A next iteration of the Australian Innovation Ecosystem map is available.

The map identifies “organisations that are relevant to those who support early stage entrepreneurs with high growth potential“. The scope is significant, and this article outlines challenges and opportunities with the broad nature of the definition.

The map is an ongoing body of work and open to interpretation. It is more comprehensive in some areas more than others and will continue to build over time. It is not intended to be a definitive directory, but to create placeholders to test a model, gain ongoing feedback, contribute to the global conversation about place-based entrepreneur support, and provide a reference for those looking for support.

If something is missing or you feel it should be different, let us know through the site feedback form or the comments below. Feedback is welcome and sharing is appreciated.

To keep updated with the progress, connect with me on LinkedIn and sign up for the newsletter on Startup Status.

A detailed explanation of background and methodology follows. To go direct to the map, follow the link below:

Background and history

The global and therefore Australian innovation ecosystem is in a state of rapid and continuous evolution.

Lines between actors in the innovation system are not clear-cut. Universities deliver accelerators, governments invest directly into startups, and corporations create innovation hubs. What was disruptive becomes institutionalised as brands behind programs and spaces scale across borders.

Traditional economic development organisations are expanding business models to respond to burning platforms of changing jobs, transitioning industries, and search for new forms of talent. Chambers of Commerce create new business award programs for innovation and startups. Corporations integrate startup activity into their supply chains and procurement policies. Hackathons and accelerators become common, attracting consultants and branding professionals to develop programs for corporate team building and recruitment.

Twelve months ago I released a Google Map of actors in the Australian innovation ecosystem. This was after publishing an outline of Queensland spaces and programs, and followed by a review of how innovation ecosystem maps are visualised and a pdf version focusing on Queensland actors.

At the time, I promised myself that it would be the last time I manually moved logos around in PowerPoint, Word, and Illustrator. The maps also needs to be at least national due to the cross-state activity of most of the ecosystem supporters. .

There has been significant changes over the year since the Google Map version. Australia has seen an expansion of franchise models such as WeWork, Regus, ServeCorp, Christie Spaces, Hub, Space&Co, Little Tokyo Two, and Wotso. Most non-metro regions have or are investigating an innovation hub or coworking space. Local angel groups are being established, new funds created, and wider syndicates formed. Density of spaces and activity in metro regions is increasing. Competition from a higher number of programs results in specialisation and focus. Programs are supported by a more diverse group of corporations, government bodies, industry bodies, and education providers. The end result is more of everything.

The shifting environment makes any mapping exercise a challenge but also underscores the necessity. A map lets you know where you are in relation to others and provides a pathway to where you want to go. The map needs to provide enough information to be relevant, but not so much that it is overwhelming.

The mapping exercise is part of overarching researching into how innovation ecosystem actors are related, and an underlying platform to measure outcomes for hubs and programs. How does one actor compare to others? Where does it fit in the overall ecosystem? How is the system sustainable? Who is missing from the picture? Is the system effective or even necessary? Can a high-growth potential firm scale without touching any of the actors on the map?

The map has been created as part of an ongoing focus to answer these questions in an approach that is systematic and data-driven. This post outlines the next iteration of a map of Australian innovation ecosystem actors.

The platform

The map is a top-level public view of an underlying system that helps hubs and programs measure their impact over time, while providing insights for regions for economic development and community development activities.

Each organisation with a logo on the map has the ability to login to measure their impact over time. We are currently in beta and onboarding select hubs. Please drop me a line if you are interested in participating in the program.

Other approaches

There are many other platforms and methodologies available that contain similar information, and many focus on individual companies. Global examples include Crunchbase, Funderbeam, Pitchbook, Hockeystick, Startup Nation Central, Gust, Angelist, F6S, Startup Genome, and CB Insights.

Platforms and approaches originating in Australia include Coventured, Startup Muster, Techboard, and Decode Systems. Other platforms such as Health Horizon focus specifically on an industry sector. These platforms are based on various business models for making connections, supporting place-based research, and providing investment data.

Finally, there are groups that manually map and produce reports at the state and levels such as an upcoming platform from LaunchVic or local examples like RamenLife‘s TechSydney, Geelong’s GeeMap or Noosa’s Venture Playbook. Also of note are the list of lists maintained by others in the community including Gary Visontay, Artesian, and Airtree.

The map was developed to address a need for a single view of the actors in the innovation ecosystem and test relationships between actors against a regional context. A goal is also to give back by helping hubs and programs measure impact over time and provide insights for governments, universities, investors, and corporations with a vested interest in the economic and community development outcomes of a region.

The roll out aims to be a light-touch approach supporting other approaches and providing feedback to operators and regions for improved decision making.

What is the ecosystem? Scope, who to include, and missing actors

Three terms often come up when referring to the “ecosystem”: Entrepreneur ecosystem, Startup ecosystem, and Innovation ecosystem. These each have a specific focus on: the individual (entrepreneur), a type of company created by the entrepreneur (startup), and the underlying system that supports the entrepreneur (innovation). These terms are part of broad place-based systems theories, which also include terminology such as clusters and economic development supply chains.

At the risk of too wide a scope, this map settles on “Innovation Ecosystem” as a reference point.

The scope for the map is to identify organisation that are relevant to those who support early stage entrepreneurs with high growth potential.

This scope is broad and ever expanding. Startup support is becoming integrated into business as usual, to where most any business support or talent development organisation could make a claim to be included on the map.

The default perspective on who should be listed is inclusion over exclusion.

The pathway for an entrepreneur is diverse and does not necessarily connect with what may be seen as the “ecosystem”. Traditional organisations are adapting to provide support for early stage entrepreneurs. Peak bodies perform R&D as a key strategies and can provide startups access to broad market segments. Local chambers and governments are partnering with or creating innovation hubs to help established local businesses disrupt existing business models. Major economic development bodies are advocating for infrastructure specifically to support local entrepreneur attraction, and participating in local angel networks.

Some organisations may be missing due to the sheer volume, such as service providers like lawyers, digital agencies, or accountants. Chambers of Commerce have a placeholder and the mapping process is ongoing. Others will be added later but are currently inferred such as local governments and corporations.

If an actor or category is missing, it is likely an oversight rather than intentional. If you feel this is you, it is not personal. You can provide feedback here: https://startupstatus.co/map-feedback/.

What makes sense for the user

The placement of items on the map is based on answering the question “What makes sense for the user?”

This can be tested based on who is seen as the map audience:

Current or aspiring early-stage, high growth firm

  • “I want to see what support is available to help me in my region or related to my industry or technology so that I can get help growing my business.”

Supporter of early-stage, high growth firms

  • “I want to see who is related to what I do so that I can better compete and collaborate.”
  • “I want my logo to be on the map so that my services are understood by those who can benefit from what I do.”
  • “I want to communicate what support is available in my region or sector so that organisations in my region can get help growing their business.”

Researcher of innovation-related social systems

  • “I want to understand a model of actors in the system and how they relate to each other so that I can apply the information in my own research.”

Contributor to innovation policy

  • I want to understand what support is currently available for local economic development and related community development activities so that I can maker better policy decisions.”

Regions and Tags

Filters are provided for region, industry sector, and technology. Each of these can be considered their own ecosystem, and each expands beyond an innovation context. For example, the agriculture or mining ecosystems include a large and diverse supply chain and peak body network that may not directly relate and at times inhibit high growth firms. The entire financial ecosystem is relevant to Fintech, but it would be relevant to list agencies like credit unions or the ATO in a map specifically for the innovation ecosystem.

Actors are placed in locations where they have listed offices and/or evidence of activity. Locations are defined as regions loosely mapped to local government catchments, versus suburbs. Some actors such as overall economic development bodies like RDAs cover multiple regions but not the entire state. In these cases, a central region has been selected rather than assign the actor to all regions they service.

Some actors have national scope but are listed where they have physical offices. An investment company is relevant to companies seeking investment anywhere in Australia, but locality matters when building relationships and finding new opportunities. A university may take mostly remote students but the local university campus often plays a key role in the region’s ecosystem.

Other actors may be based in one location but have a national program. Several school entrepreneur and STEM programs are delivered nationally, and some accelerator programs have national cohorts and do not require on-site activity. Media, Tools, and Advocacy groups may have a head office in one region but provide content for Australia.

The categorisation challenge

There are many representations of how ecosystems are modelled, and I previously described a few in a post on ecosystem measurement

The innovation ecosystem, however, is not its representation. There is always a risk when creating boxes for things that the reality of the thing may no longer fit in the box. This is true for people as much as organisations and systems.

So at further risk of creating a new set of boxes, the taxonomy used for the map is outlined below.

  • An ecosystem is a collection of functions and actors who perform those functions, acting in one or more roles, supported by different models.
  • Functions include “provide mentoring”, “access to capital”, “advocate”, “provide working space”, and “provide training and access to talent”.
  • These functions are performed by various actors, such as “the bank manager”, “the innovation hub manager”, “Council economic development officer”, or “a lawyer”.
  • Grouping functions together creates roles, such as “Investor”, “Innovation hub”, “Coworking space”, or “Industry Body”.
  • These roles are performed or are funded by organisations that operate from different models, including: “Government”, “University”, “Corporation”, “Venture Capitalist”, or “Independent”.

Keeping the above description in mind, this ecosystem map categorises actors into roles based on their primary functions, and applies a tag of their model based on the primary actor owner. This is a subjective process and based on first-hand knowledge, public reports, statements on websites, and feedback.

The focus is on the primary role for which the actor would be known. An innovation hub may provide education and support or connections, but would be primarily perceived as an innovation hub. An Accelerator provides education and support and pitch opportunities, but it is primarily an Accelerator.

Occasionally an actor is listed in multiple areas such as a government agency that acts as a virtual hub. This is kept to a minimum to avoid every actor being in every role, making the map irrelevant.

Below is more detail on the rationale behind each role:

Accelerator/Incubator Programs

Accelerator and incubator programs follow an established path to help entrepreneurs build, grow, and scale their business. Characteristics that may be included: a start and end date, content curriculum; assigned mentors; financial, social, or technical capital; and cohort-based. The term incubator has been used in other contexts to reference a physical space as well as programs focused on early stage ideas, also referred to as pre-accelerator. For the purpose of this map, Accelerator/Incubator Programs does not include general, rolling intakes.

Chamber of Commerce

Chamber of Commerce provide advocacy for local business, events and networking, and dedicated mentoring programs. The focus varies significantly by region and various models exist. Some are funded by local government, others rely solely on member fees to maintain independence for advocacy. Chambers are included as they have the potential to provide access to networks and customers for early validation and have a vested interest in supporting local businesses of all forms. More will be added over time.

Connections and Virtual Hubs

Many regions have a dedicated body that performs functions similar to a physical hub while also building collaboration and capability in the region. These are loosely described as Connections and Virtual Hubs. A body typically exists for each State and at a local regional level, and some focus on a specific industry area. Virtual hubs often form prior to a physical space in response to local demand or desire for entrepreneur support.

Corporations

Corporations that are listed are those that actively participate in supporting early-stage, high growth firms outside their organisation. This includes sponsorship, investment, and running hackathons or innovation hubs accessible to the public. Corporations are currently not displayed.

Coworking space

A coworking space is based on a seat-for-hire business model, offering short-term office space and amenities. There can be an emphasis on community and collaboration, and events and programs are hosted that support entrepreneurs and business. The difference between a coworking space and an innovation hub is the evidence of resources dedicated by the space to intentionally help entrepreneurs build, grow, and scale their business, as compared to simply creating the environment for growth to happen.

Economic Development Groups

Some regions have a separate economic development body that advocates, informs policy and infrastructure, and provides access to networks. This is related to a Chamber of Commerce, but at a larger scale, over a larger region, and with higher influence. The federally supported Regional Development Authorities (RDA) are included in this category. These groups have the ability to support the infrastructure needed to attract and support entrepreneurs, and connect those who are established in the region with emerging opportunities.

Education and Support

There are those in the community who provide education and support for various actors, including entrepreneurs, investors, and governments. These providers often focus on a specific function (eg., investment readiness, founder mental health, policy development). This category currently does not include traditional service providers such as accountants, lawyers, or digital agencies due to the volume, transient nature of the providers, and the difficulty in identifying which providers have capability and services to support early-stage, high growth potential firms.

Events / Pitch / Awards Programs

Major events, pitch sessions, and awards programs provide examples of what success looks like, and create a central place for networking and connections. The programs can send clear indicators to a region, such as having an award for social impact, for indigenous or female founder, or specific technology or industry outcomes. They draw out companies and ideas to provide an indicator of activity and capability in a region. They also act as networking events to bring together those who can support those pitching to go to the next stage.

Government – Federal, State, Local

The three levels of government participate in the innovation ecosystem in different degrees based on size. Ideally this is to address market failures, facilitate market action, or support initiatives that are public interest where there is not sufficient market drivers to take a lead. The greater the region’s population to draw public funds, the larger the investment tends to be for focused innovation activity. Innovation investment forms a part of the overall economic development and community development portfolios, and may be its own department as well as a separate entity, such as seen with Victoria’s LaunchVic or other state’s Chief Entrepreneur offices. The map shows government organisations or departments, while specific government programs or support is categorised under the respective role for the program (eg., Accelerator, Innovation Hub) and tagged as a Government model.

Hackathon Program

Hackathons are intensive challenge sessions to solve problems or create businesses by participant entrepreneurs. The map lists recurring hackathon programs rather than one-off initiatives. Hackathon Australia maintains a good list of all hackathons.

Hackerspace/Makerspace/Artspace

Hackerspaces, makerspaces, and artspaces provide opportunities to try out technology on self-driven projects. The emphasis tends to be on creating rather than commercialising. The spaces attract like-minded individuals and can develop early local talent for other areas of the ecosystem.

Industry / Technology Communities

Communities form in local areas around industry and technology topics, usually in the form of a meetup group. These are constantly evolving and will be identified as they come up. These groups can bring a cultural strength to a local ecosystem, particularly when operating out of an innovation hub or coworking space.

Industry Associations and Peak Bodies

Industry associations and peak bodies can provide access to a wide customer base, advocate for change, and connect influential people in communities and politics. These groups also often have initiatives to connect their members with new ways of thinking and new technologies. These will be added to the map over time, but a list of peak bodies is extensive, diverse, and localised.

Innovation Hub

An innovation hub typically is based in a physical space and commits resources to supporting entrepreneurs to build, grow, and scale their business. The difference between a coworking space and an innovation hub is the evidence of resources dedicated by the space to intentionally help entrepreneurs build, grow, and scale their business, as compared to simply creating the environment for growth to happen. Functions in an innovation hope often include entrepreneur or expert in residence, program managers, and business development managers focused on the programming and events for the entrepreneur support activities.

Investment

Organisations listed in investment provide capital designed for early-stage, high growth ventures. This is usually angel groups and other venture capital funds. Traditional banks are listed if they have funds or programs to provide specialised funding models for early-stage, high growth potential firms.

Media, Tools & Advocacy

Media, tools, and advocacy includes organisations that specifically promote, measure, and advocate for startups and the innovation ecosystem overall. 

Place-based research

Place-based research organisations perform a dedicated function of researching, providing data, and informing policy on locations, where the information is directly relevant to the region’s entrepreneurial growth.

Research

Research organisations focus on research, with potential to develop entrepreneurial initiatives from research outcomes. Examples include CSIRO locations and Collaborative Research Centres (CRCs). These are distinct from universities, and some university research initiatives may be listed here.

School Entrepreneur / STEAM Program

Extra-curricular programs continue to emerge that support young people to develop technical and entrepreneurial skills. These often address gaps in curriculum and are delivered through multiple approached, including in curriculum, extra-curricular, and externally. Delivery approaches include by the teacher and/or through an external facilitator.

Universities

Universities have the capability to provide talent, mentoring, and entrepreneurial programs. University programs often include early-stage broad entrepreneurial programs for students, as well as focus on specific areas, such as technology, creative industries, regional, industry sector such as agriculture, or social enterprise.

What’s next

The scope of innovation is broad, and inclusion of new actors is never ending. New organisations emerge while others consolidate or cease operations.

Directories and reports have come and gone over the years. There is also an ongoing discussion outlined in the recent StartupAus Policy Hack and Crossroads report to maintain a common data repository to support early-stage, high growth firms, and measure the impact of investment into the area. The project aims to align with other initiatives in the market and develop a sustainable approach to addressing these challenges.

Ongoing developments include:

  • Hub support and individual companies: The map focuses at the system level. We are also supporting individual hubs to measure their impact and through this collecting cohorts of companies and individuals against programs to map connectivity and impact. These will be released later.
  • Global connections: The Australian ecosystem is a good case study because it has a low enough density to be viewed in one picture, but large enough to be meaningful. Global connections and collaborations are in development.
  • Ecosystem principles: The primary aim of the research is to develop a better understanding of how local ecosystems work effectively and improve local collaboration between roles. This will be in the form of principles, which are being tested through practical implementation in regions and will be published in due course through further blog posts, books, and as part of the PhD body of work.
  • Ongoing research: I am currently on a research tour visiting as many actors in the Australian ecosystem as I can effectively get to. A large part of Queensland is complete, after which I will write up the results, take stock, and prepare for the rest of Australia. The map will continue to be updated through the process as a tool for people to use.

Please connect with me if you want to be a part of the journey, collaborate on research, or work on ways we can add value to each other’s projects.

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