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.

Our final event of 2019 with Cliff Obrecht and Lisa Miller of Canva, chatting with IB co-founder Ian Gardiner.

2019 in Numbers:

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.

Event Highlights

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:

Adam Milgrom and Chris Thompson chat as a part of our VC x Founder Community series

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:

Industry Dinners

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:

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:

Mike Cannon-Brookes, Robyn Denholm, and Darren Miller discussed the future of renewable energy.

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!

Lauren Capelin and Sian Priest are leading the way for women with The Next Seat initiative.

Community Coffees

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.

Summit Club

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.

Venture Downunder

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.

Venture Downunder 2019 in New Zealand.

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:

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:

Innovation Bay members attend an event.

And here’s what a few of our members think about Innovation Bay:

City Ambassadors

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:

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.

Innovation Bay sponsors attend an event.

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.




Phaedon (our media overachiever 😉 )

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…

The Innovation Bay Team: Phaedon, Emma, Leo, Sian, and Ian.

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.