Preparations are ramping up for SouthStart, South Australia’s premier startup and technology conference. To be held across June 8 and 9 at the Adelaide Convention Centre, the event will feature over 40 exhibitors and look to highlight the state’s growing ecosystem.
Event founder and director Chhai Thach said the event will aim to connect, educate, inspire, and showcase South Australia’s startup businesses, with talks on Australia’s fintech ecosystem, digital marketing, virtual reality, how to seek investment, and how South Australia can learn from and take advantage of other ecosystems in order to grow.
Among the speakers taking part will be Robert Scobles, tech blogger and entrepreneur in residence at Upload VR, cofounder of Tyro Payments Andrew Rothwell, general partner at Signal Ventures Atlanta Daniel, and Taryn Williams, cofounder and CEO of TheRight.Fit.
Joining Daniel and Williams – and rounding out the group of women on the agenda – will be Liza Noonan, executive manager of innovation at the CSIRO, and entrepreneurial marketer Yifat Shirben. With 17 men set to speak, this ratio isn’t great, and comes at a time when the issue of diversity at tech conferences is high on the agenda.
Above All Human cofounder Susan Wu called attention to this fact in the opening address of the conference earlier this year, saying it’s “bullshit” that other conferences say it’s too hard to get an equal gender split, while BlueChilli’s Alan Jones again drew attention to the issue after realising he was set to speak on an all-male panel at CeBit in Sydney last week.
Acknowledging this, Thach said he was disappointed with SouthStart’s gender split; he explained the aim had been to get to 50/50 but, with SouthStart not able to pay speakers a fee, many who were approached declined or were unable to take part.
Daniel, who is set to speak on a panel about investment, said that while an equal split should be the standard, she has seen that Thach has made an effort with a small budget.
“I’m happy to see it’s going up…just based on what I’ve seen in the industry, I feel the ratio is increasing; 20 percent is an improvement on no percent,” she said.
Furthermore, Daniel said, this issue is something that the community should be looking to solve together: for example, wouldn’t it be great if a tech company that has spoken about its efforts to increase diversity within its ranks sponsored speakers to get to Adelaide?
“What would be amazing is if we could figure out ways between us, as a community, to encourage diversity,” Daniel said.
“A lot of people involved in the conversation are in the periphery, watching it, rather than suggesting ways to increase diversity. As an example, if I was to go organise an event right now, how would I search? LinkedIn doesn’t divide by race, gender, or religion, so how do we do that? There are a handful of these tools but the more that we can all suggest, the better.”
Speakers aside, SouthStart will also be hosting a pitching competition, with the winner to receive a cash prize of $5,000.
The conference will be part of a week-long focus on entrepreneurship in South Australia, taking place at the tail end of Entrepreneurs Week. An initiative of stakeholders including the Adelaide Entrepreneurship Forum, Brand South Australia, and Adelaide City Council, the week will look to position the state as “the place for innovation” and a “place where entrepreneurs thrive.”
South Australia is certainly doing its best to position itself as the place for innovation, with the state government in March releasing a report outlining how it can improve the commercialisation of the state’s research and better support its startup ecosystem, with the establishment of a $50 million venture capital fund and development of a single comprehensive innovation policy statement among the recommendations presented.
Image: The 2015 SouthStart expo. Source: SouthStart.