Aussies adding to London’s global startup scene

An article that I wrote for Tech City Insider that was published this morning.

Increasing numbers of Australian entrepreneurs are now calling Tech City home, with about 50 now run by Australians. It was unsurprising that Australian governor general Quentin Bryce wanted to visit this month. James Swanston, an Aussie running London green business Carbon Voyage, reports.

From brand new companies such as Talented Heads and The Fetch, through to more established names such as SkimlinksLovefilm and Hailo, and other parts of the ecosystem such as the London AcceleratorTechhub and 3Beards, Aussies are involved throughout the startup ecosystem. Even a member of the Tech City Investment Organisation has an Australian passport.

Australian Governor General Quentin Bryce at an afternoon tea at the London Accelerator with Aussies in Tech City including Shib Matthew (Yuno Juno), Sean Kirkegaard (Zoopa Heroes), Chris Skitch (Didgeroo) and Pru Ashby (TCIO).

Australian Governor General Quentin Bryce at an afternoon tea at the London Accelerator with Aussies in Tech City including Shib Matthew (Yuno Juno), Sean Kirkegaard (Zoopa Heroes), Chris Skitch (Didgeroo) and Pru Ashby (TCIO).

While all have their own individual stories about why they moved to London, there are a few common themes, particularly greater market opportunities and better access to capital than what is available back home. The great melting pot of cultures, ideas and adventure that you get in London is of course a great draw card also.

Bryce Keane, who founded marketing agency Albion Drive was inspired to base himself in London due to the boundless opportunities to make things happen here given that “everyone is from somewhere, which means everyone comes here to achieve something.” Not only did this allow him to fully immerse himself in the tech scheme, but then inspired him to be one of the co-founders of 3beards, which is all about building the community here.

As the first female to hold the role of governor general, Quentin Bryce was particularly keen to meet young female tech entrepreneurs in Tech City. One who had literally just arrived a few weeks before was Pip Jamieson from The Loop, who have created a platform that is not only easy for creative professionals to promote themselves on, but equally as easy for businesses to search and hire top creative talent.

Abnormally for an Australian entrepreneur in London, Jamieson was able to secure $2 million (about £1.3 million) in funding before moving to London. A key reason for her moving was seeing that the cultural barriers to entry were low and that “over the last decade the UK creative sector has grown twice as fast as the rest of the economy and has been identified as a key sector in driving economic recovery in the region.”

In common with many immigrant entrepreneurs, Australians see London as a great place to come together as a community and gain access to better funding and mentors compared to back home; rather than feeling rather alone in the startup world, being an entrepreneur in a startup community allows you to have a support network to help and advice from people that have gone through exactly the same ups and downs of startup life.

One of the most well-known Aussie founders here, Alicia Navarro of Skimlinks says she “left Australia to become an entrepreneur as – at the time – there was limited access to startup venture capital and no startup community. London had all of this, and was much easier for me to move to than the US.” A new entrepreneur to London, Natalie Waterworth from Talented Heads had a similar view when she recently moved over as she sees “no shortage of opportunities to start scalable businesses; the energy and enthusiasm in London’s digital community is captivating and all-encompassing.” For Australians also, the shared culture and similar business rules has made life easy for entrepreneurs such as Noel Duncan from Sisu Wellness to reduce some of the legal hassles of moving here.

Yet obtaining capital in Australia is seen as the key problem for many Australian entrepreneurs and actually many angel investors. Richard Celm, who runs the London Accelerator, agrees agrees saying that the investment community is far more mature than that back in Australia.

And Bill Morrow, who runs Angels Den, the biggest Angel network in the UK, says many Aussie entrepreneurs come to the UK and their Asian offices to access more efficient capital markets. He says they have dozens of Aussie angel investors using them to source deals simply because they can’t find suitable deals back home.

A good read

My father sent me a copy of “Now or Never: A sustainable future for Australia?“, which is a Quarterly Essay series. The paper was written by Tim Flannery, an eminent Australian scientist. It is an excellent essay. Interestingly, he was quite supportive of clean coal initiatives which would put him at odds with the guys from Age of Stupid (Peter Postlethwaite and some of the others have vowed not to ever vote for the UK Government again if they support the building of a new coal power station in the UK. One of my soldiers asked me about whether it was a bit strange that I was committed to environmental matters while being an army officer, and I guess the right answer is that the military has to be very mindful of the effects of climate change. Recent natural disasters have highlighted that military forces have been crucial to the provision of aid (eg. tsunami in Indonesia, Hurricane Katrina, bushfires in Australia etc). It would actually be quite interesting to contemplate the different military scenarios and implications arising from this whole issue – what may military forces be called upon to do, what happens if food supplies and other resources need to be fought over…

In other news, we in Carbon Voyage are working on our next software release, which should be out in a few days time. As with any beta trial, we have been fortunate to get a whole lot of feedback which has now been incorporated into our technology roadmap, and many features will be coming out in the next few weeks.

Lest We Forget

Today is the most important day in the year for me. It is the focal point for remembering those who have served and died for Australia. And of course, from the words of Laurence Binyon,

For The Fallen
With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condem.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

The Great Intelligence Scapegoat

I spent a number of years in military and defence intelligence working on issues related to the great array of operations that occur around the world with Iraq being the most notable one. Jokes aside about military intelligence, it was always fascinating to see “intelligence” used as an almost default answer when tough questions came up, often cited side by side with “national security” and “that’s classified”. While at some later point I may write an article about the somewhat inprecise nature of intelligence collection and analysis, I thought I may write about the misunderstood and misrepresented nature of the role of intelligence in decision making (particularly at the political/ strategic level). It was tough learning this lesson as intelligence professionals would perhaps prefer that their imput becomes the key factor in decision making but that is wrong.

Fundamentally, intelligence is only one of a range of factors that goes into decision making and nothing more. Political and policy factors are just as important, and possibly carry more weight. While decision makers should weigh up all the factors, some of the non-intelligence factors can take prominence AND can be hidden by using “intelligence” as a very useful and convenient scapegoat. The case for invading Iraq is a case in point. There was desire for regime change however the political reality dictated that an alternate justification be given, hence the WMD issue. While circumstantial evidence existed to suggest the existence of WMD, WMD concerns were elevated and assessments not based on fact or evidence were then used to justify the 2003 war (the link between Iraq and Al Qaeda was far more spurious).  Intelligence assessments would also have pointed to the importance of not winding down operations in Afghanistan in 2002, but again the political and policy considerations of the then up-coming invasion of Iraq took precedence.

Some get offended by saying that they are misled by their governments but this is perhaps a nieve view. Politics and deception are interwoven to quite a degree. Governments and opposition parties use and misuse information they have at hand to enhance their own position (and neither side is blameless). Intelligence is a great target for misuse as national security considerations will often prevent real information or assessment from being brought into public view – and therefore scrutiny is absent.

Iraq Memoirs

When I served in Iraq back in 2004, I wrote a number of group emails that I sent to my friends and family. After returning to Australia, a few people suggested that I consolidate them and consider publishing them (not that they are necessarily any good). Anyway, I have posted them on my blog, so if you are interested, go to Dispatches from the Front. There is a table of contents there as well.

Australian Cricket Tour to Zimbabwe banned

It is great to see that the Australian Government (with bipartisan support) has stepped in and banned the upcoming cricket tour to Zimbabwe. In the Sydney Morning Herald, the Prime Minister was quoted as saying:

“We don’t do this lightly, but we are convinced that for the tour to go ahead there would be an enormous propaganda boost to the Mugabe regime.

“The Mugabe regime is behaving like the Gestapo towards its political opponents. The living standards in the country are probably the lowest of any in the world, you have an absolutely unbelievable rate of inflation.

“I have no doubt that if this tour goes ahead it will be an enormous boost to this grubby dictator.”

It is just a shame the the International Cricket Council (ICC) is not willing to recognise that sometimes it is important to take a stand against morally bankrupt situations.

Australia’s Budget 2007 and Federalism

This week is perhaps the pinnacle of the annual parliamentary calendar seeing the Treasurer deliver the annual budget for the nation , followed up two days later by a somewhat ficticious response by the Opposition leader. Undeniably, the last decade of Liberal government has seen a return to economic responsibility with the removal of 100 billion dollars worth of government debt, continued surpluses, low inflation, unemployment and so on. There are a number of elements of the budget which I think are disappointing (low ICT spending being a key one), but in general the budget again highlights the strong credentials of the Government.

Quite a lot of the budget (and budget response) centred around education. I continue to find it somewhat bizarre that the Opposition sees that the Federal Government is responsible for the failings within the education system. I think that both the Government and Opposition see that the current education system has many failings – but rather than blaming the Federal Government, a lot of the fault needs to lie with state governments.

The concept of state governments was certainly valid back in the late 19th century when Australia comprised of several semi-autonomous colonies. However, it is now somewhat anachronistic and highly inefficient to have this multiplicity of state-based education systems that are frankly below par with other countries. Accepting that primary and secondary education is poor in Australia needs to be linked to seeing that the key responsibility for these institutions lies with state governments, not the Commonwealth. If blame is to be seen to fall on the Commonwealth Government, then it is fair for the Commonwealth to take responsibility for these institutions. Interestingly, the issue of revising the federal-state divide is one that has much bipartisan support. Of course, getting an electorate to appreciate this would be another matter – ah, the joys of democracy…