I’ve long been a strong advocate of the need for all Australians to have access to high speed broadband as a fundamental enabler of business, economic and social development. In the wake of major Nickel refinery closure and reduction in fly in fly out mining work across the region, North Queensland has faced serious challenges to its job market and economy.
So I was greatly encouraged on visiting Townsville last week (to celebrate ACS' 50th Anniversary with our North Queensland Chapter and Chair Matthew Bulat) to discover a thriving start-up community that is reinventing the regional city, by leveraging technology and the NBN to engage with the world.
Townsville was an early beneficiary of the NBN roll-out and already has 18 suburbs fully wired with fibre optic cable delivering high speed broadband for private and commercial use. One of the outcomes of this investment has been a collaborative push by Townsville City Council, regional educational institutions and start-up spaces like Innovation North Queensland (iNQ) to attract and empower entrepreneurs and start-ups to turn their dreams into reality.
Matthew introduced me to Luke Anear, founder and CEO of SafetyCulture, the region’s largest software developer which has achieved a level of growth that many companies based in larger cities like Sydney or Melbourne would envy.
With a focus on safety critical systems, SafetyCulture uses phone-based checklists and templates to help companies and individuals ensure compliance with safety checks, thus reducing the number of accidents.
SafetyCulture’s mobile app, iAuditor, is used around the world for over a million inspections and safety checks every month. Over the past few years, the company has built a repository of over 65,000 templates offering best practice safety checklists for every possible industry sector, hosted by Amazon Web Services and available globally. Companies like Coles and General Electric use iAuditor every day, along with aviation engineers, construction firms, transport companies and hotels, among others.
SafetyCulture has grown from one to 75 staff in the last four years and attracted over $45 million in unsolicited venture capital funding; investors like Atlassian co-founder, Scott Farquhar was introduced to the company and wanted to play a role in its success.
Ready access to fast broadband not only allows SafetyCulture to serve customers all over the world, but also enables daily video communications between the company’s offices in Townsville, Sydney, San Francisco and Kansas City in the US and Manchester, UK.
SafetyCulture is not alone in building a successful ICT business in North Queensland. Another company on the fast track is JESI, which provides Journey Management solutions to automate the paperwork associated with a mobile workforce, including a check-in process to ensure they arrive safely at their destination. With customers in 16 countries around the world, JESI relies heavily on the promise of reliable infrastructure to support its business activities.
Start-up spaces like iNQ’s Townsville Innovation Centre operate as a catalyst for growth, offering a cooperative workspace with a range of services and linkages to meet the needs of any aspiring start-up.
Like the Austrade Landing Pad I visited in Shanghai last month, the iNQ Village supports start-ups in accessing the services they need to grow including Tanya Barlow, an electrical engineer with an industry background who offers a technical liaison role in English and Mandarin for individuals and companies working in the Chinese market.
I also paid a visit to the Associate Vice-Chancellor at CQUuniversity in Townsville. CQUuniversity in Townsville is playing its part in the regional ecosystem by growing the talent pool to meet future workforce requirements by expanding its campus with a new building, set for completion to accept enrolments in semester 1, 2017.
The combination of North Queensland’s balmy climate and relaxed, affordable lifestyle, coupled with a fast-growing ICT eco-system supported by high-speed broadband, could well see it become a high growth region that sets a new standard for start-up success. We will watch with interest.