31/08/2015 - 06:00

Start us up, we might never stop

31/08/2015 - 06:00


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There’s a feeling among those in WA’s startup community that their time may have finally arrived.

BUSINESS News has invested a considerable amount of time and energy exploring and reporting on the Western Australian startup community.

While naturally there are inherent editorial opportunities in these types of businesses – entrepreneurial risk, bootstrapping stories of hardship and colourful product ideas – there is also a sense that this is a sector whose time has come in this state.

Resources muscled out a lot of this kind of innovation through its demand for skills, space and capital, but that boom’s dwindling fortunes have provided valuable breathing space to those who want to start something new.

In addition, new wealth, great management skills and talented entrepreneurs have more reasons to team up to generate new ideas; because the opportunities for repeatable execution in a known field such as resources are less obvious at the moment.

As Charlie Gunningham’s articles on the startup scene and the accompanying graphic show, there is more to the local scene than just the right environment.

While the conditions might suit, there also happens to have been concrete developments in terms of space, collaboration and funding that have appeared, in many cases, just at the right time.

Certainly some of these existed before, patiently talking tech and startups when the world only wanted to hear about resources and China.

But individuals, businesses, universities, fund managers and government have thrown additional resources at the sector at a time when it is most needed.

It is not just good timing in terms of local economic issues; the end of the resources boom and a wave of young people facing a challenging start to their careers is only part of the story.

The other element is that the pace of technology development, much promised during the tech wreck of the first dot.com era, has now truly picked up.

This may well offer a brief window, during which cheap and sensible ideas can make progress in a world hungry to explore the capability of seismic shifts in technological capability. These opportunities occur rarely and must be exploited before the space becomes too crowded, when new ideas are harder to find and, regrettably, capital and expertise tend to converge geographically.

WA may well be on the periphery of this tech-focused world but, due to our luck and good management, we have access to people and infrastructure required to fully participate in this surge of development.

While many will demand the state government do more to accelerate this growth phase, this newspaper suggests that the state has a role far more important than picking winners in the startup world.

Its job is to make sure that our entrepreneurs find it not just easy to decide to live here while they grow their business, but difficult to consider doing it anywhere else.

These people, who create wealth and jobs for others, need to be able to shop when they want to, send their kids to the best schools, have easy access to health care, go out and enjoy themselves when they want to and, generally, live their lives in their own particular way – so long as that doesn’t affect anyone else.

Dare we say it, though, they ought to be able swim in our wonderful ocean safely, ride a bike without unnecessary risk, and walk out of a bar at midnight without being king hit.

If communities want to grow the innovators of tomorrow, they need to ensure conservatism and safety is balanced with freedom and the individual’s right to take risk. That is a basic set of environmental parameters that will work at any economic moment, not just there here and now.


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