Landing Pads program helps propel Aussie startups to US deals

25 Aug 2017

Australian entrepreneurs are reaping the benefits from participating in the San Francisco Landing Pad with some securing significant deals in the lucrative US market and others using the experience to refine their business offerings.

 Steven Ciobo, Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, said the Landing Pads program, part of the National Science and Innovation Agenda, helps Australian entrepreneurs bring their ideas to a global market and build high-growth and high-return enterprises.

‘The Turnbull Government is directly supporting startups in five of the world's innovation hotspots because we know that entrepreneurship and innovation will be major drivers of job creation and growth in the future,’ said Minister Ciobo.

‘We are already seeing significant outcomes for Australian companies who have taken part in the Landing Pads program in Berlin, Shanghai, Singapore, San Francisco and Tel Aviv,’ added Minister Ciobo. 

Since launching in February 2016, the San Francisco Landing Pad has housed 20 startups and is midway through its fourth intake. Participants have represented a wide spectrum of target sectors including medtech, fintech, sports tech, edtech, govtech, logistics, retail and e-commerce.

Landing Pad Manager, Gabe Sulkes, said the San Francisco Landing Pad provides startups with a 90-day residency to kick start their US market entry, fine-tune their pitches, test their product-market fit, and identify partners, customers and investors.

‘Austrade also provides advice and connections to additional services such as mentoring, business coaching, advice on local regulations, and on identifying investors and potential business partners,’ said Sulkes.

The San Francisco Landing Pad is located at RocketSpace, a renowned tech campus and accelerator for startups whose alumni includes household names like Uber, Spotify, Weebly and Supercell.

‘Participants benefit from being immersed in the San Francisco Bay Area – widely recognised as the epicentre of global technology innovation – gaining vital experience and knowledge from exposure to the biggest tech market in the world,’ added Sulkes.

San Francisco Landing Pad alumni such as KoalaSafe, Event Workforce Group, OpenCities, GymSales and Indee Labs have taken their innovations to the next level by securing deals in the US.

US embraces KoalaSafe security

Following their Landing Pad residency, KoalaSafe co-founders Steve Pack and Adam Mills, have secured several key deals with Walmart.com and Amazon.com. More recently, KoalaSafe secured a distribution deal with US retailer Target, which sees its product sold in more than 250 stores.

‘We have achieved a lot [with the Landing Pad program]. We’ve got thousands of new customers in the US and we’ve just arrived on the Walmart.com store; and now we’ve secured a deal with [US retailer] Target,’ said Pack.

KoalaSafe is a router box which allows parents to easily control their children’s use of the home WiFi network and linked devices with a simple smartphone app.

‘San Francisco is the technology hub of the world. Quite literally with the amount of companies, investors and entrepreneurs here, there is no better place to try and build your business,’ added Pack.

KoalaSafe now operates out of San Francisco and Cairns, having initially worked from the Australia Technology Park in Sydney.

Event Workforce Group scores US sporting deals

Victorian startup Event Workforce Group (EWG), formerly known as Rosterfy, is another startup kicking goals after a stint in the San Francisco Landing Pad.

Founded by Bennett Merriman and Shannon Gove, EWG first began as a placement agency to help motivated tertiary students and graduates find casual work experience in Melbourne. EWG sought help from the San Francisco Landing Pad to expand its business model and penetrate overseas markets.

‘Moving to a new country and validating a new market can be a big step, but it’s not as intimidating as it first seems by doing it through the Landing Pad,’ said Merriman. 

EWG secured a contract with the NFL 2017 Super Bowl, using its technology to mobilise 30,000 volunteers – the largest volunteer workforce in the Super Bowl’s 50-year history.

‘Having the Landing Pad base and that network in place is a powerful thing.

‘The biggest positive was the opportunity to arrive into a new country with a support network already in place. Without the Landing Pad, we possibly may have delayed moving international as quickly as we had,’ said Merriman. 

The startup has since secured several major clients, including the five-day Aspen Ski World Cup and was re-signed by the NFL for the 2018 Super Bowl in Minneapolis, in part due to its new US base and connections made through the Landing Pad.

To cement its place in the market, EWG has now set up a US company, hired a California-based business development director and is looking at employing a US-based support team.

OpenCities helps to transform US city services

Alex Gelbak, founder of OpenCities, hasn’t looked back since his startup arrived at the San Francisco Landing Pad in July 2016.

Since its Landing Pad residency, OpenCities has won several large full and beta clients, including City of Miami, City of Orlando and the City of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

OpenCities helps cities go digital and improve the way they service their communities. Their offering helps local governments move from paper-based, 9–5-style interactions to 24/7 mobile-friendly online services.

‘Having a base of operations in the US, particularly when you’re dealing with government, is absolutely critical,’ said Gelbak.

‘We wanted to enter the market strongly by securing a large, recognised city. Having the Landing Pad as our US base helped us do that,’ he added.

One of OpenCities’ biggest wins since the Landing Pad has been securing a strategic partnership with Microsoft. After holding the introductory call while at the Landing Pad, Gelbak and his team have now started working with Microsoft to help US cities deliver better services.

‘The Landing Pad helped us focus on the tasks most important for achieving success, rather than on the operational things you’d have to pay for and think about if you’re going solo,’ noted Gelbak.

OpenCities is now focused on expanding its reach and plans to use its US success as a platform for launching into the Canadian market.

GymSales enters US fitness market

Founded by Tristan Alexander in 2013, GymSales provides fitness clubs with the latest technology to implement and monitor a proactive sales strategy.

Alexander wanted to build on the company’s client base of over 300 Australian fitness clubs and studios by expanding into the US and North American market which is home to over 45,000 clubs.

‘I came here for a head start in building networks within the Bay Area. For me, that’s mentors, investors, advisers and other startup founders that I can reach out to in the future. I’m on the way to achieving that,’ said Alexander.

‘Austrade has given me warm intros over email for me to follow up with a meeting or coffee and the expat network is very beneficial and influential.'

Alexander subsequently secured a contract to supply his technology to 1,100 Snap Fitness Clubs in the US.

With industry giants such in as Snap Fitness, YMCA, Goodlife, Gold’s Gym and over 2,000 clubs using GymSales software, GymSales is quickly becoming the gold standard in the health and fitness industry.

Biotech Indee Labs stiches up A$1.6M in angel funding

Indee Labs, an early-stage biotechnology company, founded by Ryan Pawell has found their San Francisco Landing Pad residency a great way to access the US market after receiving a Jobs for NSW Minimum Viable Product grant.

The startup is developing a new method and device for delivering therapeutically relevant molecules into cells. According to Pawell, Indee Labs was founded on the idea that everyone should be able to access safe, effective, and affordable cell-based therapies. 

Participation has paid off, with Indee Labs announcing last month it had secured US$1.3 million in Angel funding with participants such as Y Combinator, SOSV and Shaun Maguire, Partner at GV (formerly Google Ventures).

Amy Twite, PhD, recently joined as Chief Scientific Officer to lead gene-modified immune cell development and the team signed its first customer – a clinical-stage biotechnology company developing gene-modified B-cell therapies for rare disease. It is also collaborating with a notable medical research clinic in the midwest and a private Bay Area research university on both T-cell gene editing and chimeric antigen receptor T-cell (CAR-T) development.

‘We have been able to access the US market a lot better and are in discussions with a number of big pharma and big biotech companies,’ said Pawell.

Pawell added the goal was to ‘secure a partnership with one of these companies and work with them to develop their cell therapy using our technology.

Expressions of interest are being accepted for five Landing Pad locations – San Francisco, Tel Aviv, Berlin, Shanghai and Singapore.

For more information about the Landing Pads program and how to apply, visit www.australiaunlimited.com/Landing-Pads, contact Austrade on 13 28 78 or email landingpads@austrade.gov.au.