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Meet the CEO behind Barangaroo's newest startup lab

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As CEO of River City Labs Peta Ellis knows a thing or two about startups. She’s mentored hundreds in her time as the former General Manager at River City Labs.

As the founder of multiple startup and entrepreneurship programs, she is responsible for fostering one of the most thriving entrepreneurial scenes in the nation. Now Ellis will be bringing her extraordinary skills to the Sydney startup scene as River City Labs launches a sister brand Harbour City Labs at swank new premises in Barangaroo.

The latest incarnation of River City Labs is the result of the acquisition last September by ACS and is packaged towards startups and scaleups who are in the B2B space. According to Ellis, the Barangaroo location provides an ideal opportunity to leverage the proximity to corporates and utilise the ACS’ already impressive network of connections.

“I think the ecosystem in Sydney is very different to Brisbane, it is mature and thriving.” says Ellis. “The companies down here are quite mature. The overall level of activity in this sector is also much higher. There’s so much going in Sydney. We will have the opportunity to work with founders in NSW who are looking for a level of support that we are well known for.”

Ellis added:

“One of the strengths of Australia’s system of federation, is that our citizens and founders respond positively to States and Territory rivalries, pushing each other to greater heights. You can see this on our River Pitch program currently being aired on Your Money. In launching the sister brand strategy of Harbour City Labs we really want to foster the tribe spirit in our Brisbane and Sydney operations. Of course, this is not about cannibalising the domestic market, we are concentrating on supporting founders to go global.”

The Harbour City Labs startups and scaleups will situated in Tower One, Barangaroo, where neighbouring companies the likes of PwC and KPMG, offer the opportunity to rub shoulders with key people within other organisations.

“We will engineer those opportunities,” Ellis confirms.

Habour City Labs is seeking scale ups in the B2B enterprise space who are product focused and building for global markets from day one.

“Through Startup Catalyst, another key brand in our stable, we facilitate international missions to global startup hotspots such as London, Berlin, San Francisco, Boulder and Tel Aviv. We have strong networks and connections in those countries with government, industry, founder and investor networks, and provide founding teams with exposure and immersion into those ecosystems, particularly beneficial if they are looking to expand there.”

Ellis says given River City Labs and ACS’ connections in the tech and enterprise tech space, she believes startups and scaleups who are looking for connections and support within the deep tech space will benefit most from relocating to Harbour City Labs.

Although she will be dividing her time between Sydney and Brisbane, Ellis insists she will be as hands on with the Sydney startups as she has with Brisbane in the past. She realises the community element and mentoring are a huge part of the River City Labs appeal. While Ellis’s extensive experience in the marketing and communications space is also a boon.

“We run many in-house programs and deep dives for startups to get the most out of all our individual personal connections and experience as well as our network of experienced entrepreneurs who give back to new founders. We have amazing mentors and EIR’s who have all been there before and now dedicate their time to other founders walking the same path.

“All of our members benefit from our personal and professional connections. We are genuinely interested in working alongside all of our founders, we take it very personally to assist every way we can. We love the type of people we get to work with and are passionate about helping them grow their business,” says Ellis.

One skill all startups need to brush up on is their pitch. Having a great idea is only the first step. Being able to communicate that idea effectively to customers, partners and investors is vital.

“We host structured workshops on pitching. We work with all of our members to make sure everyone is always what we call ‘pitch ready’. I love this part. I will never shy away from watching pitches, giving feedback and helping teams to refine their message. It’s so important and a skill that needs to be refined time and time again. .”

Purpose also has a part to play

“Purpose plays a big role in why founders identify problems worth solving and why they build business on the back of it. If they’ve got purpose there is often a very different depth to the business and the founder’s drive to solve it. Some businesses though are unique, complex and very technical or industry specific and may not be as purpose-driven as others. In those cases the founder needs to be driven by the size of the opportunity.”

Ellis believes for Sydney’s startup founders who are ready to take their startup to the next level Habour City Labs can bring enormous benefits.

“In an extremely crowded marketplace of spaces and program, if a founder is dedicated to progressing themselves as an entrepreneur and also progressing and accessing as many opportunities as they can for their company to enable it to scale in growth, then I would suggest it’d be a perfect place for them.

She says Harbour City Labs is seeking scaleups with big vision, passion and dedication. “We focus on founders needs first and we surround them with as much support, contacts and network accessibility that we can. We will provide access to the best of the best and introduce our members to our little black book of connections here and globally. Anyone with genuine drive and determination to grow and scale and does not shy away from the hard challenges that entrepreneurship brings, Harbour City Labs is absolutely the place that can support Startups through that.

We look for founders who know exactly what they want and where they are heading as we can assist them better. Early stage companies who are still road testing new ideas have a little way to go to get the most out of what Harbour City Labs offers but there always opportunities to lean more and surround yourself with smart driven people.”

Ellis suggests small startup teams that are seeking a professional environment will really benefit from joining Harbour City Labs at Barangaroo.

“The advantages of being in a professional environment like Barangaroo is that it’s not like other startup hubs. It’s a great opportunity to bring in potential investors, clients and partners to showcase what you are working on and highlight the value of the network supporting you. And that is what we really hanging our hat on. Providing that next level platform for those companies to really own their status and say, ‘Yes, we’re a company. And this is where we’re heading and we’re going to take whatever it takes to get there’.”

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