Startup Accelerators in Australia

Australian accelerator programs are scaling up as international accelerator programs enter the market for the first time. We’re seeing changes like new verticals, more locations, expanded programs and improved terms.

Some Australian programs now go back as far as seven years and we can see clear successes emerge from those alumni. The market leading programs in terms of brand, volume and alumni success are: muru-D, Startmate, Melbourne Accelerator Program (MAP), INCUBATE and the Slingshot programs.

Interesting Data

Local heroes Startmate and muru-D are scaling up and expanding geographically. Startmate has announced a program in Melbourne for 2017. muru-D is set to announce a Melbourne program, with programs already running in Sydney, Brisbane, Perth and Singapore.

International programs are entering the Australian market, with Techstars in Adelaide and 500 Startups coming to Melbourne. In 2016 we also saw MassChallenge and Startupbootcamp launch pre-accelerator programs.

The vertical distribution is still pretty broad with most accelerators keeping a general tech focus for their intake. Those who have entered into a vertical focus are covering areas like: IoT, data, travel, MedTech, AgTech, FinTech and energy.

It’s good to see the Collider Accelerator open up in Brisbane, focusing on the creative tech space. This is an area that Australia has a history of success (including at least one unicorn).

Successful alumni fall into the categories of B2B, SaaS, platform, marketplaces, security, creative tech, MedTech and education.

Measuring Success

Startup accelerator programs are most often measured based on the fundraising activities of their alumni. This shouldn’t be the only metric but it’s the easiest to standardise as most companies will not divulge metrics like revenue.

Here’s a quick snapshot of the alumni from some of the larger programs.

Startmate
Started by the Blackbird Ventures team and running 6 years with 52 alumni. Based in Sydney originally and now expanded into Melbourne with a second program.

muru-D
Backed by Telstra and running now for 5 years with 65 alumni (82 by end of August). Started in Sydney and expanded into Brisbane, Perth, Singapore and soon Melbourne.

  • Drive Yello — B2B driver delivery platform raised $1.5 million
  • Pixc — a professional photo editing service, went on to participate in 500 Startups and has over 5,000 business customers in 30 countries.
  • Travello — a social network for travellers raised $1.25 million
  • SafeSite — safety management platform raised $1.5 million
  • OpenLearning — an online learning platform raised $1.7 million
  • Uprise — an online mental health support platform for businesses raised $200 thousand

AngelCube
Started in 2011 by the founder of Melbourne coworking space Inspire9, and a prolific angel investor, the Australian accelerator pioneer ran for 5 years (last intake was in 2015) with 31 alumni. In 2016, AngelCube was acquired by Slingshot.

  • LiFX — an LED light bulb startup that raised $1.3 million on Kickstarter, before raising another $12 million Series B from Sequoia Capital
  • App.io — an advertising platform and enterprise saas that raised around $1.0 million Series A after joining 500 Startups
  • Workplace Arcade — a retail-sales gamification app that has raised an undisclosed amount after graduating from 500 Startups
  • Coinjar — a next-gen personal finance account raised over $1.0 million in venture
  • QPAY — student payment platform raised around $400 thousand

Slingshot
The corporate accelerator program has been running 3 years now with 59 alumni (38 startups and 21 scaleups). Current programs are with Qantas AVRO, Seek & Hudson HR Tech, and HCF Catalyst. Past programs include ING Direct, NRMA and Simplot Australia.

  • Gamurs — a gaming social network raised $1.5 million
  • Audience Republic (TicketSquad) — a ticket sale platform raised $525 thousand
  • CancerAid — an app for cancer patients raised $1.25 million
  • Camplify — a camper van rental marketplace raised $1.6 million
  • Curo — using sensor tech in aged care raised $1.0 million

MAP
Attached the the University of Melbourne, MAP has been running 7 years now with 34 alumni. The program has expanded to allow applicants with one team member who has been a Melbourne Uni alumni.

  • Nura — headphones that optimise sound raised $2.5 million via Kickstarter and then raised $6.0 million in venture
  • Brosa — a marketplace for furniture designers raised around $2.0 million
  • Venuemob — a venue discovery platform raised over $1.5 million
  • Omny — an on-demand audio publishing platform, raised around $2.0 million
  • Cortera Neurotechnologies — implantable medical devices for the treatment of neurological conditions received DARPA funding under President Obama’s BRAIN initiative
  • Palette — a colour picking device raised over $1.0 million
  • CNS Dose — helps people find the right antidepressant raised over $1.0 million

INCUBATE
Founded by two students, the program has been running 5 years now with 70 alumni. The program is open to students, researchers and recent alumni of Sydney University.

  • Tzukuri — consumer fashion-tech startup has raised (an undisclosed) seed round and is now selling product. Backers include Dennis Paphitis, the founder of Aēsop and Andrew Rothwell the founder of Tyro.
  • Hind Tech — helps smaller manufacturers scale up their production, over $140 thousand revenue by the end of the accelerator
  • Trimph — biotech startup leading the way in regenerative medicine raised over $2.5 million
  • Atomnaut — developing an atomic microscope raised over $1.0 million

International programs
US-based accelerators Techstars and 500 Startups have both announced Australian programs in 2017. A number of Aussie/ex-Aussie companies have been through these programs overseas.

500 Startups Australian alumni
Speedlancer, Pixc, StreetHawk, CodeUpStart, Workplace Arcade, BugHerd, HappyCo, App.io, Stitch, Lumific, Inductly, Sporthold. 
500 Startups has also made direct investments in: Canva, Binu, NinjaBlocks, Predict BGL, Yellowfin Systems, and Propeller Aerobotics.

Techstars Australian alumni
Pantreeco, Section.io, Cartesian Co, Ollo Wearables, One Model and PopGun (current LA cohort), Litimetrics (current NYC cohort).

Startupbootcamp will commence a program in Melbourne in 2017, with details to be launched on May 8. MassChallenge has run a bridge program nationally across Australia in 2016 and yet to announce their plans for another bridge or full accelerator program going forward.

Defining an accelerator
There’s sometimes confusion in Australia as to what an accelerator actually is. The definition I’ve used: A startup accelerator is a short-term program (typically 3 months), that provides founders with mentoring, accelerated learning activities, office space, and seed capital (grant or equity).

Differentiating one accelerator from another
Setting aside the basic differentiators such as program location and intake selection requirements, there are some key differentiators between accelerator programs.

Founders should consider:

  • the vertical focus to see if there’s a density of expertise in their company’s area
  • the deal — how much capital and equity
  • program structure — the day to day program schedule
  • program mentors
  • alumni support and network
  • brand association
  • capital raising assistance

Overview of major program terms
Some programs offer added value in addition to the cash. Check out individual sites for the full deal.

I haven’t examined deep tech here in detail, leaving out programs like CSIRO’s OnAccelerator. Although it would be interesting to see some metrics and activity in commercialising IP in Australia.

Future of accelerators

  • With more capital options and more funds available now than ever before, investors are becoming more competitive. Accelerators can provide a steady pipeline of good quality, investable startup companies. We’re already seeing a couple of funds have a clear affiliation with an accelerator, I think this will become a more common approach.
  • Universities are becoming more active in this space. From clearly affiliated programs like MAP and INCUBATE to associations with established programs. I think we’ll see much more of the same for the mutual benefits of brand and deal flow.
  • Demo days aren’t necessarily a huge thing in Australia. Most accelerators encourage their cohort to interact with potential investors and partners throughout the program. I think we might see even less of a focus on public demo days going forward.
  • As more accelerators enter the market, the programs will have to differentiate themselves into one or more verticals to maintain a competitive edge. I think that will also benefit the programs with a density of expertise throughout the entire program.
  • Accelerators are a pretty key infrastructure but they are expensive to get off the ground and to run. We’ve seen governments subsidise a quite a few of the local and international programs. I think this will continue for a couple of years until more corporates see the benefits and step up to support programs instead.
  • Corporates have barely entered the space. In future I think we’ll see more get involved by financially supporting programs, participating as mentors, working with disruptive startups in their interest area and maybe some investments/ M&A activity.
  • I don’t think we’ve reached peak accelerator yet. Accelerators are valuable and investors are keen for the deal flow. We’re going to see continued expansion in local programs as well as new local programs.

Thank you to a bunch of people for helping me gather info for this huge post: Alan Downie, Annie Parker, Julie Trell, James Alexander, Rohan Workman, Ken Macken, Richard Celm, Harrison Cleaver, Tristan Pollock, Terry Gold, Chris Chang, Trent Bagnall, Adrian Stone and Mick Liubinskas.

Disclosures; I have an interest in the Techstars program convertible note, and will also be a program mentor. I have an association with CEA Startup Fund where I act as a startup advocate. CEA have just launched the creative tech accelerator, Collider, where I will also be a mentor. I participated on the MAP selection panel last year and will do so again this year. I also participated in the MassChallenge selection process as a judge.

On that note, you should definitely apply to take part in the Collider accelerator and tell your creative tech friends to do the same.

Open applications:
Qantas AVRO Accelerator — 27/04
CEA Collider Creative Tech Accelerator — 4/05
GRIFFIN Accelerator — 5/05
Startmate Melbourne Accelerator — 1/06