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River City Labs to double in size and scope

On Monday, River City Labs announced plans to relocate to a 10,500 square metre space in Fortitude Valley’s heritage-listed TCB Building. The move, set to take place within the next six months, is aimed at catering to startups that have outgrown the current co-working space.

“There is a whole missing area of support for the more established startups that we don’t even offer right now,” General Manager Peta Ellis said. “So for us, it’s more about expanding the offering of services and different programs, which we currently can’t do and don’t have the resource in the space.”

“One, because of the size, and also the size of the team,” she said. “It’s not just an expansion of space, it’s an expansion of offering.”

Growing River City Labs

Launching in 2012 on a four year lease in the Valley, River City Labs was initially designed to house early-stage startups and host startup competitions, such as Unearthed Brisbane and Startup Weekend.  Since then the hub has already seen one major expansion, with the launch of River City Labs Accelerator in partnership with Muru-D this year.

The team have also become increasingly important to Brisbane’s startup ecosystem. Just last night, River City Labs hosted new Innovation Minister Wyatt Roy for the launch of DataStart, the first government startup incubator program in Australia.

But catering for medium-sized startups will need more than just an increase in space, and the team are working with alumni that have outgrown the building to gauge these requirements.

River City Labs will also only be one tenant in the new space, and while founder Steve Baxter says “there is absolutely nothing to say that we won’t in time come to occupy all of it,” filling out the extra room will take time and possibly require corporate partnerships.

“It’s certainly not going to happen overnight it took us three years to get a waiting list in the current spot and that’s only 550 square metres,” Ellis said. “Yet it’s not always going to be focused on the very early stage startups.

“There’s going to be focus on some corporate innovation programs, for us to be able to work closer with those corporate partners that we already have.”

Impact on the Brisbane ecosystem

The River City Labs team have been on the lookout for a larger space in anticipation for the lease running out, and found their vision for The Valley aligned with the developers of the TCB Building.

Ellis said the building presents opportunities for other companies to collaborate with the hub, and that working with “Brisbane in general” is a long-term goal.

“There are countless numbers of established companies that have set up here – Orange Digital, Technology One, Uber, Tanda, Tappr, CTO for QLD Health, TrekTraka, Defiant Games, Cohort Solutions, CloudMGR, AECO and  Black Sheep Capital,” Ellis said. “And there is a huge benefit to this concentration of startup activity, where essentially, River City Labs plays a vital, supporting role.

River City Labs has hosted a number of Startup Weekends, as well as vertical events such as October's "Startup Weekend Women". Photos: River City Labs

River City Labs has hosted a number of Startup Weekends, as well as vertical events such as October’s “Startup Weekend Women”. Photos: River City Labs

And despite the aforementioned challenges, any increase in capacity and services would undoubtedly benefit the ecosystem. The move has also drawn praise from stalwarts of Brisbane’s startup ecosystem, such as Black Sheep Capital’s Daniel Gavel, Blue Sky Fund’s Elaine Stead and Spike Innovation’s Colin Kinner.

“The startup ecosystems in most Australian cities suffer from fragmentation and lack of scale, and Brisbane is no different,” Kinner said. “I think doubling the size of River City Labs is a great step towards addressing these limitations and is fantastic news for the local startup community.”

Queensland’s fragmented co-working spaces, startups and programs are frequently cited as one of our ecosystem’s major problems. This is an issue TSJ’s own Kit Kriewaldt has written about before, and is unlikely to be resolved even while hubs like River City Labs and ilab continue to grow.

But following the State Government’s innovation-focused Advance Queensland program, which has seen an increase in startup funding and education throughout the state, and the Federal Government’s new innovation-friendly Prime Minister, Ellis defers any criticism of the industry.

Instead, she expresses optimism that the standard complaints have been heard and are being addressed.

We’ve had a lot of talk before about the problems in the ecosystem, I don’t actually have anything to complain about,” Ellis said. “The fact that we have the local government, and also now the national government, talking about innovation, they’re all really, really good steps towards growing the sector.

“I think for the first time we don’t have a lot to complain about, but we have a lot to look forward to.”

About Chris Woods

Chris Woods (@tophermwoods) is the Tech Street Journal's Editor-in-Chief. He lives in Brisbane, has worked in places like Sydney and New York (State of), and will someday update his media-news blog.