Atlassian's Mike Cannon-Brookes has an incredible plan for Sydney's tech startup community

Australian Technology Park, Sydney.

Atlassian’s Mike Cannon-Brookes has met with a bunch of government officials across local, state and federal branches to work out how to improve the nation’s tech industry.

After spending more than 10 years establishing and transforming Atlassian into a global tech powerhouse worth more than $US3.3 billion, the entrepreneur wants to ensure Australia has a strong economic future, which he sees as being tied hand-in-hand with a solid technology sector.

But in Sydney, where the majority of Australia’s tech startups and growth companies are based, there’s no physical hub or place for the industry to gather and collaborate.

He sees the Australian Technology Park, on the outskirts of the CBD near Redfern, as having the potential to be that location. And he’s willing to foot the bill and move his Australian office if that’s what it takes to get the idea off the ground.

Mike Cannon-Brookes.

“I don’t think you just get a space and magic happens. What I do think is people gravitate to spaces as a manifestation of commitment very much,” he said.

“The manifestation of the Australian Technology Park, which is named gloriously but isn’t really, I don’t think anyone would actually tell you that that’s exactly what it is right now.

“It’s what it could be.”

The state government opened up a tender for the sale of ATP which closed in August. While Cannon-Brookes missed the tender period, he said if the 14ha of land were to be sold off to developers for general business purposes it would be a big sign that support for the tech industry is going backwards. Currently the government tech research body NICTA, startup incubators ATP Innovations and Startmate are all based at tech park and their leases will be transferred to the new owner.

“It going away would be a very bad thing, in name and in everything else (if it were to be turned into a generic business park),” he said.

So living his company value of being the change you seek, Cannon-Brookes has put together a crack team and is working on a plan to save ATP.

He says he’s already got a tonne of support from tech execs both in Australia and around the world.

“There’s been a massive number of people who have come back and said ‘Man, I’m in, I’ll move move 100 people, 150 people,’ so it’s been great,” he said.

“There’s certainly huge interest in creating a location with density of technology teams and products. Everything from startups and incubators to venture capitalists to big, growth firms like ourselves to multinational outposts.

“A whole lot of multinationals have reached out to say ‘Hey I’d love to put our team in there close to everyone else’. That would be great for the technology industry, and great for Sydney.”

Currently the City of Sydney council, state and federal governments are trying to figure out how to grow the tech sector. This week the city council released its draft action plan and while there’s still a lot of work to be done on it, it’s a first step.

Pointing to London, Berlin and New York, Cannon-Brookes says Sydney has a lot of catching up to do but it all starts with a physical space, be it Roosevelt Island in New York, or Silicon Roundabout or Shoreditch in London.

“It just seemed to me that it would be a huge shame if we lost that opportunity in Sydney,” he said.

Aside from establishing a physical location for Australia’s tech community, Cannon-Brookes explained there’s a lot of work to be done around education and labour policy to bolster the sector.

He said the city also needs to work on its branding so it’s seen around the world as a place which develops quality tech solutions.

“We need it to be a part of our brand as a city in Sydney and as a country, which in Australia, it’s not,” Cannon-Brookes said.

“That brand is important. When people think about Sydney, they think about beaches, the Opera House, tourism, they may think about sport or cricket but they don’t think about sophisticated business, they don’t think about technology.

“That brand has to be backed up with action.”

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