Meet the Australians making a mark on the world stage
It’s a region of boundless opportunity, with like-minded people striving for innovation ."
Greg Young, Body Science Founder & Director
Government grants, incubator programs, think tanks and the promise of networking with like-minded go-getters continue to draw entrepreneurs and innovators to the Gold Coast.
The region’s industries and demographics are shifting, with high-tech startups and entrepreneurs putting down their roots. Once reliant on tourism and construction as its main employers, the Gold Coast has become a breeding ground for entrepreneurs: one in five people in the city work for themselves. The information media and telecommunications sector alone is worth close to C$700 million a year.
Like Canada, Australia has a tradition of welcoming skilled foreigners keen to make a splash. The Canadian Australian Chamber of Commerce has established a program for growth-minded small- to medium-sized businesses to look for fresh opportunities in both countries.
No doubt Toronto has inspired many in Australia’s sixth largest city. Ontario’s capital placed eighth out of 500 cities in the 2016-17 “Innovation Cities” index by Melbourne-based consultancy company 2thinknow. Quebec and Vancouver were also in the top 25. But through substantial private and public sector investment and business-savvy people with a nose for innovative solutions, the Gold Coast is making up ground.
Meet four of the coast’s most innovative entrepreneurs.
Lauren Hall, Co-founder of iVvy
Next big tech hub awaits
Not even the lure of C$10 million in startup funding could keep Lauren Hall in her native South Africa. The co-founder of event management software company iVvy says she could have stayed in Johannesburg and capitalised on offers of significant financial backing from the government. Instead, Hall moved to the Gold Coast eight years ago and hasn't looked back.
“I came to Australia with no money, no network, nothing,” she says. “I wanted a lifestyle change and I knew I could build a business anywhere. The Gold Coast is a city by the sea with a terrific lifestyle and you can still innovate here without too many boundaries.”
The gamble paid off. With the meetings and events industry worth billions of dollars each year in Australia, Hall says she was struck by the lack of consolidated software to systemise, organise, book and track spending. “When you organise an event, it can take up to six weeks to source suppliers, get the quotes, decide on one and check if they’re still available,” she says. “With iVvy you can search, compare, book and pay in real time.”
By scaling and exporting the technology, Hall now sells iVvy software in 12 countries, including Canada. The company employs 75 team members in North America, South Africa and Australia. It’s in a massive acceleration phase, notching up more than a 100 per cent growth, year on year, in the last two years.
“Running a company like this out of the Gold Coast and beating industry players in the US and Europe just shows that you can build a business of this magnitude anywhere,” Hall says. “We have built the Sabre and the Amadeus of the meetings industry.
“There’s no doubt the Gold Coast has the potential to be the next big entrepreneurial tech hub and it’s an incredibly exciting time to be part of it. Welcome to Silicon Beach.”
Danny Maher, Founder & CEO Opmantek
If you’re looking for proof the Gold Coast is a premier innovation hub, Opmantek is Exhibit A. One of the fastest-growing software companies in the world, Opmantek provides tech solutions to 130,000 organisations in 140 countries from headquarters on the Gold Coast. It employs industry experts from around the world, including Canadians.
Founder and CEO Danny Maher says the public company’s success would not have been possible without support from the City of Gold Coast. “In 2011, the council was trying to attract IT businesses to move here to diversify the economy,” he says. “At the time it was the only council in Australia giving financial incentives to do that.”
Opmantek produces software that is highly sought for its powerful discovery engine that detects, audits and manages issues on any network-connected device. Investors from Singapore to Silicon Valley are on board: Maher says the Gold Coast HQ location impresses international customers.
“As soon as you have a business here, everyone wants to come visit you,” he says. “There are conference facilities, you can go play golf or have breakfast on the beach, and it’s easily reached from airports in Brisbane and Gold Coast.” As chairman of the recently launched Gold Coast Hub, an initiative designed to encourage and support innovation, Maher says innovators and entrepreneurs will increasingly be drawn to the region for the knowledge, relationships and funding it offers. Sports innovation, in particular, will be amplified in the lead-up to the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
The enviable Australian coastal location means it isn't difficult to attract top talent from around the world. “There are loads and loads of talented people in tech who want to move to the Gold Coast,” Maher says. “It's a stressful industry, with long hours and hard work. The Gold Coast is a great environment to switch off and enjoy the lifestyle.”
Every day I see people there who have built companies, sold them off at a good profit, working on their next entrepreneurial venture, working in this collaborative, co-working space.”
Chris Lane, CoastalWATCH Founder
All eyes on the beach
The first image many associate with the Gold Coast is the iconic expanse of golden sand and surf. It's no surprise then that the beach has inspired some of Queensland’s best innovations.
In 1998, Chris Lane was a PhD student with a passion for two things: technology and surfing. He and his mates wanted an easy way to check the surf conditions at Burleigh Heads before loading the boards into the car and driving down to the beach. So Lane invented a surfcam that could livestream to their computers. Within 18 months, 10 more live cameras were streaming surf conditions all the way down Australia’s east coast. His business, CoastalWATCH, was born.
On busy days, more than 2 million people watch the Aussie swell from around the world and CoastalWATCH cameras are installed on countless beaches from Hawaii to China. The company continually strives to produce new technology and has branched out into environmental monitoring and cloud-hosted video and asset management. Lane says the Gold Coast is leading the world in beach safety and other tech innovation, made possible by collaboration between key players.
“Our authorities are centralised and everyone – government, industry, universities, councils – works together as partners so we can solve operational challenges,” he says. “I used to have my own big office with lots of staff but now I’m happily working out of shared office space on the Gold Coast,” he says. “Every day I see people there who have built companies, sold them off at a good profit, working on their next entrepreneurial venture, working in this collaborative, co-working space.”
Lane plans to stay on the Gold Coast, where his family is happily planted. He says it’s a great place to raise children. “My 13-year-old daughter is fluent in Chinese, because it’s taught here at school,” he says. “The Gold Coast has strong partnerships with our Asian neighbours and it will lead to many opportunities for everyone.”
Marvelling at the international success the company has achieved, Lane says he’s still a regular guy who gets to the beach as often as he can. “We were just surfers who were smart in IT,” he says. “That’s what we did for fun and what we loved doing. Now I still go to the beach at 6am on Saturday before the sun comes up, go for a run on the sand, then meet some mates for breakfast in a cafe while my wife walks the labradoodle. How good is that?”
It’s ingrained – the heart and soul of the Gold Coast is entrepreneurial thinking.”
Greg Young, Body Science Founder & Director
The body business
Body Science International had humble beginnings; founder Greg Young started building the company on a second-hand desk in the cramped garage of his home on the Gold Coast.
Eighteen years later, it’s Australia’s No.1 brand for sports and nutritional supplements, with an expanding range of the latest technology compression sportswear. Loved by elite sports teams and fitness enthusiasts around the world, Body Science still proudly calls the coast home, where it is owned and run by the Young and Picklum families.
“This is where we lived before we started the business,” Young says. “I was born and raised here. It’s an incredible city to grow up in and our kids love it, too.”
The company, now employing close to 50 staff members, supplies products to professional teams, amateur athletes and wellness enthusiasts around Australia and many other countries. Young says it is ideal to have headquarters on the Gold Coast.
“It’s easy to do business and life here, and we’ve never been tempted by the southern states,” he says. “I’m more than often found in my other office – the ocean – on a daily basis. You can’t beat the easy eight-minute drive to the office.”
Young says the Gold Coast is a fertile patch for entrepreneurial endeavour, and commends the City of Gold Coast’s efforts of orchestrating opportunities for go-getters to meet, share ideas and collaborate on successful initiatives.
“It’s a region of boundless opportunity, with like-minded people striving with innovation and attaining best in industry excellence,” he says. “It’s ingrained – the heart and soul of the Gold Coast is entrepreneurial thinking.”