Sydney might be the only Australian city with a top 20 ranking as an international start-up hub, but governments are keenly aware the city may struggle to maintain its ranking in future if the status quo is maintained.
“NSW is the start-up state and Sydney is the start-up city,” NSW Premier Mike Baird said at the opening of the annual CeBIT Australia exhibition in Sydney.
“We’re very proud of where we sit at the moment [in Australian and world rankings], but we don’t just want words or slogans, we want to live and breathe it.
“At the moment close to two-thirds of start-ups in Australia are in Sydney. Now that’s almost to a sense good luck rather than good management.
“We want to build on that. We want to be strategic about it and we want to facilitate and make this an opportunity.
“I want to give you this deep sense of understand that there is strong political will to make this happen.”
That political will extended now through Australia’s three tiers of government – federal, state and local, noted Sydney’s Lord Mayor Clover Moore.
“With innovation now firmly on the agenda of the federal government as well as the state government and the City of Sydney, we have the opportunity to develop a more proactive approach to fostering this key area of the economy,” Moore said.
“No one level of government can drive innovation on its own.
“We need a collaborative strategic plan to capitalise on Australia’s strengths as an innovative and entrepreneurial country.”
Like Baird, Moore also noted the fortuitousness of Sydney’s – and in some ways Australia’s – development of entrepreneurial cultures.
“Australia has a long history of innovation though in the past many of the innovators were starved of resources and support that would have allowed them to develop their brilliant ideas,” she said.
Moore believed that local governments could provide a lot of on-the-ground support to foster innovation culture in their constituencies.
“We’ve developed our own tech start-up action plan to encourage more people to become entrepreneurs, to increase opportunities for them to access investment and talent, and to expand hubs of office and event space, create a more connected ecosystem, and reduce regulatory barriers that they face,” Moore said.
She also discussed joint commitments with the state government to support start-up growth.
“This collaboration [with the NSW government] can establish a coordinated and metropolitan wide innovation strategy that can build on recent gains and consolidate the longer term foundation of Sydney’s economic success,” Moore said.
At a state level, Baird said the “numerical” gains from a successful digital economic strategy could be “quite incredible”.
He said the NSW government is focusing on growing three areas of capability in particular: fintech, medical technology and cyber security.
The fintech space is moving at a rapid rate, and obviously we want to be a critical player in that,” Baird said.
“At the moment we sit third behind the USA and UK. We’re doing additional collaboration with Israel but a critical part of our success will be in this space.”
Baird said that the size of the population and the ageing demographics meant that medical technology companies had a strong platform to grow.
He noted the likes of ResMed and Cochlear as existing success stories but that more could be done to make “medical technology a huge part of the future.”
On the cyber security front, Baird said that while increased threats needed to be addressed by businesses, there is also “a massive business opportunity” around cyber security, “and that is where we also will be focusing”.
“We recently had a trip to Israel and met with some of the large players in that cyber security space and it is clear there’s an opportunity for us to collaborate with them in particular,” Baird indicated.
Baird noted the NSW government’s investment in new spaces in the city, including Barangaroo which is intended to become a financial and fintech hub, and White Bay, which is to be redeveloped as an innovation hub under a plan that has the ACS’ support.
“There’s much more work to do but we’re very excited about where we’re going,” Baird said, adding that his government would make several innovation-related announcements in coming months.