Innovation ecosystem sees Queensland startups hitting their stride

“In my mind the word innovation simply means doing more with the same amount of resources. Somewhat surprisingly, being able to do ‘more with less’ tends to create very large businesses – the ‘less’ tends to be in a relative sense when considering a per unit basis.

This is incredibly important as we think about the global marketplace and ensuring that we can create more jobs, attract more talent and offer great opportunities for future generations in Queensland” 

Go1 CEO and Co-Founder, Andrew Barnes.

Introduction

When Advance Queensland kicked off in 2015, it set out to build a diverse and resilient economy based on the ingenuity and business acumen of Queenslanders. It focused on establishing a startup ecosystem. This is because startups create jobs and drive technological progress, which in turn, turbocharges productivity and increases prosperity.

The emphasis was on stimulating and accelerating ecosystem development – supporting promising startups with that all-important early funding to help get them off the ground – through programs like the Advance Queensland Ignite Ideas Fund.  It also included a host of support programs and initiatives to provide our entrepreneurs and innovators with the skills to take their services and products to market.

Laying the groundwork

In their paper ‘A maturity model for software startup ecosystems’, Dr Daniel Cukier and Dr Fabio Kon from the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil describe this stage as a nascent ecosystem – laying down the groundwork for an ecosystem to take hold.

Some of the fundamentals for establishing an ecosystem already existed in Queensland. Thanks to Smart State, Queensland had a strong university sector pouring out an impressive amount of quality research and an eye to translating that research into tangible products and services. The sector was also producing some very bright graduates with an appetite for innovation and entrepreneurship.

Another important aspect was the Queensland Government’s commitment to ensuring Queensland had the capabilities to participate in the new global industrial revolution in communication, transport and energy technologies. As economies were being fundamentally transformed by major technological shifts – from Artificial Intelligence to biotechnology – the Queensland Government recognised that innovation and entrepreneurship were crucial.

And perhaps, the most important aspect was the state’s culture, ‘Team Queensland’ is where government, universities, businesses and industry were all collaborating. This was best expressed by United States (US) biotechs who quite frequently told Queensland delegates visiting the world’s largest life science conference – the BIO International Convention in the US – that what made Queensland stick out among the hundreds of international delegations was that Queenslanders worked together as one, to promote Queensland.

World renowned Queensland immunologist, Professor Ian Frazer said the $755 million Advance Queensland initiative was a tangible demonstration of Queensland’s commitment to transforming excellence in research, into practical outcomes through growth of local ‘smart’ industry.

“Initiatives in research translation, exemplified by the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute and the Translational Research Institute, will flourish through the commitment of Advance Queensland to the provision of the key infrastructure that enables success in commercialisation and encourages growth of new industry and jobs,” Professor Frazer said.

As of May 2021, Advance Queensland has supported 27,000 jobs across the state with 11,000 of those in regional Queensland.

Since its inception in 2015, Advance Queensland has supported 7,500 innovation projects across the state, with more than 60 per cent of recipients in regional areas.

Business confidence in the program is strong, with over $965 million committed by program partners, including industry and investors.

Together with private and public sector partners, more than $1.7 billion has been invested into making Queensland an innovation hot spot.

Maturing

We have seen Queensland’s startup ecosystem evolve tremendously over the years.

It has moved to a mature stage, with companies scaling up, making their mark in national and international markets and attracting key investment – a maturing that’s seen Brisbane listed by Startup Genome in 2020, as one of the top 100 emerging ecosystems worldwide.

In the past 12 months alone, we have seen some remarkable achievements with local companies really hitting their strides including vaccine nanopatch-tech developer, Vaxxas and COVID-19 home test developer, Ellume.

Queensland Government support for Ellume goes back to 2016 when the company was provided $250,000 in Advance Queensland Ignite Ideas funding for its Respiro Flu Diagnostic test – the core technology which their new diagnostic for COVID-19 is based.

Ellume CEO and Founder, Dr Sean Parsons said this important investment was key to the company getting to where it is now.

“The Advance Queensland Ignite Ideas funding was really influential at the time we received it. It allowed us to develop our core technology which the COVID-19 test is based,” Dr Parsons said.

“Initiatives like this are very important to supporting Queensland start-ups, helping augment external investment and encouraging further economic activity in the biotech sector.

“The United States government clearly views Queensland’s life sciences industry extremely positively by backing Ellume to the tune of US$262 million to speed up development and production of our COVID-19 home test.”

Clipchamp are another Queensland tech startup that’s recently moved into the big time with 17 million globally registered users on their video creation, editing and production platforms.

With remote work increasing during the pandemic, their video exports have skyrocketed. This year, they have experienced an increasing number of employees creating videos more frequently for activities that would normally be conducted by businesses in-person, such as training, meetings and other corporate communications. They are also just one of the many graduates of Queensland’s startup hub, The Precinct.

Located in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley, The Precinct was established in 2017 to support and grow promising Queensland tech companies. Delivered by the Queensland Government under the Advance Queensland initiative, the space brings together emerging innovators entrepreneurs, investors and government under the same roof to foster collaboration, mentoring and an entrepreneurial culture.

Another star performer is Gold Coast company, Gilmour Space Technologies who recently raised $61 million to take their Eris small launch vehicle to space in 2022. Backed by Australian pension funds HESTA, Hostplus and NGS Super, the capital raise represents the largest amount of private equity funding ever raised by a space company in Australia. Looking to the future, the regional, venture-backed company plans to double its workforce from 70 to 120 employees as well as develop a new commercial spaceport at Abbot Point in North Queensland.

North Queensland biotech company, QBiotics also announced recently that it had secured an $85 million capital raise – demonstrating the range and vitality of Queensland’s startup ecosystem. The company is developing anticancer and wound healing pharmaceuticals based on a North Queensland rainforest plant, Blushwood. The capital raise will enable the company to fund further clinical development of its medical drug candidate.

Unicorns

Two Queensland startups have also joined three other Australian businesses to become part of the very rare global ‘unicorn’ club – a startup valued at more than US$1 billion.

Logan tech startup, Go1 provides an online marketplace that connects training organisations and businesses. Known as the ‘Netflix for the workplace,’ they’ve become Australia’s latest unicorn with a $270 million capital raise this year, on top of $67 million raise in 2020 and $34 million raise in 2019.

What’s even more impressive is that they are one of only 28 global education technology unicorns worldwide.

During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Go1 worked with Microsoft to launch an app that uses Microsoft Teams to provide organisations with access to online learning materials, helping the firm expand into the US market.

In 2016, they received $178,000 from the Ignite Ideas Fund to launch their platform technology for Android and iOS as well as an additional $250,000 in 2018, to help market their personal training assistant platform. By 2018, the company was named by LinkedIn as one of the top 25 most sought-after startups in Australia.

Starting out in 2015 with just four co-founders, today the company employs more than 300 people.

Go1 CEO and Co-founder, Andrew Barnes said the company had been fortunate to receive several grants and co-investment from the Business Development Fund.

“Advance Queensland has helped create an environment that supports innovation and entrepreneurship and I think we’re in the early days of what’s possible here,” Andrew said.

“Having a culture and focus on innovation is critical and Advance Queensland is an important part of that broader story. It’s incredibly important that government creates the foundations and infrastructure for future success, and I think the focus on innovation through Advance Queensland is an example of that investment in the future.”

SafetyCulture are the second Queensland startup to attain unicorn status. Founded in 2004 by Luke Anear in his Townsville garage, the initial intent of the company was to provide safety compliance documents to the Australian market.

From humble beginnings, the company has since evolved to become the operational heartbeat of working teams all around the world. Its mobile-first, operations platform leverages the power of human observation to identify issues and opportunities for businesses to improve everyday workplace safety.

With the backing of former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, the company attained unicorn status last year and just recently hit the $2 billion valuation mark on the back of a $99 million funding round.

“When SafetyCulture first started out, it was just a handful of us working out of my garage in Townsville. Now, we have more than 600 employees all over the world,” Luke said.

“Today, more than 28,000 organisations use our flagship products iAuditor and EdApp. We power over 600 million checks per year and approximately 50,000 lessons per day, as well as millions of corrective actions.”

SafetyCulture now maintains offices in Townsville, Sydney, Kansas City, Manchester and Manila and has recently commenced a new, ultra-modern $38 million office build in Surry Hills. With its sight on future growth, the fit out is designed to drive greater collaboration, innovation and culture for its team.

Luke was a member of the Advance Queensland Expert Panel, set up in 2015 to provide independent advice to the Government on Advance Queensland initiatives.

“Advance Queensland is key to a thriving, connected tech sector in Queensland. As the last 12 months have demonstrated, the tech sector is stronger when companies are able to come together, share ideas and innovate,” Luke said.

“In creating space for innovation and communication, Advance Queensland helps to nurture emerging technology that benefits the entire state and beyond. I started SafetyCulture in Townsville and I am proud our technology now supports thousands of Australians, and many more across the world.”

The future

Queensland Chief Entrepreneur and CEO and Co-Founder of yet another Queensland success story, RedEye, Wayne Gerard said Queensland’s innovation ecosystem is at an important juncture.

“With the appointment of the Innovation Advisory Council, now is the perfect time to expand Queensland’s focus on innovation to be whole of industry across the state,“ Wayne said.

Wayne will work alongside the new council to enhance the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Queensland. He said there were two primary driving factors that would turbocharge innovation in the state: Queensland winning the right to host the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games and the fact that more and more businesses are moving online due to the pandemic.

“The 2032 Olympic Games offers us the opportunity as an economy to include innovation products and services right across the state – to become the state renowned for creating leading-edge technologies,” Wayne said.

“For example, as we build momentum towards hosting the 2032 Games, we will look to position ourselves as a major location for sport innovation – integrating technology to improve the experience of fans and athletes alike.”

Wearable technology, virtual and augmented reality, sports data analytics, digital signage, smart stadiums and live-streaming are behind the evolution of sports and its method of engaging fans.

“COVID-19 has clearly demonstrated the importance of moving business online. There is a great opportunity to move forward in this space, investing in digital infrastructure that supports Queensland business,” Wayne said.

“The future is bright for Queensland. We have the talent, skills and enthusiasm in our people and we have a government with vision. These all bode well.”

 
Last updated 12 Oct, 2021
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