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Central Highlands Development Corporation

Driving growth & empowering business in the Central Highlands

Startup Catalyst Mission to US

3rd April 2019

Those who follow my exploits on Twitter (@bluedogagCQ) will know that I was very fortunate to be sponsored by Advance Queensland as one of ten community leaders who visited Boulder and Denver Colorado, and San Francisco in the USA with Startup Catalyst in March.

We learnt much to support our development as a region, as a State, and for our agricultural industries. Of course, we also made some fantastic relationships with accelerators and investors, who will directly support the participants in CHDC and X-Lab’s new AgFrontier Regional Agtech Incubator. I also experienced my first one-in-100-year blizzard!

Here are some brief observations:

San Francisco and Boulder provided a great contrast between an individualistic, organically-formed innovation ecosystem (SF) and one that has been deliberately formed and is more collaborative and collective in nature (Boulder). The San Francisco and Silicon Valley ecosystems have evolved and grown over more than 20 years – TechStars was the first startup-related entity founded in Boulder in 2006 by Brad Feld, David Cohen, Jarid Polis and David Brown.

There are five key components of any innovation ecosystem; some models expand these further. They are (adapted from MIT REAP):



This model relies on a currency of trust (integrity, ability, benevolence and consistency), collaboration and networks, and not control. In each of these stakeholder groups, the successful ecosystems we visited have easily identifiable champions and network partners. It was clear that at every scale, these must be present to build the social networks that generate creativity and impact.

TechStars now operates in over 150 countries and has a market capitalisation of greater than $18 billion. It leads and supports the innovation community, operating with the mantra of #givefirst. We were fortunate to spend 1 hour with Founder and CEO Dave Cohen, who conceived the original idea for TechStars and kickstarted the Boulder ecosystem. It was clear that by identifying the ecosystem components, supporting appropriate development pipelines, and with deliberate investment, an innovation system can be built in an accelerated timeframe.

Boulder (107,125 residents) is now booming with more than 100 innovation-based enterprises. Denver, also in Colorado, has transformed from nearly the lowest-growth city in the USA to the fifth fastest-growing big city and ranked the third best place to live in 2018. The State of Colorado has a population of 5.6 million – only 1 million more than Queensland. It provides a great example of how strategic economic planning and investment can pay off.

It was also highlighted that some of these great entrepreneurial cycles were started during a down economic cycle. This is relevant to growing and supporting our agricultural regions.

The good news is that we observed several comparative advantages for Australian startups:

The quality of our startups is equal to or greater than those that we saw in the USA;
Australia is considered an excellent ‘sandbox’ for startups by the USA as the market size in Australia is well suited to proving market demand for larger global markets;

Many Australian companies operating from the USA locate their sales component of the business in the USA but retain their manufacturing and engineering base in Australia as it is of higher quality with better availability and lower cost of staff. This is particularly relevant for the agtech hardware startups; and
US venture Capital Funds has a significant interest and is building landing pads and relationships with Australian incubators, accelerators and founders.

Unfortunately, we observed that Australia does lag in innovation and entrepreneurship compared to the USA. Each region/industry/sector needs to choose partners – any partners – and start building immediately.

And that’s what the Central Highlands Accelerate Agribusiness (CHAA) initiative is doing, through the AgTeCH events, supporting other tech communities regionally and of course, via the AgFrontier Regional Agtech Incubator. This week CHDC appointed Sonya Comiskey, Nuffield Scholar and award-winning beef producer as CHDC’s Agtech Community Officer (part-time) to support the successful cohort. Sonya can be contacted on scomiskey@chdc.com.au or 0438 876 729.

The AgFrontier Regional Agtech Incubator is open for pre-registrations until Friday 19 April.

Contact CHDC Agribusiness Development Coordinator Liz Alexander for more information E: ealexander@chdc.com.au or M: 0429 471 511.