News, Insights and Stories from the Australian and New Zealand tech ecosystem.

NSW Government announces plans for Silicon Harbour, a dedicated tech precinct in Sydney

Government support of the local startup ecosystem is showing no signs of slowing down, with NSW Premier Mike Baird this week announcing plans to create a dedicated tech hub in Sydney, dubbed ‘Silicon Harbour’.

Under plans put forward by the State government, the hub would be located in the former industrial Bays Precinct, covering Rozelle, Glebe Island, and White Bay, with the old White Bay Power Station one of the centrepieces of the development.

Baird said the hub – “the most exciting urban ­renewal project in Australia, if not the world” – will unite a broad community, from startups, incubators, accelerators and universities to various industries.

“We have an opportunity as part of this to bring some of the best companies in the world right here to our harbour…if the technology sector is going to grow [at] seven times the rest of the economy, it’s clear we need more spaces, more opportunities for technology and that’s what this is,” he said.

Though the startup and tech community has long been crying out for government attention, response to this particular plan has been somewhat mixed.

The proposed tech precinct | Source: NSW Government.
The proposed tech precinct | Source: NSW Government.

Atlassian, whose founders have been campaigning over the last few months for the government to save the Australian Technology Park in Redfern, released a statement outlining their various concerns. At the top of the list was the question of what the community is to do in the meantime while the new precinct is built.

“The tech community would become displaced until well beyond 2020, a millennium in technology years,” the company’s statement read.

The location itself is also an issue.

“While harbour foreshore views are undoubtedly attractive, they also command a premium price. With no nearby mass transit solution, it means the proposal falls way beyond the reach of the majority of our startup community, incubators and universities who form a critical part of the technology ecosystem.”

BlueChilli founder Sebastian Eckersley-Maslin echoed these concerns, telling AAP that investing in a new development centre would only benefit startups if rent was subsidised in some way.

However, Pureprofile CEO Paul Chan has welcomed the news. He and a group of entrepreneurs including Airtasker’s Tim Fung had flagged the idea for a ‘Silicon Harbour’ precinct some months ago, after UrbanGrowthNSW called for ideas on site renewal.

“We’ve always believed Sydney should be a world leader in the tech space. Seeing the NSW Government taking the idea of a Silicon Harbour for the Bay Precinct area seriously is a great step for Australia and its tech community. It is a bold move such as this that we need to keep top entrepreneurial talent working locally,” Chan said.

Baird’s announcement comes just a few months after Sydney slipped four places to 16th in the latest Global Startup Ecosystem Ranking report, which highlighted collaboration as an issue. The City of Sydney’s Draft Tech Startup Action Plan made the point that industry ‘clusters’ in a particular location often lead to a higher level of collaboration and in turn success from both an economic and community standpoint.

However, the city’s problems can’t be solved by a new location alone – a more positive regulatory environment was also highlighted as a key issue in the ranking report. However, since the ascension of Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister it seems this may be on its way.

StartupAUS sat down with Minister for Innovation Chris Pyne last week to discuss high-priority policy solutions for startups, with the three recommended covering income and capital gains tax incentives for early-stage startup investments and doubling R&D tax concessions, while Wyatt Roy’s #PolicyHack was held with the aim of creating new policies to “disrupt the Canberra bureaucracy.”