Startups and the City of Sydney

- August 13, 2012 5 MIN READ


Firstly, full disclosure. It is no secret that Angela Vithoulkas and I know each other, we are close friends, business colleagues and we both host the “Startups” show together on her radio station – Eagle Waves Radio. So when this woman who I consider a good friend told me she was going to be running for Lord Mayor in this year’s City of Sydney council elections – I naturally was excited for her and of course as a friend want her to win. On the same token though, part of the core mantra with my business [Shoe String] is that I want to give readers an objective view of things when it comes to content on our site.

Religion and Politics, two of the “touchy” subjects that quite often make people form their strongest opinions of you. I have to say these days, I am such a swinger when it comes to both of these things, left and right are SO blurred these days and I feel that my entire generation are a bit over the excuse of “that’s politics” because most of the countries /states /cities /towns issues that are happening – are actually pretty easy to solve.

One thing I know about Angela is that she is a problem solver, that is passionate about the startup space, having built and sold 8 of her own ventures in the last 27 years she has been in business. So when we sat down over coffee last week at VIVO for our interview, I told her that I was going to be conducting a frank interview on what exactly she would be planning to do for startups if she is elected to town hall this September.

Firstly she commended the current council on some of the great initiatives such as 66 Oxford Street, which as we know provides many startups [mainly tech] with cheaper rent in prime location in the City Centre. In addition it has created a hub of collaboration for the startup space, which is awesome. We also now that the City of Sydney have been supportive with events such as Meetup 66 and FailCon etc – So what else can be offered that we are not already getting?

“While  there has been a great start, to the beginning of support to the startup scene, within the City of Sydney -and 66 Oxford Street is an example of that. We need to look at the big picture for the Startup scene on how we can collaborate, support, nourish and get the startup scene to give back to the City of Sydney. Part of our plan for Living Sydney is to establish a Startup Advisory Board – provide business hubs and mentors and experts, to be a part of these – and tap into the ideas of the startup scene who probably have some great solutions for the city in areas of Sustainability, Technology that can be supported by the City and in turn would also give back to the City by making things more efficient etc” says Vithoulkas.

Angela is of the school of “No Free Lunches” and wants to help startups understand the world of business from the beginning – and when we are talking about startups here we are talking about ALL startups here – not just tech, we need to understand that new hospitality, education, bricks and mortar ventures are also “startups” as well. Living Sydney say they understand that funding and assistance is important, but understanding how to “give back” is just as vital.

“Startups are our future and young people are the future of the City and Sydney should be leaders – world leaders in this space, at the moment we lagging behind in the world from a collaborative, supportive and nourishment perspective in this sector” she says. Definitely a sentiment that I personally agree with, there are so many great minds in this city, and great businesses being born here but we lose so many to the bright lights of Silicon Valley or other Global startup hubs.

This exodus of Sydney [and Aussie] startups to the US for larger opportunities has been pretty much the “normal thing” over the years, but last week just before my interview with Angela, I had lunch with the founder of the “Women in Computer Science” club at Harvard University. We talked about many things regarding the US vs the AUS startup scene and one of the things that perplexed her was why so many Aussies thought that there was “more” opportunity in the US when in fact in her opinion, mathematically it was just “more” competitive and startups doing that were just disregarding the local opportunities and low hanging fruit in front of them. Thinking about it, I tend to agree – yes we have a lot of “tax” things from a startup perspective that suck, and Silicon Valley is like the “Mecca” of the Startup world – But the only way to change the local culture, is by investing in the local culture and by seeing real examples of startup solutions in the local community.

A Big task, A Big Dream – and the Living Sydney guys say they are up for it. “We need to bring our Startups to the top, as fast as we can, and it is only going to benefit Australia and Sydney” says Vithoulkas. Her 27 years of Business experience is undoubtedly an advantage when it comes to talking to this group of the Sydney electorate.

I then I asked the question about her pretty vocal opposition to councils backing around Buy Nothing New Month, pointing out that Social Startups and Collaborative Consumption are important to the future of the Startup scene. “Sustainability and avoiding waste of any kind, is obviously a priority and it should be part of the plan for the city of Sydney, so Living Sydney are 100% behind those innovations and those businesses and the people within those businesses that do this important work. Though for the council to take a view of being for one business community and against another is wrong and that is not supportive.” While she admits that there may have been a misunderstanding in the intention of the campaign, as a retailer in the city of Sydney and for fellow retailers who make up 8% of Australia’s GDP the message was not one about collaboration [ie How can retailers get involved and help reduce waste and encourage things like collaborative consumption] but more about alienation.

And I thought while I had her on record, I would put forward the suggestion of “Pitch to Council Nights” – This is what she had to say – “Quite often there needs to be an issue for someone to invent something that resolves it, so by council sharing the issues, and being transparent and accessible to all parts of the community we may just find the community banding together and solving the problems that not only Sydney faces but some of the worlds biggest problems, as issues around youth, homelessness, waste etc are not just local but global, and imagine leading from the front and being the leaders in being innovative and helping projects and ventures off the ground that can actually solve those issues for us”.

The race to September elections is far from over, but one thing is for sure – these are definitely exciting ideas.