Sydney has a plan to boost startups but the industry isn't completely happy with it

Startups getting to work at Telstra’s accelerator muru-D.

Working within a limited scope, City of Sydney Council is trying to do its bit to make Sydney the startup capital of Australia but many in the industry think it’s still got a long way to go.

This month it has released its draft startup action plan and on Tuesday the council held a forum at Sydney Town Hall where Lord Mayor Clover Moore addressed the city’s tech community which gathered to debate what the sector’s priorities should be.

iCentral.co and the Start Society founder Pete Cooper as well as StartupAUS director Jana Matthews addressed the room which included Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes, BlueChilli’s Alan Jones, OneShift founder Gen George and Muru-D mentor Mick Liubinskas.

The council acknowledged that the needs of tech startups are very different to that of regular, small businesses and by boosting the community more jobs could be added to the region.

“You are the people we want in Sydney. Clever, resilient and innovative,” City of Sydney economic strategy advisor Charnelle Mondy told the room.

Australia’s largest companies are still Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton, Telstra and the four big banks, but Mondy said the nation’s long-term stability was reliant on innovative companies.

Mondy said if startups aren’t supported: “We’ll become consumers, not creators of technologies. We’ll become employees of multinational companies not founders.”

The council is talking the talk to the right people in the industry. They even noted how aggressive London’s plan to build a fintech hub in the city had been.

But the proof will be in the actions.

The draft plan is open to submission but remains a simple framework. The details will need to be figured out in collaboration with members of the startup community.

The council said priorities would be determined in the plan, which will be iterative, and will be budgeted for each financial year.

Pointing to 457 and entrepreneurial visas, lack of investment and crowdfunding regulations, Mondy said there are a lot of issues which are a concern to the community which “aren’t within our control”.

However she said the council does have the capacity to be an advocate for Sydney startups at both state and federal levels.

She also said the council is looking at establishing awareness programs, events, implementing coding classes in libraries, launching visiting entrepreneur tours and is working on positioning Sydney as a tech startup city on the global stage.

The council will assess if more startups can become suppliers to the city and it will consider publishing data sets to spark ideas.

Sydstart founder Pete Cooper explained Sydney doesn’t have to be the biggest startup environment but that the community could work on being the most connected. It’s about increasing density.

Telstra’s Muru-D mentor Mick Liubinskas is working on a larger submission with a number of other entrepreneurs but his initial thoughts on the draft plan were that it lacked leadership and focus.

“The plan needs a full time person to lead it and they need to be an entrepreneur to have credibility,” he said, adding it need to be more global and have “more emphasis on bringing global entrepreneurs to Sydney and taking Sydney entrepreneurs to the world.

“I’d be much happier if the plan was trying to do more work on less.”

StartupAUS director Jana Matthews says the plan needs to focus on density, velocity and connectivity.

“The most important thing isn’t starting a company, it’s growing it,” she said, adding a startup is “like having a baby” where the most important thing isn’t about just having the child but “growing it to become a global citizen”.

Fintech co-working hub Stone and Chalk CEO Alex Scandurra says to amplify Sydney’s startup ecosystem the companies need investment, mentoring and corporate connections and the plan should include those three elements.

“Fundamentally it’s about mobilising each and everyone of us to start making a difference for ourselves,” he said, adding from his experience working in London the ecosystem over there is already about four years ahead of Sydney.

“They’ve just taken, in a global context, fintech by storm…There’s a whole lot of things that we need to do,” he said, adding one focus should be “mobilising existing talent here in Australia that’s in the corporate or government domain.”

Cooper explained part of the value of a startup plan like this is it creates “messy debate which good democracies have” and while “Sydney is not San Francisco” the city needs to “focus on our attributes which are unique”.

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