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News & Analysis

Queensland University of Technology ends investments in creative startups

- June 15, 2020 2 MIN READ
Sandra Mau - TrademarkVision
TrademarkVision founder Sandra Mau
Coronavirus has dealt another blow to the arts and creative sector, with Queensland University of Technology (QUT) saying it will kill off 12-year-old Creative Enterprise Australia (CEA), including the CEA Startup Fund, which invested in successful startup ventures such as TrademarkVision over the last seven years.

In a statement on Friday, QUT said that “after a decade of delivering outstanding programs, activities and investments for creators, entrepreneurs, and innovators across Australia and globally” CEA will wind up in late 2020, including investments through the Creative Tech Ventures Fund.

Since launching in July 2013, the CEA Startup Fund has invested in 10 creative tech companies; including visual search technology company, TrademarkVision, which was acquired by Boston-based Clarivate Analytics. That seed funding round in 2014 was made alongside Right Click Capital, and became the first successful exit for both investors.

Right Click Capital partner Benjamin Chong said CEA has been a pioneer in developing and cultivating entrepreneurship in Australia’s creative community, including design, fashion, games, interactive media, music and screen.

“Over the last decade they’ve supported hundreds of creatives who have been pursuing interesting, innovative and inspiring projects. Right Click Capital was privileged to sit alongside CEA as a venture capital investor in tech startup, TrademarkVision, who greatly benefited from being a member of CEA’s workspace and community,” he said.

“We’ve also been impressed by CEA’s history of supporting startup founders through their accelerator programs, investment funds and support networks. While I’m saddened by CEA’s recent announcement, I’m grateful for the impact they’ve made and the strong friendships they’ve cultivated across creative, tech and investment communities.”

The CEA Startup Fund  is Australia’s only dedicated investment fund specialising in accelerating the growth of creative tech companies and TrademarkVision was its first early-stage investment. Other investments the personalised dress e-retailer, Fame and Partners, creative talent marketplace, theright.fit, and music subscription platform,GiggedIn.

The fund was designed to generate a commercial return while helping creative businesses access much-needed capital for growth and has invested more than $1.2 million.

It its statement announcing the end of CEA, QUT said it “was the first organisation nationally to recognise that the future of the economy would be determined by the strength of the new global currency, creativity”.

“For the last decade, CEA has educated, funded and consulted for students, start-ups, SME’s, corporates, universities and government, each of whom, in some way, is striving to create the future,” the university’s statement said.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on the Australian University sector. QUT specifically is planning to integrate and consolidate some of CEA’s core activities within the University, reflecting QUT’s priorities for creativity and entrepreneurship.

“The University is committed to ensuring that all CEA’s activities and efforts are directed towards maintaining commitment to these priorities. Key personnel and activities from CEA will continue to play a large role in supporting this agenda within QUT.”

Entrepreneur and investor Alan Jones, who was entrepreneur-in-residence at CEA in 2018, said in a post criticising the decision that CEA “undoubtedly made the difference” for the startups and other involved.

“Closing QUT CEA means none of that support exists, and the ‘shareholders’ of QUT (you and I, the taxpayers) will miss out on the returns on investment that were already revealing themselves in QUT CEA’s balance sheet,” he said.

“It’s like we’re choosing to ignore the future and hoping to find ways to export even more of the past.”