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The Sydney CBD Is The Wrong Space For A 'Startup Hub'

The 'suit and tie' financial centre is largely at odds with the startup mentality.

19/07/2017 10:34 AM AEST | Updated 19/07/2017 10:34 AM AEST
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"A startup friendly environment might see, for example; wide walkways and communal space, easy bicycle access, free access to Wi-Fi and affordable eateries."

Last week NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced that Sydney will be getting its very own 'Startup Hub' in the CBD. A space designed to house upwards of 2000 people, all putting their minds to innovation and entrepreneurship with in-house accelerators, work space and other tools. It is a fantastic start to making Sydney the startup hub of Australia, and even the Asia Pacific.

Even more so, it is the perfect way for Sydney to maintain its competitiveness in the region and reinvent its image.

However, when compared to other tech hubs around the world, most famously, San Francisco, there is still some work to do in Sydney. While this bricks and mortar statement of the city's commitment to the startup industry is a useful starting point, there are underlying functional changes that Sydney requires before it thrives as a startup hub.

To truly become an epicentre of innovation, Sydney needs to build its own startup ecosystem.

Like with any nascent industry, startups require government incentivisation. This could be the major hurdle for Sydney -- and the decision to build Sydney's 'Startup Hub' in the centre of the CBD suggests that there is a lack of forethought when it comes to understanding startup style.

Perhaps a more favourable idea would be to create a startup hub in a non-CBD area of Sydney. This will allow startups to build their own unique business environment, which is likely to be based on technological ease and a more informal atmosphere, unconstrained by the conventionalism of the CBD.

The problem with locating the startup hub in the Sydney CBD is that the area is already crowded by traditional, 'suit and tie' style businesses. And, while it is the major financial centre of the country, it's largely at odds with the startup mentality.

Startups are all about fresh ideas, constant rejuvenation and challenging traditional business and consumer models.

Perhaps a more favourable idea would be to create a startup hub in a non-CBD area of Sydney. This will allow startups to build their own unique business environment, which is likely to be based on technological ease and a more informal atmosphere, unconstrained by the conventionalism of the CBD.

The very physicality of the CBD, with its narrow pathways and crowded buildings, is out of sync with the environment that tends to attract startup founders -- who are often trying to break away from the daily grind of nine to five life. A startup friendly environment might see, for example; wide walkways and communal space, easy bicycle access, free access to Wi-Fi and affordable eateries.

Moreover, this strategy of creating a startup zone outside of the Sydney CBD, would inject commercial activity and employment into a new area of Sydney, instigating much needed urban spread in our city.

There are many parts of Sydney calling out for development opportunities and, the establishment of a startup zone in such an area, would attract businesses and the consequent influx of people and infrastructure. Rather than just adding to the already full canvas of the CBD, this would see another part of Sydney flourish, through the growth of business, employment and transport links.

However, it is up to the Government to clearly incentivise startup businesses to make the move, and this might be achieved through financial incentives for office space, or subsidised provision of services in that area.

The creation of a startup zone also provides the opportunity for Sydney to amplify its diversity, a key factor in establishing the city as a destination of inclusion and business potential.

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The growth of diversity is linked with having a thriving cultural scene. If Sydney is to become a base for startups, it needs to present as an exciting place for young people to live. While housing affordability is one component of this, so are the cultural functions of a city, such as; regular community events, art, music and nightlife.

A startup zone provides the structural framework to host regular cultural events; to encourage people to make connections within their community and break down barriers. Ultimately, these are the factors that establish the personality of a city, and allow a younger demographic to connect with an area.

Crucially, this encourages our own talent to invest their skills at home, rather than add to the brain drain of tech minds. Investing in arts and culture is a critical way in which Sydney can attract the talent that will help to grow the city as an innovation hub.

Most importantly, if Sydney wants to become the startup hub of the region, it needs to move away from rigidly applying outdated models of incentivisation. The city needs to begin thinking like a startup.

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