Smart City with Chris Anderson - City Talk

(6pm 28 May 2012, State Theatre)

Thank you, Adam Spencer, MC. Good evening, everyone. Welcome to our City Talk with Chris Anderson. I would like firstly to acknowledge the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the traditional custodians of our land, and to pay my respects to their Elders. I also acknowledge the 200 nationalities who make up our City.

Thank you to Stephen Hutcheon from our sponsors, The Sydney Morning Herald, and offer a warm welcome to our keynote speaker, Chris Anderson, and all our panel members. I'm sorry Chris can't stay with us for the discussion but we appreciate this rare opportunity to have him speak with us.

An article in a recent Good Weekend quoted Adrian Turner, the founder of an Australian start-up IT security business.

He said: "Australia is the lucky country sitting on all these natural resources…"

"But it needs to export more than just commodities and booze."

I couldn't agree more.

Australia's export boom has come on the back of mining across the country, but inner city Sydney's financial contribution is up there with mining industry - delivering eight per cent of the country's GDP from just 26 square kilometres.

As we move away from dependence on coal, in particular, we need to look at how Australia will ensure its long term financial sustainability.

How do we create an environment for innovation in Sydney - and how do we nurture those start up projects and businesses, to create the mid-sized and larger businesses of the future?

That's the question we've put to tonight's panel.

Looking around I can see a lot of people involved in creative or technology start up projects in Sydney.

There is so much happening.

In the past five to 10 years, Sydney's shown a startling capacity for bringing groups of passionate people together on great projects:-

Big, or soon to be big, successes like Atlassian, 99 Dresses, Shoes of Prey, Romance Was Born, and Spreets, and start up businesses like Pygg, Rouse Phillips, mmMule.com, Parking Made Easy and Uncommon Ground.

We're seeing the results in the media, too, with Mumbrella, FBI Radio, InTheMix.com.au and The Global Mail among a cast of new entrants over the past decade.

At the other end of the scale, we have ground breaking research in our universities, as well as companies like Google producing some of their most original projects out of Sydney headquarters.

This has all been fuelled by lots of talent, a generally optimistic outlook, empty warehouses, mobile and internet access, and a spirit of collaboration and openness.

On any given morning, groups link up on Twitter and meet up in cafes throughout the city to trade ideas, share experiences and link up on projects.

There are now so many public talks - Fastbreak, Beers and Ideas, I-F Talks, Green Ups, Pecha Kucha (PEH-CHAK-CHA). And at the other end of the scale, TEDx Sydney (thanks to Chris), Interesting South, Creative Sydney, Festival of Dangerous Ideas and our own City Talks events.

In fact, on any given night there will be multiple options for people go out and be inspired.

It's boosting the natural well of talent Sydney draws from, with a strongly do-it-yourself ethos bringing people together on projects, before they move on to others.

So why do people start these kinds of innovative projects here - and how can we nurture them on their way further down the track?

Our research tells us people set up businesses and choose to work in Sydney for many of the same reasons they choose to live here.

That's one of the big reasons why our long term Sustainable Sydney 2030 plan is important.

It was Sydney's biggest ever community consultation - and the result, on a large scale, of the kind of debate and collaboration happening in smart cities across the world, in neighbourhoods and discussion groups, in talks and debates.

We asked people who live, work and visit the city what kind of Sydney they wanted.

We worked with residents, big and small businesses, other levels of government, the universities and cultural institutions. We brought in some of Sydney's - and the world's - most creative thinkers, and our own staff were fired with enthusiasm.

People told us they wanted Sydney to take the initiative on tackling climate change.

They wanted a globally competitive and innovative city.

They wanted it to work more efficiently with integrated transport and a much better environment for walking and riding around the city.

They also wanted a livelier city centre and thriving local villages.

A big part of innovation is coming up with ideas and putting them into practice, such as our locally generated tri-gen network of low carbon zones taking the City off the coal-powered network. Here at the City, we do the research, consult with our community, and then we deliver.

We're well on the way to our 2030 targets across all those areas, and the thing is, it makes Sydney a great place to live - but equally they're the kind of things that attract people to move here for work, and to set up a business.

That's on top of Sydney's natural beauty - the beaches, the harbour.

So there's a lot to attract people here!

Once they're in Sydney - how do we encourage people to start great projects and stick with them?

Part of it's not getting in the way!

Across the board we're looking at ways to reduce red tape - and in the meantime we've been running a series of "101" sessions for would be entrepreneurs taking them step by step through the process of setting up small bars, food trucks and other businesses.

But many start ups do need help - they need affordable spaces, advice, encouragement and financial support.

One of the biggest challenges start up businesses in Sydney face is attracting serious financial support - for businesses with the potential to become global players, that can mean funding in the vicinity of $100,000 to a million dollars.

The people with that kind of money to spend are putting it into property, mining and exploration.

We need to start redirecting some of that money into our local talent, as well as encouraging the government to look at tax incentives, so we can help innovative small businesses grow into the mid-sized or larger businesses of Sydney's future.

Recently, I hosted the Australian launch of Springboard, a program to help women entrepreneurs link up with angel investors, CEOs, lawyers, accountants and women from chambers of commerce, universities and government.

Basically, what they need to get their ideas off the ground.

I am going to ask our CEO to look at ways the City could act to broker or blind date some of these venture capitalists with start ups?

A year ago, I asked the Council to run a trial using City properties on Oxford Street as affordable work spaces for creative projects.

The idea was to incubate some of these great start ups.

We received well over 200 applications for spaces in our 66 Oxford Street property.

16 tenants moved in at the beginning of the year, including web start up AroundYou.com.au, textiles design house Rouse Phillip, the shopfront gallery space Platform 72, and two co-working spaces, Home/Work and Fishburners.

People started collaborating almost as soon as they moved in - it was quite remarkable to walk around the building hearing the stories. And next week, the tenants put on their first talks and networking night - you can find it on Twitter "@66meetups".

A huge challenge for Sydney's emerging entrepreneurs is that paying for accommodation is just too expensive to risk failing.

That's where these kinds of spaces come in. They give artists and creative start-ups a space where they can risk failing.

We are now working through expressions of interest for another property on William Street.

That's on top of our program of community grants for creative and community projects.

We're also investing in a huge range of cultural and creative events around the city, from Sydney Festival's fantastic First Night and the Biennale. (Can anyone forget the Russian pavilion on Cockatoo Island at the last Biennale), to the Sydney Film Festival, which opens next week.

Our Art & About Festival takes art out of the galleries, creating surprising, wonderful moments around the city in September.

It's a festival that complements our approach to opening up inner city laneways as spaces for innovation - with public art, and opportunities for people to open small bars, galleries and intriguing shops, and enjoy exploring the city.

Much of our work is like that -integrated - across our projects. We aim for beautiful, excellent design that's water, energy and waste efficient and useful for the community.

The City's investment in Sydney's creative culture - $23 million in the last financial year - is being made through planning, properties, parks, events and public places.

That means it has plenty of momentum, and Council has asked our CEO to bring all this work together in a cultural policy for the city.

That's a broad brief, because when you try to pin down the difference between inspiring people creatively and encouraging start up innovation, it's not easy to find the line.

Over the coming months, we'll be doing workshops, surveys and vox pops, plenty of research, and running deep community consultation to ask what kind of creative culture we want in Sydney.

Tonight's discussion is an opening salvo in that public debate.

It will be an honour to join such a terrific panel up here on the stage, but I know there are many extremely talented and experienced people in the audience and I'm looking forward to your ideas tonight and in the ensuing discussion online.

Thank you.