For a long time, Sydney’s startup ecosystem seemed to operate primarily on the fringes of the city, with the highest concentration of startups located on Harris St in Ultimo.
To help complete the slow crawl inwards and see the community take its place in the heart of the CBD will be Lighthouse, a startup precinct to be located in International Tower 3 at Barangaroo, one of the most talked about new developments in a city that of late has looked to be constantly under construction.
Lighthouse is the brainchild of muru-D cofounder Annie Parker, who will depart the accelerator at the end of the year to take over as the inaugural CEO of Lighthouse, and Anthony Farah, CEO of innovation agency Vivant.
Sitting on the board of Code Club Australia together for over two years and watching the organisation grow to reach over 60,000 students across the country, the pair found they shared a passion for the idea of pushing innovation literacy and education further into the mainstream. Wondering how to do this, they came up with Lighthouse.
While the details are still being finalised, the space is expected to surpass the 6,500 square metres of ATP Innovations at Redfern and will thus become the largest innovation precinct in Australia. It comes as the 2016 Crossroads report, released today, called again for startup communities to be geographically concentrated to spur collaboration and growth.
In this space, Parker and Farah envision bringing in early stage startups through to large tech companies passionate about paying it forward and sharing knowledge to help the community grow – acting as a lighthouse for the ecosystem, if you will.
“It’s more purpose-driven, it’s not just a desk and a chair. We want it to be a vibrant community where you get something out of it just by being there and helping others. It’s about opening the doors to a large space where startups know they can come and learn, connect, and grow, and I’m so excited about making sure we nail that pay it forward concept right from the get go,” Parker said.
“Even if you can’t pay physically with cash, what else can you do for the community? You can share your expertise on a subject or mentor a startup; all these things have currency.
The idea of paying it forward starts with Lighthouse existing at Barangaroo at all. As one of the city’s most anticipated developments, on prime waterfront real estate no less, office space in the towers is not cheap.
Here Parker credits the forward thinking of Liam Timms, a fund manager with developer Lend Lease.
“If you look at normal brands you would consider going into Barangaroo, it would be the traditional corporates like the PwCs and Westpacs of this world. The problem is that when you look at the shift we know is coming, that a significant chunk of the workforce will have their job automated, if that’s passed through into what that means for large-scale office spaces, it means that in 10 years time they’re going to have an occupancy problem,” Parker said.
With Farah getting to know the developers through another project with Vivant, Parker said they were then able to come up with a different structure, filling the space with potential growth businesses rather than the well-known brands of today.
The idea is mutually beneficial, Parker said. “If we get it right in the next two to three years, then we fix their problem for the long term.”
Though the details are still being worked out, it is expected that the office space will be subsidised for startups.
This addresses a concern that was raised by the community last year upon the release of the NSW Government’s White Bay innovation precinct plan, when the likes of Atlassian stated that the harbour-front views would come at a premium that startups could not afford to pay.
With Lighthouse’s opening pencilled in for March or April next year, Parker said Barangaroo is the “natural next step” for the Sydney startup community to keep growing.
“Everything has been building towards a moment like this. I’ve been here three years and the growth of the ecosystem since I’ve been here has been phenomenal. Sydney needs this, and I’m just delighted to play a small part in it.”
Image: Annie Parker and Anthony Farah. Source: Supplied.