THE CREATIVE BUSINESS
WORDS RENATO CASTELLO
The former St Paul’s Anglican Church on the corner of Pulteney and Flinders streets, one of Adelaide’s busiest intersections, has had many purposes in its 157-year history.
In the 19th century, the heritage-listed building counted among its congregation wealthy and powerful families, including the Ayers and Bonythons whose influence, contribution and notoriety are etched in the names of buildings, streets and parks across the city.
The church closed in 1983 and for about 30 years served as a function centre and later a nightclub before it was again shuttered nearly a decade ago.
Today, the building is called St Paul’s Creative Centre and is humming with start-up companies and entrepreneurs who are filling co-working spaces under the lofty church rafters, thanks to State Government backing.
It’s this tech renaissance which businesses and the government hope will drive South Australia and position Adelaide as a Smart City, where tech start-ups can improve quality of life, entertain, solve everyday problems or underpin the state’s defence industry — and, most importantly, create jobs.
Sitting under the stained glass windows inside St Paul’s Creative Centre is Ben Tripodi of Sydney-based digital creative agency Made in Katana, which four years ago opened a satellite office in Adelaide that has designed and developed the voting platform for Triple J’s Hottest 100 and the ARIAs and manages accounts for companies, including Spotify and Universal Studios.
Mr Tripodi, a graduate of Flinders University, is managing director of offshoot MIK Health, which is collaborating with Flinders Uni to develop a revolutionary software that could help reduce workplace absenteeism in large corporations by detecting anxiety, stress and mental illness
He says the software, to be trialled with companies later this year, uses medical research, linguistics and sentiment analysis (analysing emotions behind particular words or phrases which employees type in emails or online forums) to ascertain if a worker is at risk of mental health problem. “Currently mental health conditions cost Australian workplaces $23 billion a year,” Mr Tripodi says. “Through early intervention MIK Health can improve employee wellbeing, increase productivity and address a crucial industry need.”
MIK opened an Adelaide office four years ago to combat Sydney’s rising rent and staff costs. Mr Tripodi says staff wages, especially developer wages, are lower and proximity to leading research for their healthcare projects is close. “All of these things combined meant we could hire more staff and grow the business faster across multiple industries,” he says.
Software company Powerhealth Solutions, based on Adelaide’s South Tce, has 80 employees. Managing director Patrick Power says the company has access to a large talent pool and enjoys a low overhead in South Australia. “I’m surprised SA doesn’t leverage the fact it has got a highly-educated workforce that demonstrates less mobility than Victoria or NSW,” he says. “(And) why would I want to shift my business of almost 100 people down to Melbourne or Sydney where I’m going to take a 20 to 30 per cent hit on my business.”
The State Government has been underpinning innovation in the tech space with millions in funding, much of it exploring the use of autonomous cars. This includes a $2.8 million trial of a driverless shuttle between Adelaide Airport’s terminal and long-term carpark. Flinders University will use government funds to trial an autonomous cargo pod to transfer students around its southern suburbs campus. And Adelaide firm Cohda Wireless has obtained a $2 million State Government grant to buy two autonomous cars to test radar technology on public roads, which will allow them to detect buildings, road signs and even older vehicles not equipped with car-to-car communications.
But it was SA’s heritage as a defence hub that enticed tech start-up incubator Techstars Accelerator to Adelaide. In January, the world-acclaimed US-based organisation chose Adelaide as the location of its first Asian-Pacific hub and its 100th global branch providing mentorship and investment to start-up tech companies.
Techstars Adelaide Accelerator managing director Terry Gold says the program will specifically help early-stage tech companies connect to the defence sector with a focus on “cool stuff”. “Internet, big data, security, sensors and robotics,” he says. “It will dovetail with initiatives like the $230 million Centre for Defence Industry Capability and will help foster innovation in the defence sector here in South Australia. “Besides being a great place in which to develop a start-up, a big attraction is that Adelaide is poised to become a global centre of excellence for defence and security with over $100 billion worth of major defence industry projects in the pipeline.
“I moved here nine months ago from Boulder, Colorado in the US and a surprising number of people have heard what a great place it is for start-ups.
“I observed Techstars Boulder attract smart people to Boulder, and a lot of them never wanted to go home so many stay and build their businesses there. I believe the same thing will happen here, and of course we will help start-ups that are already here in South Australia.”
For Seth Thuraisingham, servicing Australia’s defence forces has been at the core of his company’s extraordinary growth. But it has not been through building warships, rather the precise application of technology to improve the performance and knowledge of the military. The 35-year-old is chief executive of Consilium Technology, a company of computer programmers, scientists, engineers and analysts which, in just three years, has grown from one employee to 27.
Mr Thuraisingham’s Pirie St company has multiple contracts with the Australian Defence Force and specialises in modelling and simulation, data analytics, mixed reality, human sciences and machine learning.
It is machine learning — the role of designing intelligent machines to augment and replace human thinking — that Mr Thuraisingham believes will be part of the next industrial revolution. “The biggest growth area which is going to happen globally, not tied to a specific industry, is in automation of the knowledge industry,” he says.
Southstart, a tech accelerator based in the heart of Adelaide, is gathering support for what it says will be Adelaide’s first technology precinct modelled on Sydney’s The Lighthouse precinct at Barangaroo and Carlton Connect in Melbourne.
Southstart director and founder of venture capital firm Acumen Capital, Shane Cheek, says Southstart is looking at several locations for the precinct. Hundreds of businesses have signed a petition supporting the venture. “We would like to get the location launched this year … given the interest and excitement this seems to be causing it’s important it be delivered,” he says.
SA tech entrepreneur Simon Hackett spent $7 million two years ago, transforming a heritage mansion and grounds on the city’s eastern fringes into tech hub Base 64 which houses 10 largely tech firms including his battery storage company Redflow. Base 64 operations and development manager Heidi Angove says demand has fast outstripped supply with the waiting list growing each day.
There is also a growing excitement about Adelaide companies taking a slice in the global $100 billion video game industry. Dan Thorsland, general manager of app developer Mighty Kingdom, says the State Government and Adelaide City Council are becoming more aware of the potential for companies like his to grow its workforce. The Rundle Mall-based company is among the largest app developers in the country and developed the suite of Shopkins games for Moose Toys which have been downloaded more than 20 million times. He says the company is aiming to double its 35-strong workforce by the end of the year and has ambitions of reaching 200 employees within five years.
“When I started here three years ago we were six, so we’re doing okay,” he says, “Nobody in the company just wants to make a hot product and sell out, everyone just wants to create a fantastic development community within Adelaide and that’s what our major focus is.
“There’s an enormous amount of talent here and there’s a lot of talent that loves living here.”
A $50 MILLION VENTURE CAPITAL FUND is hoped to transition South Australia’s economy from volume based manufacturing to one focused on innovation. The State Government has also set aside $10 million to assist early stage businesses progress to the job creation stage, as well as $7.5 million for UniSA’s Future Industries Institute to foster innovation and collaboration. The innovation revamp was recommended by Victorian consultant Alistair McCreadie who conducted an extensive review into the State Government’s funding of innovation programs. Local early-stage companies are the focus, while interstate operators who relocate to SA are also eligible. For more info, visit sa.gov.au