min read

I was wrong about Adelaide being ‘too small’ for startups

Written by
Gemma Clancy
Published on

When I was digging into the history of _SOUTHSTART, I couldn’t help but reflect on what I was doing as a young person living in Adelaide while the organisation’s key milestones were unfolding. It also realised how significantly my perception of Adelaide as a vibrant home for innovative ideas and businesses has evolved over the last decade.

When _SOUTHSTART was founded 2013 I was graduating high school. The concept of a startup was completely foreign to me. If someone had suggested that I might work for a tech company one day, I probably would have laughed. In my mind - Adelaide was not a place where ‘cool’, innovative things happened. You had to move interstate or overseas for opportunities like that (I thought).

In 2015 and 2016, I got my first glimpses of the emerging tech startup scene in Adelaide, joining the organising team for TEDxAdelaide and a Techstars Startup Weekend. I even did a short stint interning for a local food delivery app that was later acquired by Deliveroo (this was pre-Uber Eats!). I was quite struck by how once you had met a few key people in the Adelaide ecosystem, it didn’t take long to start being connected with everyone else. Even as a 20 year old undergraduate student, I felt welcomed and that I could contribute meaningfully. I started to think maybe I could in fact develop a career off the back of these connections.

I lived away from Adelaide for most of the five years spanning 2017 to 2021, returning in 2022 after living in Hong Kong and Melbourne. I quickly realised that the Adelaide I’d come back to had gone through a period of accelerated advancement in terms of development of critical infrastructure and the strength of the startup community.

Returning to the city with ‘fresh eyes’ has allowed me to see the ways Adelaide is truly unique in its approach to technology and innovation, and where its strengths lie. It has also helped me appreciate the significance and importance of events like _SOUTHSTART’s annual festival to bring everyone together.

The three things that have stood out most to me as being unique to Adelaide’s innovation ecosystem are:

  • its laser-sharp focus on becoming world-leaders in future industries, and the support from the state government to achieve this goal;
  • the ability to live a lifestyle that balances the ‘hustle’ with life’s simple pleasures; and
  • access to a hyper-connected community of people who genuinely want to help each other succeed.
Artist's impression of the Lot Fourteen innovation precinct, currently underdevelopment. Home to the Startup Hub and co-working space Stone & Chalk.
Artist's impression of the Lot Fourteen innovation precinct, currently under development. Home to the Startup Hub and co-working space Stone & Chalk.

Future industries

When I arrived back in Adelaide, I was working remotely for a Sydney-based climate-tech startup and was the only person in the team based in South Australia. As someone who draws energy from interacting with other people, I sought out a co-working space to set up shop for two or three days a week. I came across Stone & Chalk in the Startup Hub of Lot Fourteen and after only a short time based there, I realised I’d not only joined a co-working space but a much broader community of people working in innovation. I met people from such a diverse range of industries - many of which I didn’t realise even had a presence in the state. I came to learn about South Australia’s emerging strengths in future-focused industries like cyber security, AI, defence, space and climate-tech. I am now astounded by how many people are unaware, like I was, of the incredible things Adelaide is working on and achieving - not just relative to its size, but to our interstate counterparts.

I wrote a separate piece detailing how Adelaide is excelling in these future focused industries if you’re interested in learning more.

The c'Arenberg Cube in McLaren Vale.
The d'Arenberg Cube in McLaren Vale - one of South Austalia's premier wine regions just a 30 min drive from the CBD. (Photo by Jiawei Luo / Unsplash)


If you ask most newcomers or so called ‘boomerangs’ - Adelaidians who return to live - what attracted them to the city, they will almost always point to the more relaxed way of life.

My Gigsters Founder, Benjamin Engelovan said as part of the latest New State of Mind campaign from the South Australian Government, even as a founder “you don’t have to chase the fastest train”. _SOUTHSTART co-Director Craig Swann described in a recent interview for Balance The Grind, his strict approach to maintaining work-life balance to make sure his family and personal health come first. These two local anecdotes perfectly encapsulate the mentality of many South Australian entrepreneurs who want to chase success, but also value the quality of life afforded to them by one of the world’s most liveable cities.

Adelaide’s profile as a smaller city has many practical perks too; whether it is being able to grab a free park right outside your favourite cafe for a Sunday brunch without a booking, to the abundant natural beauty of our hills and beaches, or the world-class food and wine made in our regions. All of this while being a relatively short and cheap flight away from the ‘big smokes’ of Sydney and Melbourne if you need to pop over to shake some hands every now and then!

The _SOUTHSTART team & Stone & Chalk community, looking excited with their hands up in celebration.
The _SOUTHSTART team & Stone & Chalk community, gearing up for another successful festival!

Hyper-connected community

Startup communities across Australia have a reputation for being collaborative and supportive. In the recent podcast series “The History of the Australian Startup Ecosystem”, Canva co-founder Cameron Adams compared Australian startup culture to that of San Francisco's noting that ours feels more like “everyone’s in it together” as opposed to “combative”. 

This quality is supercharged in Adelaide. I put a lot of this down to the community-based mindset that South Australians have. By nature of being small, there’s certainly a greater likelihood that you will have mutual connections across the ecosystem, but there’s also a collective mindset that places heightened importance on nurturing community. In my experience, this translates to a real willingness to selflessly help each other out - there’s not a culture of quid pro quos. The support of the city’s 21 co-working spaces, 13 incubators and world-class events such as _SOUTHSTART boost this natural connectivity and help newcomers easily join the community.

I’ll admit that I used to think a small town like Adelaide, regardless of aspirations, could never quite offer what I ‘needed’ as an ambitious young person passionate about innovation. For a short time, I subscribed to the idea that a 45 minute commute to work was a great thing so I could catch up on podcasts and ‘get some extra steps in’ on the walk to the train. I even convinced myself that a healthy dose of ‘hustle culture’ is essential to achieving success. I now know that I was wrong.

Regardless of your perspective, events like _SOUTHSTART // ODYSSEY help remind locals, and give interstate and overseas visitors the opportunity to experience the unique value Adelaide’s impact and innovation ecosystem has to offer. 

I can’t wait to see the startup community gather this week to share their passions, all in my small-but-mighty hometown.

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