10 startups to watch in 2021

28/01/2021 - 14:00


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Could WA’s next Canva be ready to take on the world? Some pointers on what to look for among the leading local hopefuls.

10 startups to watch in 2021
Tiller Rides founder, Julian Ilich. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira

Attention has turned again to finding the next big thing in tech startups, particularly as the state grows increasingly reliant on selling more iron ore to China.

Picking the next business to lift off can be as much science as it is art or just pure luck, but there are some factors successful startups share.

Timing is a big one: being right on the curve as it shifts. Not too far ahead, but not late either. You can’t win a race if it’s already been run.

Besides timing, the pre-conditions for a period of sustainable, fast growth seem to be:

• Solving a clear customer problem.

• An excellent team.

• Large, untapped market.

• Encouraging early results (traction).

• Scalable, well-built technology.

• Strong business model.

• Access to sufficient capital.

Looking around the startup scene, we can identify several companies that spent 2020 setting themselves up nicely for growth this year.

In alphabetical order:

Ads on Wheels

Paying drivers to drive their normal routes, while having ads on their car is a neat idea.

After running the service in Perth for two years, its 2021 aspirations are to open operations in every major city in Australia.

Ads on Wheels graduated as one of the selected seven companies in last year’s Plus Eight tech accelerator, backed by RAC’s Betterlabs, Spacecubed and others.

Complete Home Filtration

Sales exploded last year, as Suzanne Dodds’ two-year-old company drove strong online business during COVID.

With monthly sales approaching $1 million a month by the end of the year, the company opened a Brisbane office, won the Business News Rise Awards (Startup category) and raised $2.4 million from Betterlabs and a Tasmanian family office to fund expansion to Sydney, Adelaide and then the US.

Digii Social

Another 2020 Plus Eight graduate, Claire Orange’s digital platform enables schools to teach safe online practices to Years five and six.

In 2021, the service will be commercialised around Australia, to South-East Asian school markets and the UK.


Tim Brewer’s intelligent organisational chart business received significant funding from the federal government and other sources last year to develop its real-time work design tool.

Business is growing 30 per cent monthly, much of it from the US.

The team could achieve 10 times the growth in 2021.


David Pettit’s company raised $12 million last year, in what was the largest single investment for an early-stage, private tech company in WA.

By acquiring financial advisory businesses, the business plugs into an existing database of clients, providing them with a ‘digital picture’ of their wealth, as well as various financial products.


Judged the Lateral Incite Awards Startup of the Year in 2020, Lucy Cooke’s 3-D planning tool enables various users to ‘see’ their projects across time and space.

From her background in Hollywood through to applications in education, mining and multiple industries, plus a recent funds raise, the company seems well set.

Swan Systems

Three former agriculture and business entrepreneurs set up the ‘scheduling water and nutrients’ (SWAN) system a few years ago, based on many decades of experience.

With users in various countries, capital, and a big win in a recent global agtech competition, strong sales growth is coming from Australia, Africa and North and South America.

Tiller Rides

Founder Julian Ilich has put together a strong team of employees and advisers, raising more than $1 million in equity crowd funding in 2020.

With a strong list of pre-orders, the company will be rolling out its revolutionary Roadster e-bike in mid-2021, with a goal of selling more than 1,000 across Australia in its first year, before taking on the European market.


Another winner of a federal government grant, and former WA Innovator of the Year, Tom Young’s company has pioneered the online lodgement, costing and regulatory work behind home renovations.

Thoroughly tested by councils and government departments, its first publicly available products designed to relieve the ‘COVID bottleneck’ will launch in early 2021, in Australia and New Zealand.


After successfully founding fintech SwitchMyLoan (which he then sold to Pioneer Credit) Dan Jovevski is back at it again with WeMoney.

Raising $2 million from local and interstate investors during a pandemic, the ‘smart way to manage your money’ was launched in September 2020, adding team members, AI-based insights and the ability to save on home and personal loans.

Of course, being on this list does not guarantee the startup great years. No doubt there will be many more that do wonderful things that are not on the list.

We will check in with them at the end of the year.

• Charlie Gunningham is founder and principal of digital strategy advisory business Damburst


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