Australia may have a famously relaxed culture, but it’s no slacker when it comes to the digital economy. Since 2015, the government has announced an AU$1.1 billion investment to support innovation, including AU$38 million targeted specifically at incubating small tech firms.
Much of that funding has found its way to Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city.
Shu Das, director of content at tech community organization Startup Melbourne, says the startup scene there has grown quickly in the last 12 months as local incubators and co-working spaces have received grants and new startups have sprung up all over the city.
Melbourne has already birthed several global successes. Redbubble, a marketplace where artists can sell their work on T-shirts, dresses, scarves, bags, pillows, stickers, phone cases, and more, went public in May 2016 with a market cap of US$288 million. Culture Amp, a platform that lets companies track and tackle workplace morale, has raised US$16.3 million in venture funding since 2011 and counts digital economy companies Uber, Pinterest, Warby Parker, Box, and Etsy among its customers. And Aconex, which makes cloud-based project management software for the construction industry, is a publicly traded company currently valued at US$886 million. Since these companies had their beginnings in Melbourne’s downtown central business district, however, the center of gravity for startup stars has shifted to the Richmond neighborhood, two miles southeast.
Five minutes from downtown by light rail, with a major train station that makes it an easy commute from Melbourne’s southern suburbs, Richmond is the kind of urban area that Das calls “young and stimulating compared to Sydney, which is far more corporate.”
Richmond’s most successful startup to date is 99Designs, reportedly the world’s largest online graphic design marketplace, which has raised US$45 million in venture funding. Although it moved its headquarters to Oakland, California, and has opened offices across Europe, 99Designs still maintains a strong local presence—fitting in a neighborhood where stylish young geeks hunch over their laptops in the hipster cafes scattered along Bridge Road, the main commercial strip.