The tech ecosystems of Sydney and Melbourne may not like to hear it, but Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley may just be the new Silicon Valley.
Of Advance Queensland and its partners are investing $1.7 billion in Queensland’s innovation future, and Brisbane seeing its first unicorn, learning software platform GO1, emerge in 2021, the buzz in Brisbane is only getting louder.
A hive of this activity is The precinct, Advance Queensland’s technology innovation hub for startups, scale-ups, investors and incubators. It is home to more than two dozen tenants making waves in Queensland and beyond, such as FloodMapp, Hypersonix Launch Systems, Arkose Labs, River City Labs, the Queensland AI Hub, the Queensland XR Hub and the Office of the Queensland Chief Entrepreneur .
One of The Precinct’s fastest growing global success stories is Clipchamp, the free online video editing tool acquired by Microsoft in 2021 and now used by millions as part of the Microsoft 365 suite. Clipchamp co-founder Alex Dreiling says establishing and keeping the business in Brisbane has been a critical factor in its success.
“When the talks took place with both investors and even Microsoft about moving to the US – I think that’s what every Australian startup dreams of – we were the complete opposite,” Alex tells Startup Daily. “We have moved our families to where we want to be. We are setting up a business here and it is non-negotiable. I think that has been an advantage for us.”
A chance encounter on The Precinct
Clipchamp’s big break came with a chance encounter on the way to the toilets.
In 2013, Alex and his former SAP colleagues Soeren Balko, Dave Hewitt, and Tobias Raub teamed up to try and create “the world’s largest distributed supercomputer.” The project went flat and their pitches to River City Labs founder and Shark cage investor Steve Baxter were repeatedly beaten back.
The team focused on a new idea: a free in-browser video editor that would later be called “Canva for Video.” In 2016, Clipchamp moved to The Precinct, where the River City Labs team would have to walk past their office space to go to the bathroom.
“We had a small sitting area and our CTO had built a widget where you could see a world map on a very large projection on the wall,” Alex explains. “We had a user counter in the top left corner. Each time a new user registered, they appeared on a world map with a pin on their location.
“Steven [Baxter] walked by the office all the time and he could see the number of users in the top left corner and he could see new icons popping up. So he came over and we started talking… seeing us in action led to him taking on investments, then leading into the next round where he got his advice and familiarity with his ecosystem, and scaled up from there.
Stay in Brisbane when the world beckons
The cost of starting up living is a compelling factor for setting up shop in Brissie. “When we left the corporate world and started up start-ups, we reduced our salaries to something we couldn’t get by in Sydney, it’s as simple as that,” Alex reflects. “So we can really run lean here.”
The talent pool is another major attraction. Clipchamp now has a workforce of nearly 150 at The Precinct, elsewhere in Australia and other parts of the world.
Alex, who emigrated to Australia from Germany, says the quality of talent is particularly strong in Brisbane thanks to the universities, breadth of experience and, of course, the perpetual sunshine perks.
“We’ve been able to get a lot of people who have come back from Silicon Valley with all that experience and offer them something that’s somewhat like that,” says Alex. “That’s allowed us to attract really great people… it’s about the talent, it’s about the lifestyle.”
With the success of startups like GO1, Arkose Labs and Clipchamp, Brisbane has taken a huge leap in the job market for tech workers. “There are literally a few thousand jobs in Brisbane and South East Queensland that didn’t exist a decade ago,” says Alex. “There is nothing structural that speaks against scaling up and continuing to grow. We have the same conditions that Sydney and Melbourne have – we can bring startups together in much the same way.”
Building a culture in the River City
Being surrounded by innovation at The Precinct has positively shaped Clipchamp’s culture. “Your culture is influenced by what’s going on around you, and it’s easier to build a culture that’s conducive to start-ups in such an environment just because of the energy around you,” says Alex .
Housed in the Grade II listed TC Beirne Building, The Precinct is designed to encourage collaboration between its cohorts. The Precinct not only offers co-working spaces, event and meeting spaces and modern common areas, but also offers business support, mentoring, workshops, networking opportunities and upskilling opportunities to enhance the tech community.
Having that support infrastructure in place has made startup life a lot less lonely, says Alex. “What I really like about The Precinct is that you just walk down the hall and you can talk to 10 people about any complicated issues you have,” he says. “Where we’ve been in the city before, it was one of those dated offices – 10th floor, all carpeted, looks like a 1970s hotel. And you’re in between lawyers, tax advisors and things like that. You can’t talk to anyone about anything.
“So it was the double effect: the exposure to investors and the exposure to other startup CEOs and founders. You realize that you are not alone on this journey.”
You may even see your colleagues making music on a daily basis. “We have keyboard guitars and banjos and pianos in the office. We’ve had groups of people get together after work just to jam,” he says. “I like the atmosphere in the office and the culture we’ve built.”
Read more on advance.qld.gov.au/precinct.
This article is brought to you by Startup Daily in association with Advance Queensland.