startups and entrepreneurs, and is a strong advocate for the competitive advantage of Tasmanian companies.
“Technology is not limited by geography as other commodities can be,” says McGee.
“Tasmanian companies have the great advantage in the nimbleness of the size of the state. Competitors are more often friends and collaborators, State and Commonwealth agencies are open and accessible, and angels are often only a couple of degrees of separation away.”
Her experience in Tasmania has reinforced the belief that islands are often hotbeds of innovation.
“Isolation from instant gratification when you have a market problem that needs solving is a DIY solution where more often than not, a company develops their own solution and then commercialises it.”
The investment of the State and Commonwealth government into the Tasmanian ICT sector continues to be felt, as a strong and cohesive industry has coalesced and created niche hubs of expertise in areas like software development and gaming.
Startup Tasmania is a telling indicator of the pace and chutzpah of this small but ambitious state. Originally an ad hoc networking group, they have organically expanded into the north of the state, run weekly events, and raised some funds through the Tasmanian government’s Business Boost program to fund larger events for entrepreneurs, starting with bringing Pitch Club back to Tasmania.
More companies getting funding and scaling their operations means a continuation of the rise and rise of the Tasmanian tech startup.
“For some Tasmanian start-ups, success can be defined by two words: Silicon Valley,” says Teu, “But wouldn’t it be nice to live here, grow my business and hang out with other innovative companies and have the same success as my global counterparts?”
George agrees. Now consulting for web services company Ionata, he is in no hurry to rush back to the London scene. “Tasmania is great, there are some incredibly smart people here, doing cool things. I thought I’d be around for a few months, I’m loving what’s happening with Startup Tasmania, why would I leave?”
It’s a sentiment shared by the members of the group, who smugly acknowledge their Startup Tasmania group has pipped a national presence at the post.
“We’re trying to refrain from blatant parochialism,” laughs McGee. “We may only be a silicon crack at this stage, but we’re working on a valley!”
IMAGE: Byron Teu of Hobart-based Sentralize shows off his favourite item of schwag from a recent jaunt in Silicon Valley. His LinkedIn pen!