Australian accelerator Startmate is seeing a spike in applicants and participants as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to drive activity in the tech sector. And as the team unveils their ambitions for the 1 million-strong Startmate City, it’s becoming clear that they’re just getting started.
Speaking to SmartCompany, Startmate boss Michael Batko says the accelerator is getting more applications than ever, as well as growing demand for its new scholarship programs, designed to get people into startup jobs.
Pre-COVID, the accelerator received about 600 applications each year. Now that’s more like 1,000, he says.
Startmate used to invest in about 20 companies each year. Now, that has doubled.
Scholarship programs are also growing. The women’s fellowship cohorts used to be between 10 and 20 people, he says. Now they are running with 100 people per cohort, and two cohorts per year.
The new Student Scholarship is also growing, and the Founders Scholarship has just been launched for the first time.
Within the next year, between 1,000 and 2,000 people are expected to come across a Startmate program of some kind.
Regarding Startmate’s main accelerator program, Batko attributes the surge in interest in part to the fact that COVID-19 forced the program online, actually making it more accessible to more people.
But he believes there are also more companies out there launching startups and looking to take them to the next step.
There are also more people hoping to find a career in something they are passionate about, which is driving the demand for scholarship programs.
But this is all just small fry. Batko and the team have revealed ambitions to build what they call Startmate City, a community of innovators and investors working together to grow the tech ecosystem and the broader economy.
And when Batko says ‘city’, he means a literal city. A physical metropolis that is home to 1 million people (to begin with), with its own local government and legislation.
The plan is to start laying bricks in the next three years.
“The idea is to bring together the three main ingredients of the startup ecosystem in one place, the epicenter of startup ambition.”
Those ingredients are the founders themselves, the “operators,” or the people who work in those companies, and the investors.
“If you bring them beautiful and close … ideas collide, ambitions collide and good things happen.”
“The talks are starting”
Batko acknowledges that creating a physical city may seem a bit counterintuitive at the moment, given that half of Australia is in lockdown and much of it working from home.
“But the fact remains that the physical infrastructure around you has such a massive impact on your life,” he says.
It’s about building networks and connections, and being close to innovation, he explains.
Plus, working from home means it’s easier to choose where you live based on the lifestyle you want. It makes sense to relocate to “form those kinds of networks and connections.”
A city also requires a local government, which in this case would be designed to facilitate business, to facilitate experimentation for startups, and to bring in strong immigration rights, thus facilitating the onboarding of international talent.
When asked if this is something of a comment on existing state and federal legislation, Batko assures me that it is not.
Australia is not necessarily a difficult place to run a business, he says.
“But what if we can make it even easier?”
And he has yet to meet resistance. In fact, Batko says that in recent days, he has had more than one state or territory to begin discussions about the headquarters of the shiny new city.
“The vision is in the world,” he says.
“The talks are beginning.”
The COVID-19 effect
It’s been an interesting 18 months in the Australian startup ecosystem. While we know that many companies are struggling to stay afloat, many technology companies are thriving.
At all stages, your money seems to be pouring in.
In part, Batko attributes the growth in the industry to technology companies providing some of the core infrastructure that keeps other businesses running, as well as providing innovations that can help them streamline operations or reduce costs in a challenging environment.
We’ve also heard stories of people losing permanent roles to the pandemic, doubling down on their side hustle or throwing something entirely new in its place.
That trend is evident in the Startmate Founders Scholarship program, Batko notes.
It is a new program, with a cohort of around 100 people looking forn Meet the co-founders and bring their business visions to life.
“It shows that people are looking for those opportunities and businesses are actually starting within the pandemic,” he says.
“There has never been an easier and better time to start a startup.”