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Australian government entices UK tech startups

Australia is trying to entice UK technology firms to open operations in the country, with benefits including a stepping stone to Asia and a skilled workforce

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The Australian government has called on UK technology startups to set up shop on its shores, with the promise of government support, a highly skilled workforce and a stepping stone to Asia.

With UK tech startups concerned about the UK’s potential exit from the European Union (EU), Australia could be even more tempting to them.

The Australian technology and innovation forum at the Australian High Commission in London on 20 June 2016 sold the country to UK tech entrepreneurs.

According to the Australian Trade and Investment Commission, digital technologies will contribute A$139bn (£70.6bn) to the Australian economy by 2020, compared with A$79bn in 2014.

The Australian government understands its importance and is investing in the sector. In 2015, it made investments worth A$9.7bn to science, research and innovation. It also offers tax breaks to early stage companies.

But it is perhaps the lure of Asia that is most attractive to some companies. Australia is increasing its ties with Asia and has recently agreed free trade agreements with Asian countries.

A panel of tech entrepreneurs was asked about the advantages of UK technology startups settling in Australia.

Didier Ellzinger, CEO at employee feedback and analytics platform Culture Amp, which is one of Australia’s fastest growing tech startups, said Australia is perfect for companies that set their sights on going global from the word go.

“There is an advantage for companies that want to go global and build an infrastructure from day one. One of the problems with the US is that it has such a big domestic market that companies are not used to working globally,” said Ellzinger.

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Supun King-Jayawardana, head of Commonwealth Bank of Australia’s London Innovation Lab, agreed, and added that the fact Australia is a “young country” helps innovation.

“In large organisations, we see a lot more people challenging the status quo, which is ultimately what innovation is all about,” he said.

Gavin Rezos, principal at corporate advisory firm Viaticus Capital, said Australia has become a leader in modern technology and is attractive to tech startups because of the “tyranny of distance”.

“Due to the huge distances between people and places in Australia, you need better efficiency of operation,” he said, giving an example in western Australia where driverless trains and drones are used and harvesters are controlled by GPS.

Panel moderator Bryce Keane, founder of communications agency Albion Drive, joked about how an exit from the EU could make the UK less attractive to investors and, as a result, make Australia more attractive.

A joke, maybe, but UK startups are taking it seriously. At a recent meeting of tech startups about the EU referendum, Tugce Bulut, CEO and founder of global intelligence platform Streetbees, which supplies organisations including Unilever and Vodafone with data, said she was concerned about her company being based in London. 

“If the UK leaves the EU, it will be hard for us to get the right staff and we will have to relocate. That is not even up for discussion because we cannot lose this talent,” she said.

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