OPINION: Brisbane’s startup framework is in place, now let’s get scaling

Words by Ian Mason - CEO, Rainbow Bridge Education, Co-Creator and former Head of Development, Virgin StartUp, Global Entrepreneur in Residence, Creative Enterprise Australia and Visiting Entrepreneur, Office of the Queensland Chief Entrepreneur. 

The first time I came to Brisbane in mid-2017, I was excited and invigorated by the emerging start-up ecosystem. Everywhere I looked there were talented founders, working on some genuinely awesome businesses. I was impressed by the support available to entrepreneurs and emerging startups;
I met with the likes of Creative Enterprise Australia, Office of the Queensland Chief Entrepreneur, ARC Hardware Incubator, Advance Queensland and various Government agencies. The overriding takeaway from all those meetings, along with the events I attended during that trip, was that Brisbane’s start-up ecosystem is so accessible and connected compared to many other places. 

I’ve played a role in and witnessed first-hand, London’s start-up ecosystem growing from nothing, to now being one of the top five hubs in the world. I’ve experienced Silicon Valley, Berlin, Shanghai and numerous other global hotspots for start-ups. While you can’t compare Brisbane’s eco-system to any of the afore-mentioned cities, there are some great things happening - it’s reaching a tipping point.

Brisbane is at the tipping point 

Of course, the start-up ecosystem has continued to grow and evolve since my first encounter nearly two years ago. There have been changes at a government level, changes in the stakeholder landscape and changes to the funding environment. Some of these changes are for the better, some less so. What is clear however, is that there are more and more start-ups emerging - and really interesting ones at that - with the entrepreneurs behind them possessing valuable skills and expertise.

Brisbane is an outward-looking and dynamic city - something that is reflected in its evolving ecosystem. We’re moving into an age where a lot of businesses are digital and where manufacturing expertise and capacity may not necessarily be the preserve of Asian countries - we’ll be able to print things in our own bedrooms. So the opportunities for entrepreneurs to develop low-cost minimum viable products and take them to market will increase.  

That means that there’s absolutely no reason why we can’t have people come up with an idea, support them to develop their skills and expertise, offer them connections and have them go on to create a flagship business for Australia. That’s definitely possible in Brisbane - the essential building blocks are already in place.

Next step is to focus on scale-ups 

What needs to happen next in Brisbane, is the introduction of a new generation of support programs and infrastructure for scale-ups. To be clear, that doesn’t mean that support for start-ups can be wound down - far from it - but if we’re going to put money, effort and time into supporting people to get going, we also need to support those who have already done so and are ready to grow. If we don’t, we’re letting the ecosystem and its founders and stakeholders down. Sustaining and scaling a business is far harder than starting - and it requires a completely different skill set in order to succeed - the next generation of support programs in Brisbane must recognise this.

What does this mean? More masterclasses, structured programs and shared expertise on scaling would be a good start - followed by high quality support to help businesses internationalise. Local entrepreneurs are already asking for it - now it’s time to deliver. 

On the move to Brisbane


I’m about to move to Brisbane with my family next week. Following on from the success of Virgin StartUp in the UK in supporting thousands of entrepreneurs to start and scale, I’ve now built my own suite of programs and initiatives and I’ll be bringing some of those to Australia. I’ll also be working with key stakeholders to help build start-up ecosystems in towns and cities across the country, as well as returning to support Creative Enterprise Australia’s Collider Accelerator for the 3rd year in a row - which I’m very excited about. I’ll also be bringing my business, Rainbow Bridge Education, to Australia and in doing so, I hope to help as many parents as possible to better support their child’s education, right from the moment they are born. So hopefully, it’ll be the beginning of big things Down Under for me. 

While I’ll be doing work all over Australia, Brisbane automatically seemed like the perfect base for me - for all the reasons I’ve already discussed, and more. I’ve always found the local community to be very open - it’s easy to turn up and talk to people, know who I need to speak to, and get connected to the right people. The infrastructure is in place, including an international airport with global connections, and of course, there’s the lifestyle factor. It’s easy to walk around, there are lots of amenities, it’s great for families, and it’s less than an hour’s drive to world-class beaches. Plus all that sunshine. 

As an entrepreneur, Brisbane really does offer the best of both worlds: lifestyle and opportunity. Everything I need is right here, just like it is for all the other budding entrepreneurs looking to take their next big idea global. 

So, as long as enthusiasm remains high and there’s a renewed commitment to the cause, Brisbane is a really exciting place to be and definitely one to watch. I know I am.

More from the Brisbane Report