In 2009, then-Adelaide FC coach and Adelaide native Aurelio Vidmar, angry after his team’s loss, called the city a “piss-ant town” bogged down by politics and negativity. While others born and bred in Adelaide may have agreed with him then, the tide has turned in the last few years and the prevailing attitude around the city these days is pride.
This was the impression I got on Friday as I toured various businesses and coworking spaces around Adelaide. The tour was part of Entrepreneurs Week, five days of events showcasing how far the Adelaide startup and business space has come in the last few years. Not that it has come out of the blue – in fact, Adelaide has long been a business hub. From Boost Juice to News Corp, a number of big companies were founded in Adelaide. The problem has been figuring out how to keep them in Adelaide, a problem reflected in the wider community.
That’s now beginning to change, with a number of policies implemented by local councils and the state government over the last few years seeing Adelaide begin to morph into a cool and hip city that people don’t want to leave. With more Adelaideans willing to stick it out rather than head interstate or overseas, the startup scene has flourished.
Paul Daly, convenor of the Adelaide Entrepreneurship Forum and consultant on innovation and entrepreneurship at Adelaide City Council, has worked on and off with entrepreneurs since the early 80s, but he believes that the city is truly on the cusp of something special now.
“We are on a journey and we aim to be one of the best places in the world to start and grow a business,” he said.
Daly believes that the city’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is unique due to the level of government support it has received, and how much of it is also driven by volunteers and entrepreneurs themselves. The ecosystem is made up of 105 different programs and services, from networking and community events, educational programs, coworking spaces, incubators and accelerators, and investors.
Although Daly admits Sydney and Melbourne are bigger markets for startups, he said that entrepreneurs must remember that Adelaide is still not a small city – with a population of just over 1.2 million, there are only nine cities in the US bigger than Adelaide.
“The only problem is that Adelaide is isolated, but that’s an opportunity to get better at looking beyond our borders and building relationships,” Daly said.
As any entrepreneur knows, the best way to change something is to start from the bottom and work up – so Adelaide has looked to its youth.
The city’s three universities have all implemented various startup programs and competitions to boost innovation. Flinders University’s Venture Dorm program last week merged with Majoran’s MEGA to create Australia’s largest pre-accelerator course, with the program counting as an accredited university subject for students.
Meanwhile, the University of Adelaide’s Australian eChallenge competition, now in its 15th year, will be expanding in 2015. The competition, which allows for TAFE and high school students to take part, will be heading to regional areas, with a NextGen competition also in the works for family-run businesses. The eChallenge has also been licensed for France.
Other programs have also been implemented for younger kids. Youth advocate Sasha Dragovelic pitched his idea for Bo$$ Camp, a two day program for kids aged 14 to 18, at Startup Adelaide Weekend last year. The program puts kids together to come up with and pitch new business ideas. During the camp, the kids hear from inspirational speakers and gain assistance from experienced mentors to help with their ideas.
Dragovelic also works with HYPA Works on Bizifyd, a program for 18 to 24 year olds passionate about social media and technology. The six week program teaches participants about employment and entrepreneurship and also provides a practical component, connecting participants with small to medium businesses, for whom they will provide social media services.
Though we regularly call startup ecosystems communities, Adelaide’s truly seems to be a community in the traditional sense of the word. The city’s geographical isolation has created a close-knit community of entrepreneurs who support each other by volunteering at and funding a number of the city’s 105 startup-related programmes.
Michael Reid, Founder of the Majoran coworking space, said he created the space as a response to growing up in Adelaide, where you watch all your friends leave for interstate or overseas.
He admitted Majoran’s premises isn’t the greatest space – it was voted one of the dirtiest buildings in Adelaide a few months ago – but he said that keeps some of the slicker people away and attracts people who are purely there to learn and work.
“We wanted to work with cool people, and we didn’t realise there were that many cool people in Adelaide,” Reid said.
Also speaking at Majoran, Andrew Montesi of mental health app TalkLife said there is a huge level of support for early-stage startups in Adelaide. He said that startups are being taught well about sustainable business building and the lean model – teaching he wishes TalkLife had had access to when starting up a few years ago – but the next step for the city is going to be working out how to support the growing businesses.
“Adelaide needs to think like a startup itself and take some risks. Adelaide needs self belief. We need to start backing ourselves to say we can compete with the other states,” Montesi said.
The main thing to remember, Montesi said, is that other people are always willing to help.
As well as community members, Adelaide’s startup ecosystem has been supported by the South Australian government, which has set up business grants and provided funding to programs like ANZ’s Innovyz and the University of South Australia’s Venture Catalyst.
Kyam Maher, South Australia’s new Minister for Innovation, believes the level of support for entrepreneurs in the state from government and other businesses alike is “unmatched around Australia.”
He said that with the South Australian economy in transition, shifting from traditional manufacturing to advanced manufacturing and tech, there is a big opportunity for businesses to grow.
“We want people around Australia and the world to regard South Australia as a place that values ingenuity and plays a supportive role for entrepreneurs,” Maher said.
On another level, the Adelaide City Council has also been helping. The city’s liquor licensing process has been updated, allowing for over fifty new bars, cafés, and other venues to open up in the last two years. Though it may not seem like much, the new venues springing up have allowed for the city’s nightlife and event culture to develop – while this means Sydney and Melbourne can no longer complain that everything in Adelaide closes at 9, it also means that Adelaideans themselves have more to do and see in their own city. It’s becoming cool and hip, which could just translate to more people staying rather than heading interstate or overseas in search of a busier city.
Onwards and upwards
From the focus on youth to the supportive entrepreneurial community, it’s clear that Adelaide is an innovative space and that the city’s growing sense of pride about itself will only see it develop further.
Leigh Morgan, co-founder of Vinomofo and The Engine Room, highlighted the city’s changing perception of itself on Friday. After living in Melbourne for a few years to work on Vinomofo, Morgan relished the opportunity to return to his hometown, which he found had changed. Gone is the tall poppy syndrome that had long plagued the city, he said. Now people are glad to see others succeed and grow, and help more do the same.
So, as more entrepreneurs stay put and look for ways to grow from Adelaide, we will surely be hearing more from the city’s startups in the next few years.
Startup Daily travelled to Adelaide courtesy of Brand South Australia.