Innovation

Sports tech and life science-focused startup accelerators head to Victoria after AU$13m investment

International accelerator Techstars and Australian accelerators Springboard Enterprises Australia and Skalata Ventures are bringing healthcare and sports tech programs to Victoria.

Three startup accelerators are bringing their programs to Victoria on the back of a AU$13.45 million investment from the Andrews Labor government, which includes AU$7 million from LaunchVic, the state's startup agency.

The three accelerators — Techstars, Springboard Enterprises (SBE), and Skalata Ventures — will engage with local startups and investors through events and workshops to develop homegrown businesses and look to attract global talent to the state.

International accelerator Techstars will establish and operate their Australian SportsTech program, which will support 20 startups over two years. SBE will launch a female-focused Life Sciences accelerator for 30 female-founded startups over three years, while Skalata Ventures' program looks to support 60 scaleups over three years.

The latter two, both Australian accelerators, will establish and operate accelerator programs exclusive to Victoria. SBE will also deliver the E3 business accelerator program twice a year for 60 early-stage startups. More than 170 startups are expected to benefit from the initiative.

Talking to TechRepublic, LaunchVic CEO Kate Cornick said that the two specialist accelerators, SBE and Skalata, reflect the state's startup strengths in health and sports.

LaunchVic, which was established in 2016, had surveyed over 1,700 companies identifying as startups in partnership with Startup Victoria last year, Cornick said. Out of the 1,100 that met its definition, one in five showed to be focused on health, wellbeing, or sports.

"We see [those sectors] as being a major strength of our ecosystem and it's the largest cohort of startups," Cornick told TechRepublic. "If you think about it from a Victorian perspective, it's not unsurprising because the reality is we have got phenomenal research capabilities in biomedical and life sciences.

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"We've also got a very strong health insurance industry, we've got state of the art hospitals, probably the leader in that is the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre ... we've got 10,000 researchers just in Parkville alone working on medical and life sciences ideas.

LaunchVic's report into the healthcare sector, the State of HealthTech Victoria report [PDF], found that Australia is among the developed markets facing rising costs and increased revenue pressure in the healthcare sector. Cornick said that through the study, LaunchVic identified opportunities to help support more heathcare startups, and that this ultimately led to the inclusion of SBE in the accelerator program. LaunchVic was also aware that SBE had "pent-up demand" for female founders seeking support, specifically in life sciences.

Sports tech, meanwhile, is a "huge opportunity" for Victoria, with the state named the sports capital of the world for the last decade in 2016.

"We obviously have got state of the art sporting facilities in Melbourne. The work of the Australian sport technology network and many of our aspiring and leading companies are sports tech, which is a very niche sector, but one where we really punch above our weight."

Refuting the idea that Australian states should be competing for the title of "Silicon Valley of Australia", Cornick said that state government agencies should instead embrace opportunities to work together to benefit the whole of Australia's startup ecosystem.

"Whatever is good for Victoria is ultimately going to be good for startups in NSW and vice versa," she said. "I don't see this as a state-based issue, or a sector-based issue ... it's important that as an agency responsible for growing our local ecosystem, we do everything we can to ensure our ecosystems are as strong as possible.

"Everything we do is to grow the Victorian ecosystem, but we're not growing it to be better than another state, we're growing it to make sure that Victorians have got a fantastic opportunity to take advantage of a world-class startup ecosystem.

"One of the reasons we supported [these accelerators] was because they are very focused on global and we know that startups that are more globally connected are more likely to succeed long-term."

The big takeaways for tech leaders:
  • Three startup accelerators are bringing programs to the state of Victoria to engage with local startups, corporates, and investors
  • Techstars will establish and operate their Australian SportsTech accelerator program, Springboard Enterprises will launch a female-focused Life Sciences accelerator, while Skalata will focus on scale-ups.

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