Spacecubed a tech force multiplier

08/11/2021 - 15:11

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Limitless WA: Spacecubed has helped build Perth’s tech scene, having invested in 26 companies now worth more than $80 million combined.

Spacecubed a tech force multiplier
Brodie McCulloch has led the development of WA’s startup scene through Spacecubed. Photos: David Henry

Developing Perth’s entrepreneurship and startup scene wasn’t the only challenge Brodie McCulloch faced when he founded Spacecubed in 2010.

Mr McCulloch jumped ship from a marketing job at a cruise company in that year and then worked on the development of a bike-share model in Fremantle.

But with Western Australia experiencing a once-in-a-generation resources boom, there was little support for social entrepreneurs.

Determined to change this scenario, Mr McCulloch opened the first Spacecubed co-working space, in Perth’s CBD, in March 2012.

Mr McCulloch described the physical space as an unattractive, windowless environment, but one of only few available offices in the CBD during the mining boom.

At night, he and his team would complete the fit-out of the office based on the feedback from those working there during the day.

Mr McCulloch said while the project was started in a way that would limit financial loss if it failed, opening the new space was nonetheless a risk.

A major setback early on came when a landlord neglected to levy regular charges for the office air-conditioning, instead hitting the fledgling operation with a massive power bill.

Mr McCulloch said Western Australia was focused on the peaking mining boom at the time, and startup technology businesses were a new and untested area.

Spacecubed was definitely an innovative model when it started and still is,” Mr McCulloch told Business News.

“We’ve been able to keep innovating over the years to make sure it’s not just space but making sure we layer on support and build community to help the businesses using the spaces keep growing.”

Mr McCulloch looked abroad to further develop the local startup scene.

He won a 2013 Churchill Fellowship to travel to Canada, the US, UK, Singapore, and China to study models for supporting entrepreneurs, social enterprise, and innovation.

Mr McCulloch said the existing model in Australia wasn’t working.

It used what he termed “free money” from not-for-profit groups as incentives for startups, meaning viable businesses were focused on securing government grants rather than finding and servicing customers.

In addition, those grant incentives were designed to reduce risk, rather than a perspective to best support entrepreneurs.

Spacecubed has focused on three main avenues to support entrepreneurs: open networks for entrepreneurs to share ideas and information; ecosystems that include programs and events; and giving innovators skin in the game by leading their own initiatives.

Ironically, Spacecubed was a startup at the same time it was nurturing startups.

Over almost a decade it has developed an accelerator program, Plus8, and an initiative to help women learning coding, She Codes.

Through Plus Eight, Spacecubed has facilitated investment in 26 companies that have raised $10 million, with the total portfolio valued at $81 million.

Alumni include neuroscience hopeful Humm, which moved to the Silicon Valley to participate in the Berkeley Skydeck Accelerator program and secured $US2.6 million in a 2020 capital raising.

Another is U Group & Co, which uses computer vision technology to extract data from online and offline shopping receipts, giving insights into shopper behaviour.

Perhaps the most successful business to have operated from Spacecubed is gaming company VGW, which was recently valued at $3 billion.

Spacecubed now operates in five locations in WA, according to Data & Insights, over 7,100 square metres.

Mr McCulloch said it was gratifying that now, near the midway mark of its initial 20-year plan, Spacecubed has come full loop with successful companies that were its startups back to invest in the next generation.

In addition, its success has helped inspire a range of other organisations working to provide pathways for entrepreneurs across sectors.

They include Bloom, in partnership with the University of Western Australia’s Saint Catherine’s College, which is focusing on student entrepreneurs, and Ceri in Nedlands, supporting research commercialisation.

Mr McCulloch said COVID-19 was a particularly big challenge for those operating co-working spaces.

Spacecubed pared back its office space requirement as employees moved to work from home, with employees instead using Spacecubed’s flexible spaces.

In addition, it is growing its suburban collaboration spaces and has built a technology platform, designed for both corporations and its own members to manage flexible spaces.

“The number of members who stayed with us through COVID-19 was very high and now we’re back to where we were before COVID,” Mr McCulloch said.

“Perth has been out of extended lockdown for [more than 12] months and we’re seeing people coming back to offices and people wanting that interaction.

“There are very few people who could work from home every day and be productive.

“They want social interaction; to be in an office three or four days a week and the remaining time working from home, and that seems to be something employers are supporting.”

 

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