How Adelaide became the best innovation hotspot in Australia

By David Russell

‘Entrepreneur’, ‘startup’ and ‘innovation’ are words South Australians have heard a lot of over the past year. In response to the decline of the state’s manufacturing and mining sectors, the state government has been throwing its support behind Adelaide’s entrepreneurial community, in the form of financial backing for programs and grants for startups, in the hope new businesses will become a significant driver of jobs and economic growth.

The sector received another vote of confidence last week when Adelaide won the Innovative Regions Award in the Australian Technologies Competition. While the victory made many on the east coast sit up and take notice, it didn’t come as a surprise to Adelaide City Council Entrepreneurship and Innovation Consultant Paul Daly, who implements strategy for supporting innovation in Adelaide and who drafted the bid to be considered for the prize.

“It (the bid) was very much built on the strength of the Adelaide entrepreneurial ecosystem and… the collaboration that is happening,” Paul told Inside South Australia.

One of the co-working spaces at Tonsley.

The co-working space at Tonsley.

One of Paul’s first tasks back in 2013 was mapping the entrepreneurship ecosystem to clearly show what support structures existed for Adelaide-based startups. What he found was quite remarkable; a network of over 40 support programs facilitated by government, education institutions and the business community. That figure has since risen to 116, and includes 18 co-working spaces, 13 incubators and the new Tonsley facility supporting fledgling tech companies.

“It’s a really well connected network of support for startups… that was our key strength… the fact that we’re all working together to get the best outcomes for the startup community.

The Adelaide entrepreneurship ecosystem map.

The Adelaide entrepreneurship ecosystem map.

“There was recognition at the 2014 global entrepreneurship summit in Sydney… that when you look at coordination, Adelaide was an exemplar.

“One example of that collaboration is that MEGA and Venture Dorm have come together to collaborate on delivering their programs.

“There is (also) a large number of people committed to giving back and helping startups.”

According to Paul, now is the perfect time to start a business in Adelaide, despite concerning economic indicators.

“One of the really interesting things about starting a business today is you can do so much at very little cost. In the past you may have needed to raise money earlier, now you can do a lot to develop and test your business model before you need to give up any equity.

“Through startup programs there is structured support… they (entrepreneurs) will get access to a range of mentors, all sorts of insight and ways to test their business concept and challenge their assumptions.”

Orren Prunckun (far bottom right) with Startup Weekend participants.

Orren Prunckun (far bottom right) with Startup Weekend participants.

One of those programs is Startup Weekend, launched by serial entrepreneur Orren Prunckun and his former startup business partner David Truong in 2011.

“I wanted to grow the early stage tech entrepreneurial community in Adelaide so I didn’t have to move interstate or overseas out of necessity,” said Orren.

“I saw a blog post saying that Startup Weekend was coming to Sydney. I called up David and said we should go. We competed in the event and it was a life changing experience. The methodology of allowing people to get more done in 54 hours than most can in 12 months was impactful.”

Orren and David left with a plan: to launch a Startup Weekend in Adelaide. After a flurry of emails and a 2.30am Skype meeting with Startup Weekend HQ in Seattle, Startup Weekend Adelaide was born. Three-and-a-half years and six events later Startup Weekend Adelaide has 600+ alumni, has partnered with Google and Microsoft Australia and has welcomed some big name South Australian entrepreneurs, including Andre Eikmeier (Vinomofo) and Simon Hackett (Internode), to share their experiences with participants.

Startup Weekend is a program where entrepreneurs assemble on a Friday to pitch ideas for new startup companies, then form teams around those ideas and develop a working prototype, demo, or presentation, all before Sunday night.

Blog770px-hub adelaide

The Hub Adelaide co-working space.

Other programs include Venture Dorm powered by MEGA, a pre-accelerator course run by Flinders University’s New Venture Institute and the Majoran co-working space, The University of Adelaide’s e-Challenge competition and the Spark program, where successful applicants receive three months free co-working and mentorship at Hub Adelaide.

Some of Adelaide’s most successful new startups have come through these programs, including Vinh Giang’s Encyclopaedia of Magic (Startup Weekend), Ben Marsh’s ODD Games (MEGA), Will Tamblyn and Gavin Smith’s VOXON (MEGA) and Steve Barrett and Chhai Thach’s GoReception (Majoran).

Got a good idea? Paul’s advice to any person considering starting a business in Adelaide is to tap into the incredible array of support programs on offer.

“The key message is there is an enormous amount of support… you certainly don’t need to ask permission, but you can ask for help.

“And in particular you should look at what’s available in the ecosystem, the programs and support that are available to get you where you want to go.”