The Definitive History of SydStart and StartSoc

SydStart is Australia’s largest tech startup conference and was created by the same team that created The Start Society and the iCentralCo tech startup community coworking space/s.

SydStart originated as an idea that blossomed because of community support by a remarkably long list of tech startup entrepreneurs, investors, mentors, volunteers, advocates, supporters and sponsors that is simply too long to list and too hard to identify accurately. This group deserves a special place in the history of Australian innovation and the tech startup industry because it created a unique confluence of connection, inspiration and insight that changed the industry trajectory (and hence the industry) for at least a decade.

SydStart was sold by the Founder Pete Cooper in Q4 2014 to Freelancer (ASX:FLN) run by Matt Barrie and the (relatively small but very important) proceeds from the sale plus other funds were used to help setup the first space at 234 Sussex St so we could have ‘SydStart all year round’ in the form of a grass roots industry body headquarters, this space was called iCentralCo by The Start Society and was the first ‘product’ of StartSoc and also the first headquarters.

While Sydstart in 2015 is now huge, it started small way in 2009 with an iterative MVP (minimum viable product) approach involving conversations over beers with 5 people 5 times over a period of 5 months at the Australian Hotel in Cumberland St The Rocks to order to collect feedback from industry and the nascent tech startup ecosystem about themes that would help grow the ecosystem ( a rarely used term at the time).

Main themes identified were –

  • The need to connect face to face (even though ongoing online communication was possible and effective), having initial quality conversations and developing personal trust in person was required to make subsequent online conversations more compelling.
  • Being inspired online is difficult and required face to face and directly relevant speakers (local entrepreneurs succeeding globally).
  • Learning from best practice success (and failure). Local context was important( funding, tax, skills, technology) but global awareness was equally important and would become more so over time.
  • Scale was important, and probably crucial, people need to be able to get maximum value for the time commitment (as delegates/students, speakers/educators and peer networkers) and a large  variety of topics (business, technology, design) was required so there is something for everyone.

So we had to be bigger than anything ever before in order to connect, inspire and learn from each other.

SydStart then became an event and ran annually and sometimes biannually with 1,000 to 2,00 people.

The first ‘proper’ SydStart was at ATPi and 50 people RSVPed but 80-100 people turned up and were so enthusiastic that the security guards had to ask us all to leave well after closing hours. There were a series of presentations from mentors and pitches from startups that are now well know but were not even using today’s names (Design Crowd was DesignBay, GoGet was a yet to be named taxi app prior to Uber and lots more).

Subsequent events added more structure with expo, pitching competition, pitch judging rules, curated expert speaker content, workshops, media participation, sponsors and more.

  • Other events followed including the –
  • Federation Conference centre at Surry Hills(2011, 2013),
  • UTS,
  • Darling Harbour Conference Centre(2012),
  • The Sydney Hilton (2014) – three floors
  • Sydney Town Hall (2015) – three zones over two days
  • Royal Randwick Sydney – multiple zones and floors over two days

If you were inspired by SydStart or would like to volunteer at StartSoc feel free to comment below or get in touch.

Cheers, Pete.

Pete Cooper
SydStart and The Start Society

16 Oct 2015

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