Google seeks to raise the voice of Australian startups by forming #startupAUS, a formal industry group to advocate on behalf of the burgeoning community.
“The startup community hasn’t been well represented and hasn’t had the strong advocacy that it needs,” Google ANZ engineering director, Alan Noble, told Techworld Australia.
Noble is building #startupAUS with five executives who come from Southern Cross Ventures, startup mentorship group Startmate, Sydney co-working space Fishburners and Australian startups Freelancer.com and Shoes of Prey. The six will be interim directors of the group.
The startup group “is itself a startup, and we’re still in the process of figuring out what our focus and what our priorities should be,” Noble said. The group will formalise “within weeks,” most likely as a not-for-profit organisation, he said.
Google will provide staff and cash to support #startupAUS. Google will decide how much to invest after it works out a business model for the group, Noble said. “Is it going to be a membership model? We’re not sure. Will it rely on donations? Possibly – we’re not sure.”
Noble said #startupAUS won’t be like other industry groups “because we realise our strength lies in the fact we have strong grassroots.”
The Google group will focus on tech startups, Noble said. “We’re defining a startup as a high-growth technology company ... Otherwise it’s not a startup; it’s a small business.”
A major goal of #startupAUS is to “be a bit more on-message with our asks than we have been in the past,” he said.
For example, the group could better mobilise startups to fight an Australian tax law preventing startups from providing stock options to employees, he said. The community is currently divided, with some startups saying they can “work around” the issue, he said.
Google held the first meeting of #startupAUS last month to survey 50 members of Australia’s startup community about key challenges and opportunities for startups in Australia.
A major theme was how to great a fuller ecosystem for startups, Noble said. For example, while venture capital “has improved in recent years, it’s not as accessible as we believe it needs to be.”
“Another big theme was around education,” he said. “The issue is quite simply we’re not producing enough tech graduates from our universities.”
“The consensus view was that we have to go way back into primary school and junior high school and make sure we keep students engaged in science and math.”
In addition, Noble said the group agreed there’s a need to encourage stronger entrepreneurial spirit in young Australians. “Pursuing entrepreneurial ambitions is actually a very valid career path.”
To this end, members of the group are developing a massive online open course (MOOC) for “technology entrepreneurship,” Noble said.
General Assembly, which provides training for startups, recently said that increased capital and education are critical to developing Australia’s startup scene.
Google has been involved with technology startups around the world for many years as part of an effort to get more developers using the company's products, Noble said.
“Off the back of those initial developer engagement initiatives, we came to the conclusion there was definitely a role we could play to help kick start the overall [startup] ecosystem,” he said. “As startups grow, our mutual business also grows.”
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