At an inner Sydney restaurant on Monday night a group of entrepreneurs, investors and business people gathered for Innovation Bay, one of the longest running features of Australia’s startup community.
Since being founded in 2003, over 300 tech startups have raised more than $10 million in seed capital after presenting at the networking group’s dinners which also introduces them to a network of local angel investors and business mentors.
“I’d moved to Australia from Scotland,” explains Innovation Bay’s founder Ian Gardiner. “I’d started a small business that wasn’t very good, I didn’t know anyone and you couldn’t start a business without a network so we started our own. That was the genesis for it.”
Along with its angel investor dinners, Innovation Bay holds speaker events and breakfasts. However the group’s evening events held in in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, with Adelaide to start next year, are its major focus.
“We hand curate five really good startups and there’s a selection process to get here and we match them up with a roomful of investors, people that are rich enough to cut a cheque and rich enough to not to worry too much,” says Gardiner. “We want to bring people in that offer more than just money with mentoring, education and other help.”
One of the regular attendees is Michael Malone, the founder and former chief executive of what became one of Australia’s biggest Internet providers, iiNet. “It’s about getting a chance to see what the challenges are, what ideas are floating around out there,” he says.
Malone goes on top explain what he sees startups and investors getting from the dinners, “the companies form a part of the ecosystem that ranges from ‘I’ve got an idea’ through to the incubators through to this really important stage, which is really difficult, of ‘how do I get a few thousand dollars into something real?’ I think this really sits in the sweet spot.”
Of the five startups pitching, all were looking for something beyond funding. FirstStep, a mobile app that allows users to automatically invest loose change from their electronic transactions, was the opening pitch and co-founder Shiraj De Silva was looking for a partner to help them obtain a retail Australian Financial Services License along with $950,000 in capital.
For Drive Yello, an online delivery driver market place for restaurants and food chains, their aim was to close out a million-dollar funding round, find potential corporate partners and “build our network generally,” said Steve Fanale of his business that had just turned a year old.
Cate Hull of Freight Exchange, a platform that allows businesses to buy and sell excess freight capacity, was looking for potential customers as well as investors. “We’re seeking investors and introductions to businesses who want to reduce their freight costs and carbon footprint simultaneously,” she said. The company already has 300 small and medium businesses on its books since being launched last April.
After immigrating to Australia and starting a removal company, Brazilian-born Carlos Ferri was hoping his relocation service tracking app Zapala Go would find key partners as well as investors. “We are interested in meeting investors who can also help us with growth strategy and industry connections to expand our platform nationally and then internationally.”
“I’m a networker and I’m in the middle of my angel cap round,” says the founder of wine marketplace app Richard Owens. “I was a finalist at the Innovation Bay Melbourne dinner a couple weeks ago as well and I was very impressed with the calibre of people they get into the room. Aside from that, it’s a nice evening and great to see other people like me having a stab at changing the world.”
Each of the attendees gets three poker chips to vote at the end of the night on who they’d invest in. The winner on Monday was Freight Exchange who narrowly edged out Drive Yello, all the participants though were deeply in conversation with potential investors and mentors as the night wound up.
That contact with the community is what Gardiner believes is valuable about Innovation Bay, “ultimately a cheque is the best thing but some of it is just feeling loved and appreciated. It’s really hard running a startup, the more we get them on the front foot and scaling the business the better.”
“Two or three out of the five will get some form of money out of tonight but almost everyone will feel good and get some introductions and something tangible beyond the cheque.”