The high concentration of startup hubs in the Sydney CBD and surrounds compared to the dearth of such entrepreneurial infrastructure in the rest of Sydney is often a cause for discussion amongst those interested in the ecosystem. Particularly given the huge number of small (and large) businesses in areas such as Western Sydney, the rapid growth of commercial centres such as Parramatta and the presence of numerous university campuses and research centres outside the Sydney CBD.
Breaking the trend, Western Sydney University has pioneered an incubator for startups and SMEs with principal sites at Parramatta and Penrith, as well as a satellite at Oran Park. Launch Pad, established in 2015, is now renowned as a key centre for startups and SMEs in Western Sydney.
Having visited the Parramatta and Penrith Launch Pad facilities on multiple occasions over the past few years, RDA Sydney has been witness to the growing popularity and vibrancy of the incubator. The success of an incubator can be evidenced by how busy it is and the “buzz” and, using this criteria, Launch Pad Is certainly making a difference.
With primary locations at the Western Sydney University campus in Penrith and the Parramatta CBD, Launch Pad has a team of business experts and mentors on hand, meaning that entrepreneurs have ready access to advice and expertise to grow their business.
The Western Sydney Context
For the purposes of this article, Western Sydney is defined as the area from Parramatta in the east to the Blue Mountains in the west, and from Wollondilly in the south to The Hills and Hawkesbury in the north.
Some key statistics for the region include:
Population as at the 2016 Census was 1.96 million compared to the rest of Sydney at 2.5 million.
According to the 2016 Census, over 827,000 people from Western Sydney were in employment. Of these, 255,000 or 31% travel outside the region for work. This is the jobs deficit for Western Sydney and has many implications in terms of travel time, infrastructure demands, demand for services and so on.
Western Sydney has a limited number of business incubators, coworking and other spaces that support business growth from the startup stage through to the SME stage. Apart from Launch Pad, these spaces include:
Business incubators – South West Sydney Business Enterprise Centre; BREED Business Centre; Foundational Business Centre.
Coworking spaces – Creative Fringe; WOTSO; Oran Park Smart Work Hub; Space & Co.; Grounded Space; The Workary.
The February 2019 ABS Count of Australian Businesses showed that there are 521,179 small and medium businesses across Sydney. 172,947 of these are in Western Sydney and 348,232 in the rest of Sydney.
What the statistics reveal is that Western Sydney is a huge economy in its own right. With a population of 2 million that is growing rapidly compared to the rest of Sydney, and a booming small business market, Western Sydney is Australia’s 3rd largest economy (NAB 2019; note, this includes Canterbury-Bankstown).
And yet the data also shows that startup and SME incubators in Western Sydney are very few and far between. While there are clear reasons why the concentration in the Sydney CBD is critical to the dynamism of the sector, it is perhaps surprising that more coworking centres and incubators have not developed in Western Sydney (and other areas).
It is in this context that Western Sydney University took the critical step to establish Launch Pad. It started as a one-stop shop for business and innovation support programs, providing facilities, assistance and resources for start-up and existing high growth technology-based businesses in Western Sydney.
Startup SydWest Accelerator Program
Building on this platform, in 2018 Launch Pad commenced a tailored accelerator program known as Startup SydWest. Startup SydWest is the only dedicated accelerator program in Western Sydney. It is a competitive program with an annual cohort, funded initially under the Australian Government’s Incubator Support Initiative in 2018.
Thirty startups are in the initial cohort of the accelerator program. These startups entered under a rigorous application process. The program supports advanced technology start-ups working in high-growth industry sectors or using technologies where there is potential to drive international market opportunities, particularly within the Asia Pacific region.
The technology areas of focus include:
Virtual and augmented reality
Data science and analytics
AI and machine learning
The 12-month program commenced with a bootcamp, an in-depth introduction to the program and opportunity for program leaders to gain more understanding of where the participants were at. This was followed by a sequenced program of workshops, mentoring sessions and other activities that have built a solid platform for the startups.
A key strength of Startup SydWest is its corporate partners who, apart from mentoring, imparting market understanding and facilitating connections, can also provide access to discounted services. These corporate partners include Landcom, NAB, KPMG and Madison Marcus.
Targets for Startup SydWest in the first accelerator program include:
20 startups launch a product by demo day (to be held in July 2019)
5 startups have an international focus
Expressions of interest for the next program commencing in September 2019 are now open at launchpadlive.com.au/startup-sydwest
This post was originally published on Regional Development Australia Sydney.