women in yellow and blue sunrise australia 2018

What a time to be alive! Sunrise returns next week.

Date Published:
April 22, 2024

Sunrise, our love letter to Aussie startups, is almost upon us. 

I have found myself struggling to contain the excitement these past weeks, and wanted to take a moment to share why, and what Sunrise means to me. I hope you can make it. 

Gold encrusted, blue-haired statues of liberty

I remember my first Sunrise vividly. 

It was September 2018 and I was in town visiting family from the US. I was between gigs and figuring out what was next. At the recommendation of a friend, and not knowing anyone, I tagged along to the event which that year was hosted in the middle of the harbour on Cockatoo Island. 

The view from above of Sunrise Island, 2018

I was sucker punched. Never before had I seen a startup ecosystem so colourful, vibrant, excited, and ambitious. The enthusiasm was infectious.

I was also confused. When I had left Australia in 2011 for the US, there was no ecosystem here. There was no Canva, Startmate, Blackbird, or Cockatoo Island celebrations. In 2011, when I would tell friends I worked at a startup, 95% of the time the response was “what’s that?”

Tim Doyle, then at Koala, ran a marketing 101 workshop. Mel Perkins shared her vision for Canva, at a time when it had barely raised $100m. Laurie Yoler of Tesla brought an international special guest dynamic. 150 school kids, sponsored to attend by Google, brought a fun, youthful energy. All the while gold encrusted, blue-haired statues of liberty elegantly weaved amongst the crowd. It was awesome.

You can see a highlight reel of the 2018 event here.

“The best way to predict our future is to create it”

Without a doubt, there was one highlight for me. And that was a speech from Sam Sicilia of HostPlus.

Sam rose to the mainstage and delivered an 80+ minute full-throttle, rafters-rattling rally cry of speech for Australian innovation. It was beautiful.

Sam spoke of the burning need for Australia to invest in and grow it’s R&D capabilities; how Australia’s history was defined by mining, but its future depended on innovation; how Australia depressingly languished peers on its investment in R&D; how countries such as Israel and Singapore had reinvented themselves by fostering cultures of innovation and toasting progress; and so much more. 

I was so captivated by Sam’s speech that I still have the notes I jotted down from his talk filed away… 

I was such a Sam-fanboy that I followed up on Twitter … 

Not feeling I had quite garnered the kind of response from Sam I was shooting for, I doubled down 4 months later tweeting at him directly again, this time with some reflections on his comments on universal income… 

I may still be waiting for Sam to get back to me, but if nothing else, I was inspired. 

Returning soon after to Colorado, where I was based at the time, I launched an Aussie Founders Network bringing together all of the local ANZ founders. The hope was to replicate some of that same magic and national pride that brewed at Sunrise. I also wrote a blog at the time about Aussie founders in the region. 

Our Rocky Mountain crew was small and motley, but was not lacking in enthusiasm and featured legends of the calibre of Rory San Miguel (Propeller), Geoff McQueen (Accelo), Vanessa Clark (Atomos Space), Simon Turner (Myagi), Sean McCreanor (Assignor), Deb Noller (Switch Automation), Tom Batterbury (Auror), and so many amazing others. 

“Our New Creative Nation”

At the last Sunrise, Rick Baker gave a call to arms speech on our need to build a “New Creative Nation”. 

To me, it was a message that immediately transported me back to Sam’s rousing words in 2018. It was a reminder of why we are here and what this is all about. 

We have achieved so much as a country and ecosystem, and there is a lot to be proud of… 

… The Aussie technology industry now employs 935k people, almost 7% of the workforce and up 8% year on year. There are more software developers in Australia than hairdressers and plumbers combined

… In 2023, 413 on onshore startups were funded with ~$3.5b of capital in 2023, up from 17 companies and ~$140m in 2012

… Australia is having a deep tech moment. Over $1b (29% of funding) was plowed into robotics, IOT, biotech, climate tech, and space/defence tech last year. Gilmour is on the cusp of sending the first Australian-made rocket into space and Sundrive is setting up a large scale solar manufacturing facility

… If Atlassian was listed on the ASX today, it would be the 8th largest company by market cap. In 1990, the biggest companies in the world were Exxon, General Motors, and the Bank of Japan; today, they are Microsoft, Apple, NVIDIA, and Google

We have a long way to go, a lot to do and many areas to improve on. An incredible opportunity is in front of us and we can’t be complacent or let that magic that got us this far fade.

But Sunrise is a moment to stop, take a breath, and celebrate. 

Sunrise is a celebration of everything that defines our wonderful ecosystem, and a barometer for everything that is yet to come. It is a time to be proud, excited, inspired, dive into the weird and wacky, and wholeheartedly salute those who are “giving it a crack”.

This is what Sunrise means to me. I hope to see you there - you can buy tickets here.

What a time to be alive!