The annual Spark FestivalAustralia’s largest national event for Australia’s startup community, is the latest victim of reduced funding for the industry, with its director leaving and the board looking to revamp the event to present later this year.
festival director Maxine Sherrien left the organization on Friday after nearly seven years, after successfully running the show on the road during Covid and online events lockdowns saw the festival expand dramatically from its base in Sydney.
Sherrie told Start up daily that while existing supporters had renewed their commitments to the 15-day festival, the organization had been unable to raise the level of funding needed to maintain Spark as an ongoing annual activity.
On Tuesday, the Spark board, led by UTS head of startups Murray Hurps, said the festival will continue this year, thanks to continued support from sponsors, but they like to hear from the industry about what they would like to see in the event.
“The Spark Board is taking this opportunity to design what makes sense for the future of the Spark festival in 2023 and beyond,” said Hurps.
“This includes a new (and renewed) set of partners, clear messaging about the goals and focus areas, revised board membership, and most importantly, ongoing service to connect current and potential participants in our tech startup ecosystem.”
The board is seeking comment his LinkedIn post here.
“Connectivity will continue to be a defining feature of successful tech ecosystems and economies, and Spark is committed to continuing to drive this connectivity,” said Hurps.
He paid tribute to the outgoing director saying “No one could have achieved what Maxine has achieved, loved by so many, or been so pleasant to work with”.
Hurps said Spark’s board will “make more announcements in the coming months, but for now we just want to start a conversation.”
Sherrin said the board is looking at how best to support the changing needs of startups and others in the ecosystem, pointing to the return of Startup Muster and Tech23 as positive signs.
“The board is currently assessing how best to work with the available funding, but I am afraid at this stage it is difficult to commit dates for Spark Festival in 2023,” she said.
“I am incredibly proud of the work we have all done to grow and connect the ecosystem since Spark first started in 2016. The change is quite eye-pleasing and it’s all thanks to people hosting events, participating in meetups, or sharing your learnings and connections so generously.
“And a huge thank you to all the organizations that have supported Spark financially and in kind over the years. Your contribution has built the ecosystem we see today.”
Sherrin said she’s going to take a few weeks off to figure out what’s next.
“It is sad to think that Spark is coming to an end in its current form. But it really makes me feel good when I think of the thousands upon thousands of little connections that have been made, all those lightbulb moments that have been sparked and what could be emerging now,” she said.
“When I first started in this role on almost the exact same day in 2016, I hardly knew anyone in the startup community, had vaguely heard of this cool place called Fishburners, and was soon googling terms like fintech and SaaS, so I wouldn’t look like a complete n00b.”
She chuckles at the similarities to startup life, feeling discouraged that she had to “deliver something with maximum impact, in a very short time frame and with minimal resources,” and thanks the NSW Government And City of Sydney for their foundation funding, in addition michael long, Victoria MoxeyAnd Jack Qi and his team at William Buck,
“It’s hard to put commercial value on things like ‘community,’ your commitment to doing that is incredibly appreciated,” she said.
“What struck me from the start was how willing people were to get involved in the project that became Spark Festival. And that was because 2016 was definitely the right time to start something that put the dots together and created the networks and connections that build this thing that we call a startup ecosystem. And now is definitely the right time for something new.”
- Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story said the 2023 Spark Festival was canceled based on Maxine Sherrin saying the board was pausing operations. This was incorrect and Startup Daily apologizes for the mistake.