Innovation Bay 2019: A Look Back
What an incredible year 2019 has been! We’ve seen a ton of growth and experimented a lot with the best way to further our mission of helping founders along their journey from idea to IPO, and beyond.
2019 in Numbers:
- 2,342 event attendees
- 59 events nationally
- 476 new members
- 802 pitch applications
- 51 Community Coffee attendees
- 17 episodes of Open The Pod Bay Doors
- 5 matches through The Next Seat
- 85 startups pitched
We had 2,342 people join us at one of our 59 events (up from 43 last year) across Australia (and New Zealand) this year. That number is worth repeating: 2,342. These are the people we work tirelessly to support on their entrepreneurial journeys. To us, this number represents the opportunities we had to better connect our national community, provide incredible learning experiences, and help grow innovative businesses that will change the world. It’s also a great reminder that the Aussie tech ecosystem is growing, and that we have to work harder than ever to support it.
One of the great things about working with the ecosystem is the chance to connect with brilliant and passionate people. And this year we’ve had the opportunity to work with some incredible speakers:
- Ash Fontana who originally founded his startup, Topguest, and now focuses his time on backing intelligent software startups at Zetta Ventures, joined us in Sydney to talk about his transition to VC and life in Silicon Valley.
- In Melbourne, Sam Sicilia, CIO of superfund Hostplus, joined us to talk about the company’s $1B investment into VC and his passion for investing in tech-led innovation.
- Co-founder, CEO, and CTO of Deputy — Ashik Ahmed — shared the details of how he bootstrapped his business for its first 8 years, attracted the interest of local and Silicon Valley VCs, raised an $111M Series B round (the largest Series B raise in Australian history), and even welled up sharing personal stories about his interactions with clients.
- Susan Wu, early investor and advisor in Twitter, Canva, reddit, and Stripe, joined us in Melbourne to share great advice and tips with founders.
- We got up close and personal with Jodie Fox (formerly Shoes of Prey) about the rise and fall of Shoes of Prey, and her own personal journey with her mental health. She also released a book last month ‘Reboot: Probably more than you ever wanted to know about starting a global business’ (absolutely worth a read!).
- And we wrapped the year with 200+ of our Sydney members in the audience for a chat with Canva’s Cliff Obrecht and Lisa Miller (Head of Product) about hiring another 500–1,000 staff in 2020, why you raise money when you’re profitable, and moving from a billion to a trillion dollar company.
VC x Founder Community Series
One of the greatest things about having a community that’s been around for a while (17 years) is the goodwill you all show us when we experiment with something new. One of our 2019 experiments is our VC x Founder Community series. The relationship between a VC and a founder is very unique, and not often shared publicly, so we decided to host several events that open up that relationship. It was also a great opportunity for Ian to hand over the moderator mic to some of our very talented VC friends — you can definitely expect us to continue this series in 2020!
We heard from VCs x Founders:
- Reinventure (Simon Cant) x Data Republic (Danny Gilligan)
- Giant Leap (Adam Milgrom) x Amber Electric (Chris Thompson)
- Airtree Ventures (James Cameron) x Huddle (Jason Wilby)
- Square Peg Capital (Imogen Baxter) x Athena Home Loans (Nathan Walsh)
As contributors in the ecosystem, we know it’s really important to partner with other organisations making a difference. This year we worked with IAG Firemark Ventures to put on an AI Founder Dinner, and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency to host a Renewable Energy Founder Dinner. Each of these dinners followed a similar model to our longstanding Founder Dinners — but at scale (100+ attendees), and focused on a specific vertical.
AI Founder Dinner — AI is considered one of the driving forces for the future of our tech industry. With more AI-powered startups in Australia than ever before, we knew it was important to showcase some of the best-emerging startups disrupting mainstream industries. We were also able to showcase the Gradient Institute, a not-for-profit organisation created by IAG, CSIRO’s Data61, and The University of Sydney, to progress the research, development, and adoption of ethical AI systems that will provide better outcomes for individuals and society as a whole.
The incredible founders who pitched included:
- Jordan Gruber — Frontier Microscopy Protecting people during asbestos remediation.
- Amanda Siqueira — VAPAR Automated fault detection and condition assessment of underground stormwater and sewer pipes.
- Stu Spiteri — Systema AI Artificial Intelligence platform to deliver hyper personalised content.
- Anthony Willmott — DAS Applying ML and AI to develop rural data-powered solutions that transform the way rural assets are assessed, valued and monitored.
Renewable Energy Founder Dinner — Globally, 2019 has been a rough year for the environment. We saw the largest protests in history trying to advocate for societal changes (with quite a bit of government push back), and really scary data about our ability to course correct the future. Think about all the horrible bushfires we’re experiencing right now! This event felt important to hold this year, and feels even more important to host again next year (we’ll announce the date soon so stay tuned).
In addition to an incredible group of investors, ecosystem builders, and industry experts all focused on the renewable energy sector we had an amazing panel talking about the state of renewable tech and innovation that included Mike Cannon-Brookes (Atlassian), Robyn Denholm (Tesla), and Darren Miller (ARENA) to talk through where renewables are today, where they’re heading, and how we’re going to get there.
However, the cornerstone of the night were the 5 companies that pitched:
- Cameron Knox — Allume Energy Making rooftop solar accessible and affordable for apartment residents and businesses in multi-tenanted buildings.
- Carola Jonas — Everty Provides a cloud-based SaaS platform to companies installing Electric Vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure.
- Chris McGrath — 5B Makes solar projects lower cost, faster and smarter by combining fewer materials and lightning-fast deployment to streamline logistics.
- Will Mosley — RayGen Solar Power Plant that is a low-cost solar + storage system and is designed to address the $1+ trillion opportunity of aging coal assets.
- Julian Broadbent — AEV Robotics Creator of the Modular Vehicle System, commonly referred to as a ‘smartphone on wheels’. The foundation of every vehicle is a robotic base.
The Next Seat
A special round of applause for our GM, Sian, and Lauren at Reinventure, for spearheading The Next Seat Initiative to see greater diversity on startup boards. It’s such an important way to support the ecosystem. They held two events this year, one for International Women’s Day, and one as a part of Sparkfest. As a result, 5 founders have connected with new board members or advisors. How cool!
Another new program we piloted this year was our Community Coffee series. There’s something special and unique about being a founder that only other people who have walked that same path get. So we thought it would be a good idea to get early stage founders together to talk through the trials and tribulations of startup life. And people responded to it! We ran 5 events in Sydney and 2 events in Melbourne, and we have people meeting monthly without our organisation (the true power of a network). We’re looking forward to growing and supporting these groups in 2020.
Over the course of 2019 we brought together 25 incredible Series A (and beyond) founders. They’re scaling their businesses and contributing to the Australian economy in a significant way. They also have really complex challenges, and together, they’re a resource for one another.
They gather monthly in small groups to share — personal, professional, and everything in between. And we bring them together every other month for unique learning experiences that are distinctly out of office days. Some highlights from the year? Having a frank conversation with Luke Anear (SafetyCulture), glamping on a farm in Melbourne, or learning how to make better decisions and how to prioritise your time with Mike Cannon-Brooke’s Executive Operations Manager and productivity guru.
For the second time, the Innovation Bay team headed to New Zealand to host our annual conference for the VC community, Venture Downunder. We love this event and its mission — to build better relationships within the VC community, and create a place to share the triumphs and tribulations of working in venture.
Back in September, we brought together more than 60 VCs for 3 days of community building, heard from 8 outstanding Kiwi startups, survived nearly 40cm of rain, drank 321 cups of coffee, and handed out 1 very special unicorn trivia trophy.
ANZ has a relatively nascent VC community and the success of any fund has outsized ripples across the ecosystem. Even though it’s fiercely competitive, we know it needs to be equally as connected and supportive.
2019 Australian VC Survey
Ahead of this year’s Venture Downunder, we surveyed the partners at 35 VC firms in order to gather some baseline data on the state of the Aussie VC industry. One of the challenges with an industry in its infancy is the lack of measured data, and we hope the results will provide a benchmark for the industry going forward. So what did we learn?
Key takeaways from our Aussie VCs:
- An estimated 200–250 deals were made over the last 12 months
- Coinvestment is growing, and so is the size of deals
- 63% of VCs indicated that valuations are increasing
- More than 50% of funds have seen 1–3 exits in the last 12 months
- The majority of funds have deployed less than half the capital available
- Investors agree that hiring talent is the single biggest challenge faced by their portfolio companies
- Funds are beginning to provide more services to their portfolio including: Recruitment, mentoring/general advice, finance & legal help, customer leads, and capital raising
Member Wins for 2019
Our north star has always been to help founders on their journey from idea to IPO, and beyond.
Here are their 2019 biggest wins:
- Mick Byrne, Spectre Studios, “We successfully sold the 4th largest Ambulance Service in the USA a custom suite of Virtual Reality training simulations. This partnership will help validate our work and fund a number of R&D initiatives for future Tactical Medical Training Simulations.”
- Matthew Bright, Spotcap, “Getting acquired by Zip Co!”
- Shivani Manek, Ex Innovation Bay/Currently Mable, “I had the chance to intern at the most awesome startup community — IB — towards the end of my Masters, and landed my first full time Marketing role immediately after! I am so grateful for how things turned out :)”
- Tony, WorkGuru.io, “Signing our largest client!”
- Johnny Wapstra, Seed 2 Diesel, “First getting on the EnergyLab pre-accelerator, and then on the full EnergyLab accelerator course.”
And here’s what a few of our members think about Innovation Bay:
- Tiffany De Sousa Machado, The Village Foundation, “I would absolutely recommend IB — their positive support and professionalism has been fantastic and I have gained some extremely valuable contacts from being involved.”
- Ben Hinze, Ambient, “IB have placed me in front of targeted people to advance our startup for investing and commercialisation. They select members for events, rather than an open free for all which means you get to speak to exactly the people you need to. Because of this, I would suggest that for any founder out there, IB may well be the most valuable port of call you have available to assist in growth.”
- Kurt Alexander, Quick Safety, “I have had the pleasure of being a part of the IB Community twice. Once in 2016 in Perth and again recently in Brisbane. I have found under both occasions that the quality of investors who attend the IB events are passionate, kind, caring, super experienced, and truly interested in helping the innovative startups in Australia. The value to a startup founder who is looking for ‘real’ investment from passionate investors is unmeasurable. My recommendation would be for every serious startup founder to apply themselves in ANY IB projects. The gain is far more than can be achieved through conventional means.”
- Eric Gambardella, One Cay, “It’s all about networking and community and IB makes that really easy. I have met a great cohort of interesting and intelligent people who are eager to understand my business and help with suggestions, introductions or in just about any other way possible. I am excited as IB increases their presence in Melbourne to partake in even more events and contribute to the community further.”
We like to think of ourselves as a scrappy, hardworking team that wills all of our initiatives into existence, but the reality is, we have a ton of help from our community. We would not have been able to add so many events to our already packed schedule, and welcome so many new people to our community, without our City Ambassadors. From helping with venues to finding kick ass speakers they have all gone above and beyond for the ecosystem.
If you’ve been to an IB event this year, they deserve a big thank you! Their local connections, savvy, and dedication have enabled us to run 19 more events this year!
In case you don’t know who’s an ambassador in your city:
- Adelaide: Jason Neave (City Lead), Craig Swann, Joe Thorp, Noelle Smit, Oli Madgett
- Brisbane: Tudor Marsden-Huggins (City Lead), Bernie Woodcroft, Kyle McGinty, Monica Bradley
- Melbourne: Andrew Lai (City Lead), Jodie Imam, Matt Allen, Matt Owen, Matt Smith
- Perth: Paula Taylor (City Lead), Dave Cannington, Mike Kyriacou
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
At the core of Innovation Bay is a desire to give back. And folding in a new generation of tech enthusiasts who believe in the power of innovation to change the Australian economy has been important to us in 2019. We’d like to give a big shout out and thank you to Shivani and Alison — our two talented interns in 2019. These ladies are whip smart, driven, go-getters who have proven to be integral parts of our team! Shivani wrapped up a Masters in Management and landed her first full time job immediately after graduating! Alison is working on her MBA and has so many project ideas we can barely keep up with her!
Saying goodbye to Leo
Change is hard, but that doesn’t mean it’s negative. Last week, our beloved Events Manager, Leo, had his last day at Innovation Bay (and one of his final few in Australia). Leo is moving to London to spread his wings and have an amazing adventure. And while we’re sad to be saying goodbye, we’re so incredibly excited for what the next year has in store for him!
It’s not a given that you get the chance to work with such incredible colleagues — but Leo is the epitome of that. He’s extremely talented, makes the most beautiful spreadsheets, is deeply dedicated to the startup ecosystem, works incredibly hard, and does it all with a smile on his face. He exudes joy and kindness — and we know that no matter where he lands, that alone will take him far.
As always, we wouldn’t be able to do the work that we do without the help of our national sponsors. A huge THANK YOU to KPMG High Growth Ventures, Macquarie, and AWS. Their partnerships enable us to grow with the ecosystem and stretch to meet your needs.
And a special shoutout to NZTE, ASX, G+T, and KPMG HGV who partnered with us for Venture Downunder.
Our Favs of 2019
We know there’s a ton of media out there for you to choose from, but here are a few of our favs from the year.
- TV: Man in the High Castle (Amazon)
- Book: How the Scots Invented the Modern World (Arthur Herman)
- Podcast: Hardtalk (BBC World Service)
- TV: Flea Bag (Amazon)
- Book: The Power of Moments (Chip and Dan Heath)
- Podcast: “The Green Pill” (The Ezra Klein Show)
- TV: Pen15 (Hulu)
- Book: Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows (Balli Kaur Jaswal)
- Podcast: Built to Burn (99% Invisible)
Phaedon (our media overachiever 😉 )
- TV: Succession (HBO)
- Book: Most inspirational, The book of Joy (His Holiness the Dalia Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Carlton Abrams); Best adventure, non fiction, The Push (Tommy Caldwell); Best business, Principles (Ray Dalio)
- Podcast: News/Current Affairs, The Signal (ABC); Best deep dive interview, Conversations (John Anderson)
Don’t forget to check out our Summer Reading List with recommendations from some of our favourite podcast guests of 2019!
What is exciting us in 2020
2019 has been an incredible year for Innovation Bay and the Aussie startup ecosystem. But one of the best things about reflecting, is how it inevitably gets us excited for what’s next!
We’re really excited about…
- Canva’s most recent $125M raise and their $4.7B evaluation — such an amazing Aussie company making waves on the global stage.
- Bigger raises from companies like Athena, Airwallex, and Culture Amp — great proof that Aussie startups can grow and scale successfully!
- New, larger funds from Square Peg, AirTree, and Blackbird — validation that the market is growing.
- The opportunity to continue to work in this space and help the Aussie ecosystem grow!!
From the entire Innovation Bay team, we wish you a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year full of warmth and relaxation with friends and family! See you in 2020.