AirTree Ventures brings Accel Partners exec to Sydney to hunt startup gems

This article was originally published in the AFR here.

AirTree Ventures, an Australian venture capital firm with over $300 million to invest in start-up and “scale-up” businesses, has hired a senior investor from Silicon Valley giant Accel Partners to come to Sydney and hunt start-ups as a partner.

In another sign that the pull of the local tech ecosystem might finally exceed its push, AirTree has also convinced a San Francisco-based marketer for the likes of Atlassian and Dropbox to come work for it in Sydney.

AirTree’s new partner, James Cameron, will relocate in February from the London office of Accel, an early investor in Facebook and Dropbox as well as a slew of successful Australian start-ups such as Atlassian, OzForex, 99designs, CampaignMonitor and Invoice2go.

Mr Cameron was a vice-president at Accel, and a board observer at several of its fintech, cybersecurity and online marketplace portfolio companies.

Mr Cameron and Mr Henderson are not the only tech investing talents that AirTree, one of the fastest-growing managers in the fast-growing Australian VC industry, has lured away from markets that have traditionally sucked Australians towards them.

AirTree has also hired its first “head of community” in Julia French, the founder of San Francisco-based marketing agency CoveredCo, whose clients included DropBox, WhatsApp and Atlassian, for whom she organised the first US user group meetings.

Ms French, who is also relocating to Australia in February, will organise events for AirTree’s portfolio companies to exchange ideas among themselves and their customers, as well as provide them general marketing support.

AirTree’s three big hires faced an easier decision to move to Australia than most. Mr Cameron and Mr Henderson are returning expatriates, while Ms French has an Australian husband.

However, Mr Cameron said the Australian entrepreneurial ecosystem had transformed from when he left it a decade ago, and offered genuine opportunity.

“It’s hit an inflection point, where now you’ve got founders on their second or fourth time around, who know what it takes to build a global company,” he said.

Ms French said the Australian ecosystem reminded her of the Silicon Valley scene around 2007 as “unicorns” like Facebook and Twitter began to emerge.

“The founder expertise and the investor expertise takes time to build up, but I see it coming together in Australia,” she said.

The Turnbull government’s support for innovation was secondary to Mr Cameron’s decision to move back to Australia, however he urged Canberra to press ahead with its reforms.

“Having three ministers for innovation in the past year shows the portfolio might not be getting the priority it deserves. But [new Innovation Minister] Arthur Sinodinos is a senior figure who should be able to press the agenda forward,” said Mr Cameron.

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