Brisbane the new home for startup incubators? When technology and creativity collide

REALITY TV show The Shark Tank has proved a hit as it gives Aussie viewers an insight into the high risks and rewards of the adrenaline-fuelled startup industry.

But while it has made Steve Baxter and his Brisbane-based River City Labs household names, they’re far from the only startup incubator in an increasingly crowded market.

Another Brisbane startup lab is doing cool stuff too, being the only creative-tech-focused incubator in Australia.

QUT Creative Enterprise Australia (CEA) is wholly owned by, and located at, Queensland University of Technology, though it operates independently.

To qualify to join, companies must use tech in the creative industries, or creatively use tech.

Along with providing shared workspaces and support for startups, CEA is in its second year of the Collider accelerator program, which as program lead and entrepreneur-in-residence Alan Jones says, “selects high-performing companies and asks them to perform at an even higher level”.

The Collider program climaxed with a demo day at The Triffid in Brisbane, where the entrepreneurs delivered their final pitches to a “shark tank” consisting of MAI Capital’s Tom Ellis, Microsoft Australia managing director of startups Emily Rich, and Virgin StartUp’s Ian Mason (who has recently joined CEA as global expert-in-residence).

And in what he hopes will become an annual event, recently installed CEA chief executive officer Mark Gustowski took the Collider cohort to Bangkok for an “Asia immersion week”, culminating in South-East Asia’s largest tech startup conference, Techsauce Global Summit.

The Collider Brisbane class of 2018 at Techsauce in Bangkok. Picture: CEA

Normally associated with tourism, and with agriculture still the dominant industry, Thailand is positioning itself as a tech hub for the ASEAN region, with already-impressive broadband infrastructure and the Government investing in more under its “Thailand 4.0” program.

Additionally, the country is a fertile climate for startups, with billions available from cashed-up investors. And it has an emerging middle class and young population with deep mobile-app penetration, as well as being a gateway to the wider region, including the massive Chinese market.

“The whole purpose of the trip was to open the eyes of the Australian startups to the Asian ecosystem, and to the opportunities and the volume that exists there, and the pace and the velocity at which you have to move,” Mr Gustowski said.

“Just getting used to the pace (in Bangkok) is something they’ll benefit from. If they can get used to the velocity and the pace you have to move at in Asia — certainly South-East Asia — and take that with them back home, and continue to move at that level, they’ll be able to differentiate themselves very easily.

“Australia can be a little comfortable at times — it’s too easy sometimes — and you’re not forced to move at this speed. And to see the speed at which companies are moving at in Thailand is a real eye-opener.”

Between the Thai trip and demo day, the Collider startups have drummed up much investor and partner interest.

As well as running programs taking Australian startups into Asia, CEA holds an annual Creative3 conference celebrating the role creative industries play in the Australian economy.

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