Brisbane: A hub for innovation and the gateway to Asia
A fast-growing economy
Brisbane has been dubbed “Australia’s new world city” and currently has a $146bn economy.
According to couriermail.com.au, by 2031 the economy for Greater Brisbane will match that of New Zealand with a value approaching $250bn. Its diverse economy has “traditional pillars such as mining services and construction making way for a raft of new growth sectors including education, advanced manufacturing and health services.” This growth will likely come from its biggest sector, health and social care, as the population ages.
Economist Gene Tunny told Courier Mail: “What we will see is a continuing expansion of aged and health care, combined with NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme) investment, being a huge driver of employment in the future.”
Education and innovation
In terms of its workforce, Brisbane has shown strong population growth for the past two decades and this is set to continue. According to choosebrisbane.com, the population is projected to grow to 3.12mn by 2031. At present, the Greater Brisbane region holds 2.2mn people and 42.8% of these are aged between 25 and 54, with 22% holding bachelor degrees. It has the fastest employment growth of all Australian capitals and has the second-highest full-time employment rate in the country, with 65% of those employed working full-time.
Playing host to three major Australian universities, Brisbane not only has a highly-educated workforce but is a hub for research. Griffith University, a global top 5% institution, is famed for its research into health and the environment. Queensland University of Technology is a 45,000 student-strong organisation which is ranked 2nd of all Australia’s universities under 50 years old. The University of Queensland is a member of the world’s top 100 institutes and is a leading organisation in Australia for new patents, licence income and start-up companies.
It is unsurprising then that Brisbane was the city to develop the world’s first vaccine for cervical cancer, which has now been rolled out by several governments around the world. The city has been ranked in the top 15% worldwide for innovation in the Innovation Cities Global Index, and the greatest number of patents in the country come from Australia.
Little Tokyo Two… collaborative workspace
As well as other areas of innovation, Brisbane is fast becoming known as a tech hub. A prime example of this is Little Tokyo Two, a company providing workspace and innovation hubs for entrepreneurs, which has chosen to use Brisbane as its base for a variety of reasons. Its headquarters is at Spring Hill, but the business also has locations at Petrie Terrace in the city as well as its newest offering, The Capital building, in Brisbane’s CBD. Workspaces are also offered in other Queensland locations: Springfield and Gold Coast.
Little Tokyo Two dubs itself “one of the largest and most dynamic communities of entrepreneurs, innovators and creators in South East Queensland”. Championing collaboration, trust, openness and support, the organisation boasts a range of members between the ages of 15 and 70, with most around 30 to 35. It provides not only 24-hour workspace for collaboration but also mentoring programmes for start-ups and entrepreneurs, with 55% of members being less than three years in business.
The company boasts “a thriving event program” with “plenty of chances to rub shoulders with like-minded folks” and says the strategic partnerships it offers will “create untapped opportunities that you may never have thought possible”.
Brisbane as a gateway…
Brisbane is the closest Australian capital to Asia, and as such is seen as a gateway between whole continents. The port of Brisbane is one of the fastest-growing container ports in Australia, and is a hub for over 35 shipping lines. Located just 24km from the CBS, choosebrisbane.com states the port is five sailing days closer to Asia than Sydney of Melbourne.
In addition, Brisbane plays host to a top world airport in which 34 airlines operate with links to Singapore, Hong Kong, LA and Dubai. Currently several billions are being spent on improving the airport, which includes the construction of a new parallel runway.
Other infrastructure developments include the Queen’s Wharf Development in the CBD, and a $5bn cross river rail project to open up corridors and transit centres such as Woolloongaba.
The city says it is “committed to strengthening trade and commerce across the globe and rapidly becoming a powerhouse in the Asia Pacific region”.
C-suite spotight: Melanie Perkins, CEO, Canva
Who is Melanie Perkins?
She’s the co-founder and CEO of Australian unicorn online design platform Canva, who ultimately became one of tech’s youngest female CEOs, at just 30, and recently became a billionaire aged 35, making her one of Australia’s richest and youngest.
Why is she in the spotlight right now?
Because less than a year after securing a US$6bn valuation during the pandemic, which provided a big boost to business, Canva has recently more than doubled its valuation, securing a $15bn valuation, which makes Perkins a billionaire, according to Forbes. The valuation comes in the wake of a new funding round in the first week of April 2021 led by T. Rowe Price and Dragoneer and raising $71m. At the same time, Canva announced its business has passed $500m in annualised revenue, up 130% from the year before.
What is Canva and why is it so successful?
Launched in 2013 by co-founders Melanie Perkins (CEO), Cliff Obrecht (COO) and Cameron Adams (Chief Product Officer), Sydney-headquartered Canva is a free-to-use online graphic design product that allows users to create everything from social media graphics to presentations and other visual content, as well as offering paid subscriptions like Canva Pro and Canva for Enterprise, with 3 million of its now 55 million users taking paid subscriptions.
Accruing 750,000 users in its first year, following a number of rounds of investment including from Mary Meeker’s Bond Capital in 2019 and this month’s massive funding round, Canva now boasts 55 million users across 190 countries, with offices in Sydney, Beijing, Manila, and most recently Austin, Texas, and is valued at $3.2 billion.
And while the company was originally most popular with SMEs, helping them draft and design print and digital assets, it’s since grown to become a real-time collaboration suite that’s being used by big firms including McKinsey, Salesforce and American Airlines. In fact, Canva claims that 85% of Fortune 500 companies use the platform’s services. They continue to add new features and during the pandemic, added presenter video recording tools.
How did Perkins get there?
The idea of Canva came to Perkins when she was at the university of Perth, where to earn money on the side she taught students design programmes. Many of her students found platforms like Adobe complicated and frustrating, and the ideas came to her to simplify and democratise design, to make it more approachable and accessible, more collaborative, and ultimately to empower all in design. So, she and university peer Cliff Obrecht, who became Canva co-founder and Perkins’ husband, created an online school yearbook design business, Fusion Yearbooks, to test it out. Operating from her mum’s living room, the yearbook design business was a massive success, expanding to New Zealand and France, and remains the largest yearbook publisher in Australia.
However, Perkins did not give up on her dream to create a one-stop-shop design site and at one point spent three months living with her brother in San Francisco where she pitched to more than 100 venture capitalists, all of whom rejected Canva. It was following a chance encounter at a conference in Perth with Silicon Valley venture capitalist Bill Tai, Perkins was winning over major investors including Hollywood celebrities Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson and building out Canva’s design platform with a fast-growing team of tech engineers and a high-profile tech advisor, Lars Rasmussen who co-founded Google Maps.
It was in 2012 when things really kicked off however when Perkins and Obrecht found a tech co-founder in Cameron Adams. The same year, they closed their first funding round, which was oversubscribed and raised $1.5m, with Canva going live in 2013. In 2019, an $85m funding round led by Silicon Valley investor Mary Meeker’s Bond Capital gave the company a valuation of $3.2bn, before the most recent funding around in April 2021 leading to a valuation of $15bn.
In her own words…
"I think it's pretty important to know that every single person is going through their own trials and tribulations. Knowing that it's tricky for everyone, that any adventure will be filled with rejections and littered with obstacles – somehow makes the adventure a little less lonely. And it's most important for people who feel like they are on the outside to know this."