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Fragmentation blues: How to address Brisbane’s splintered ecosystem

Fragmentation isn’t just something Android developers need to worry about. Fragmentation frustrates. It slows things down, it causes duplication of effort, and in a startup ecosystem, fragmentation can severely stunt growth.

A recent conversation about setting up a hub for startups in Brisbane reminded me of this very problem. Right now, Brisbane suffers from a bad case of fragmentation. Startups, incubators, investors, mentors, and co-working spaces (as mapped above), are rarely to be found in the same places. This splintering leads to different problems for each and every part of the ecosystem.

From an entrepreneur’s point of view, the issues range from the inconvenient to the downright debilitating. For one thing, the spread of venues ensures startup-related events are held all over town. That’s not necessarily a problem, unless the events are on simultaneously, which they so often are.

I’ve written before about the need to coordinate our events better. And I’m more convinced than ever that this is a small thing which would make a big difference.

I realise there are only so many nights a week and that some clashes are inevitable, but at the moment, each event space acts almost as if it doesn’t know the other venues exist. Each startup meetup group is a clan of its own, with surprisingly few shared members. It may sound as if there are a lot of people to coordinate, but even something as basic as a public, editable Google Calendar would help event attendees and organisers.

More serious than a double-booked diary is the lack of cross pollination between startups in different places. With little collaboration between Brisbane’s co-working spaces and incubators, location-based cohorts form which have few opportunities to mingle with each other.

Why would a resident of River City Labs go to The Swarm when membership to one won’t even get you through the door at the other?

For entrepreneurs, this is the real sting of fragmentation, but it’s one that isn’t felt immediately. Fragmentation means there’s less scope for the serendipitous meetings which turn a good idea into a great company. There’s no way to quantify the value lost through conversations which never happened. But a robust startup ecosystem relies on talented people sparking off each other.

Co-working spaces – where so many startups start out – can certainly encourage these kinds of conversations. Offering reciprocal membership benefits or even a global pass granting a certain level of access to all Brisbane’s co-working spaces would be an excellent start. Running events in partnership would also be a good way to draw entrepreneurs together.

Now, that’s just the entrepreneurs’ side of things. So much fragmentation also makes it harder for corporates to engage with startups, for investors to discover new startups, and for journalists to cover local startups.

Ultimately, solving Brisbane’s fragmentation problem will take more than a single grand gesture; Colin Kinner has previously talked about how Queensland’s fragmentation has lead to underlying scarcity behaviours that aren’t easily reversible.

Making the ecosystem more cohesive and collaborative isn’t about having a special building or a particular postcode. Focussing on the resources which are currently missing for local startups – access to fibre broadband and a professional meeting space in the CBD, to name just two – will help to clarify our large scale options.

But taking the first step will mean a whole series of smaller, targeted tweaks to our existing spaces. So many of the dots are already there, we just need to join them up.

Photo: A custom Google Map of local co-working spaces. 

Kit Kriewaldt is an entrepreneur and strategic communications specialist. He loves to talk James Bond, cocktails, and psychology – focusing particularly on decision making and consumer behaviour. He is also Chief Marketing Officer of digital communications platform Liquid State.

About Kit Kriewaldt

Kit Kriewaldt is an entrepreneur and strategic communications specialist. He loves to talk James Bond, cocktails, and psychology - particularly the topics of decision making and consumer behaviour. He is also former Chief Marketing Officer of digital communications platform Liquid State.