The future of Australian tech (the road to ‘Syd-icon Valley’)

Australian tech matters

Tech and innovation represents so much more than internet search engines, live streaming, and handheld electronic devices, spanning widely across manufacturing, energy, resources, agriculture, and much more besides.

For decades Australia has lagged far behind the U.S. and elsewhere in terms of its risk-taking, technological innovation, and entrepreneurship, but it’s crucial that Aussies now look to seize the initiative to move forward with confidence.

The sheer scale of the opportunities lying ahead in the sector shouldn’t be underestimated.

With tech employment growth comfortably outpacing that of the wider economy the number of technology workers in Australia looks set to increase from around 750,000 to more than 1 million by 2027, while the contribution to the Aussie economy has the potential to grow from a pre-COVID $122 billion (about 6½% of GDP) to more than $200 billion over the course of this critical decade.

Strawberry Hills, forever

While tech centres could theoretically be located anywhere (I co-founded a PropTech startup wherefrom all three of the founders are now based at Gold Coast, for example), Sydney is forging ahead to become the beating heart of tech and innovation in Australia.

Although Google has taken up substantial commercial space at Pyrmont – and adjacent Ultimo also serves as a home for budding tech entrepreneurs – lately Surry Hills has become the base of many key players, from Blackbird Ventures and Startmate, to tech unicorns Canva and SafetyCulture, as well as Dovetail and numerous others.

There are more than 160,000 STEM graduates in New South Wales, and being a location both attractive to new migrant talent and in close proximity to several of Australia’s eminent Universities, Sydney’s Strawberry Hills district will continue to be a strong drawcard.

The NSW government’s announcement of the $2.5 billion ‘Tech Central’ in the Central Precinct at the southern end of Sydney’s CBD has effectively cemented the trend, at a stroke aiming to add 250,000 square metres of net lettable floor space and an estimated 25,000 tech, STEM, and innovation jobs, including across a hundred new scaleup companies.

Sydney’s tech giant Atlassian has been announced as an anchor tenant and will be headquartered at an environmentally friendly giant timber tower to be constructed at a Railway Square site, creating sustainable space for up to 4,000 employees.

World’s tallest hybrid timber tower design (Atlassian)

Busting the bros club

The original Silicon Valley long held the reputation of being a ‘bros club’, but for Sydney’s tech centre cultural vibrancy, diversity, and inclusion will each be stated government benchmarks.

The consummate tech superstar Melanie Perkins, founder of the design unicorn Canva, has already amply demonstrated with her personable Perthite flair that the future for Sydney’s tech community needn’t be a male-dominated affair.

If Australia is to triumph in the forthcoming global war for talent, Sydney’s nascent tech precinct ideally needs an internationally recognisable moniker.

It could do worse than playfully channelling Jose Antonio Samaranch’s announcement of “Syddie” as the winning host of the 2000 Olympics, being one of the Emerald city’s most memorable modern moments.

‘Sydicon Valley’ – or perhaps a wittier variation thereof! – can be Australia’s major, world-class innovation hub, and should aim to position the harbour city as one of the world’s leading technology metropolises.

A vision for Sydney’s Silicon Valley

The NSW Government has already mapped out the State Significant Precinct (SSP) area running from Pitt Street at its north end, past Central Station, and down to Cleveland Street on the edge of Surry Hills and Redfern.

Central Precinct SSP Area (Planning NSW)

For years it’s been debated how best to regenerate the tired tramsheds and redundant railyards of Central Sydney.

Behold, the birth of Sydney’s very own Silicon Valley!

Artist’s impression (Urban Growth NSW)

Suburbs set to directly benefit from this mega-project will include Chippendale and Camperdown to the inner west, Surry Hills and Redfern to the east, and Erskineville and Alexandria to the south.

Prospective precinct area (NSW Government)