​You won’t believe what the Australian government just told UK startups to get them to move here

What UK startups should know before swallowing that guff

Picture: Dimitris Kalogeropoylos

Picture: Dimitris Kalogeropoylos

The UK’s Computer Weekly reports that, on Monday, The Australian High Commission in the UK held an event for UK startups, called “The Australian technology and innovation forum” which hoped to attract UK innovators and startups should Brexit happen.

The article opens with the first contentious point:

1. “The Australian government has called on UK technology startups to set up shop on its shores, with the promise of government support, a highly skilled workforce and a stepping stone to Asia.”

While the latter two points are correct one can only imagine what a UK startup would make of the government “support” on offer should they actually move here.

Perhaps they could make use of this astronomical amount of money which apparently now exists…?

2. “The Australian government understands its importance and is investing in the sector. In 2015, it made investments worth A$9.7bn to science, research and innovation. It also offers tax breaks to early stage companies.”

It’s difficult to imagine what colossal-sized arse that number was plucked from or how the statement could have been delivered with a straight face. Of course The Australian High Commission could have been more accurate if it had instead spoken about the government’s 2016 figures for startups - just $15m - or the paltry $8m incubator support program funds. It could have mentioned the $28m "Ideas Boom" pro-government marketing campaign that hasn’t actually translated to any noticeable change in Australia’s startup sector.

It’s unlikely the High Commission mentioned how Australia had destroyed a booming renewable energy industry in preference of promoting coal – including the $15m creation of a fossil fuel innovation center (yes that actually happened). Or how the country’s leading research and innovation institution, CSIRO, had had funding slashed or the highly-regarded ICT research and innovation body, NICTA, had lost funding and been transformed in to tedious data entity, Data61. Or how world-leading $40bn Fibre-to-the-Home National Broadband Network had been replaced with an unworkable $60bn upgrade to the rotten, copper phone network for political reasons which will leave the nation's broadband speeds lagging the world in just five years time all while the Minister for Science and Innovation says we don’t need fibre speeds when the evidence shows that we obviously do.

Hopefully the tech startups being addressed weren’t too techie otherwise they may be concerned by the recent announcement from Angus Taylor, Assistant Minister For Cities & Digital Transformation, that “The national broadband network (NBN) is "not a defining factor" in Australia's efforts to become an innovation hub.” However, they may be swayed by all of the prominent Australian innovation figures who seem to come out in support of every government announcement (sorry Matt! – although…. this) before they're exposed as hot air.

Any UK startup that does choose to relocate to Australia’s ‘supposed land of startup opportunity’ will, however, get to experience the following: a handful of accelerators which take lots of your money and a large chunk of your company’s equity in return for building your product – if they like it – sometimes after you’ve paid to pitch to them. Plenty of announcements of start-up grants in the media which don’t actually appear. The constant hailing of great-Australian-startup, Atlassian, which launched in 2003 - before Facebook and AWS. A string of startup conferences and pitch-fests with no tangible prizes. Potentially-appalling real-estate options. Lectures from genuine experts like AngelCube co-founder Adrian Stone telling you to leave and go to America at the first opportunity.

We’ve got an election coming up but that’s not guaranteed to fix anything (except possibly the broadband clusterfail).

Meanwhile, some Australian startups and accelerators, like Sakura Sky, are relocating to Singapore where the genuinely start-up friendly Corporate state is tempting people and companies with a tax-friendly innovation-focused environment and a genuine “on Asia’s doorstep” location.

UK startups seeking an antipodean culture whilst on an Asia-friendly time-zone should check out New Zealand’s Wellington which has seized upon Australia’s backwards steps and declared itself a genuine hub of innovation with fibre broadband and relocation grants.

Nonetheless, it’s still worth noting that Australia’s almost complete innovation failure provides in itself an opportunity to succeed – just in a much harsher financial environment and in a country that generally struggles to trust anything new. We also have better weather, friendlier people and the beaches kick arse. So all good and no worries. Except for Sydney’s lockout laws. Which are shit.

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Nick Ross
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