River City Labs is planning a big move to a heritage-listed building down the road from their current address in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley in the next few months.
Until then, the startup hub created by Shark Tank Australia judge Steve Baxter is located on one floor of a former drapery.
The 550 square metre hub is still “basically a sweatshop” says operations manager Josh Anthony, “down to the fact things break all the time.”
The space – which is essentially a gigantic rectangular room, is divided into three rows. One third is the “events space”, the middle third has rows of desks mostly taken up with the new accelerator program and part time members, and the last third are full time startups.
Here is the row in the third, with the accelerator program:
Right in the middle of the floor is a huge skylight, above the middle third. It’s mostly the startups in the accelerator program working underneath it.
The harsh sun streaming through the skylight above some of the desks is so bright they have set up umbrellas over several of the desks.
The permanent desks have more permanent setups – with people enjoying multiple monitors and chalkboards.
River City Labs is at capacity, with a hundred members. Until they move to their new location and free up more space, there is a waiting list to access the facilities they provide.
The last third is the events space, which sees 3-5 events per week. The day I visited they had just had a juice day.
The startup space also hosts speakers, pitching contests and even Brisbane’s Startup Weekend. More than a hundred people descended on the small space for this year’s event.
You can’t quite see it, but a hardworking coder is taking a nap in those beanbag chairs.
The startups inside River City Labs are varied, from web designers to online courses and tutorials, app builders to a service that creates personal playlists.
But RCL’s entrepreneur in residence Aaron Birkby says that Brisbane hasn’t found its startup niche yet.
The Brisbane startup ecosystem is being partially fed by graduates from three local universities – Griffith, Queensland University and the Queensland University of Technology.
More than just teaching technology, there are interesting programs at the universities to encourage entrepreneurism and further development in tech grads, such as QUT Code.
There are also a few corporations who draw talent. Suncorp, for example, is a big employer of technical talent.
But Birkby says that only about 50% of the founders are technical, and there are some interesting mixes. In the accelerator alone there is a PE teacher, a quantity surveyor and a serial entrepreneur.
“While the rest of the country talks about startups, we are doing it,” says Birkby.