Late on Friday it was revealed in a Sydney Morning Herald article that Mirvac was working on plans to transform Redfern’s old rail yards into a tech precinct.
Central to the proposal involves having Google locate it’s new Australian headquarters on the site after abandoning plans to use the re-purposes White Bay power station in April 2017.
To date, neither Mirvac or the NSW State Government would comment on the proposal. A Google spokesperson similarly commented that the company is currently “considering a number of options.”
The idea of creating a Startup Hub in the area isn’t new, given the Australian Technology Park is located oppose the site and was subject to fierce competition when it was sold by the NSW Government in 2015.
At the time, Australian owned, NASDAQ listed software company Atlassian led a vocal and public campaign backing a bid to utilise the site as a technology and startup hub. Ultimately the bid which had Atlassian’s support missed out to a consortium led by Mirvac.
While Mirvac’s proposal includes a mix of residential and commercial space it in no way being sold or positioned as a tech oriented technology precinct.
Later in 2016 it emerged that the NSW Government was looking to create a startup hub of its own. Around the same time a competing proposal led by Annie Parker, the Co-Founder of the Muru-D Accelerator program, also emerged. Called “Lighthouse” the Parker led proposal looked to build a startup hub of its own in International Tower 3 of the Barangaroo Precinct.
By June 2017 plans for the “Lighthouse” were abandoned as it became clear that the NSW Government was committed to building a central startup community around its own proposed location. One source told The Australian at the time that “Jobs NSW is sucking a lot of oxygen out of the system at the moment,”
Fast-forward to February 2018 and the Sydney Startup Hub officially opened for business. It seems that the NSW Government finally pulled off what those in the private sector couldn’t. It created a central startup hub that could count the likes of Fishburners, Stone & Chalk, Tank Stream Labs and the Microsoft Scale Up Program amongst it’s tenants.
Furthermore the Government clearly articulated the vision for the hub and stated on their website that:
We know that clustering and density drives innovation. The Sydney Startup Hub brings a diversity of organisations and talent together in a single location. The high-density concentration helps spark innovation, ignite collaboration and provide easier and superior access to networks, skills, funding and leadership.
That’s why the latest news to create another startup hub in Redfern makes absolutely no sense. As much as we would like to think we can create our own Silicon Valley we simply don’t have the density of startups, founders and investors to spread them out across two main locations in the city.
While I don’t dispute the fact that the location of the old rail yards would have made a good location for a startup hub, it is after all located next to a main rail line and much closer to the University of Sydney and University of Technology Sydney, the decision has been made and we already have a startup hub that the city of Sydney should get behind.
Startups and scale-ups should be encouraged to locate within the existing Startup Hub or as close to it as possible. In time one can then aim to have multiple buildings on the street all centered on providing space for innovate forward thinking companies and the organisations that support them.
Having a second “Hub” 10 to 24 minutes from the first is not going to be conducive to the goal of creating that central location where the sharing of knowledge and the ability to bump into investors or potential partners can happen by chance. If we really want to create our own piece of “Silicon Valley” here in Sydney then we need to focus on getting that bit right first.