Pause For a Winning Tech Ecosystem

Pause Fest was launched 10 years ago to connect creative and critical thinkers. Today it has evolved and is a key component to the Australian innovation fabric. It is the catalyst that the community needed to compete on the world stage.

As the tenth edition of Pause Fest takes shape, with more than 30 international speakers from companies like Google, Microsoft, Atlassian and more travelling to Melbourne in 2020, it is a good time for us to... well, pause and reflect. More specifically, to think about the decade that has been, and the future that will be – and what this all means for the Australian innovation ecosystem.

Pause Past Future opener

Let's hit rewind.

The Australian tech scene was very different. In fact, it was almost non-existent, While countries like America, the UK and even Israel were fostering very active startup and tech scenes, Australia was years behind in comparison on all fronts. According to the AVCAL 2013 Yearbook, there were only three active funds in the country that year, with a collective raise of about $155m, and there were only four active accelerators. Universities didn't have student programs that focused on entrepreneurship. Government and community engagements and initiatives were also fairly light.

This was when Pause Fest burst into the scene.

The team saw an opportunity and a pressing need to bring together a new breed of thinkers and doers to inspire, share and engage with each other. And in doing so, produce an environment that fosters conversations, creations and ideas – much like how MIT Media Lab was formed from the curious misfits across disciplines who wanted to change the world.

What started out as a small festival for creatives has evolved to be known as "the digital natives' answer to Woodstock" (as described in The Age). Pause Fest is now an essential platform for creatives, tech-heads and business leaders to share ideas and knowledge, with heavy-hitting speakers (both international and local), and it attracts more than 2,000 attendees each year.

Community-led initiatives like this festival is one of the critical factors that have helped shape the thriving tech ecosystem we see in Australia today. Not only have they successfully managed to spark an interest and create the largest gathering of critical and creative thinkers in Australia, but they've also gone a step further. They're a catalyst for ideas to transform commercially and compete on the global stage. The annual event's programme evolves year on year but continues to provide unfiltered access to advice and mentorship, peer-to-peer networking and collaborations, talent acquisition and hyper training with real life skills from the top players of leading tech companies. 

Over the years, the team behind Pause Fest has brought people and businesses together, creating what they call "passionate collisions" of ideas and knowledge. And in doing so, some of the industry's best launched. Canva, Zero Latency, AKQA, For the People, Girls in Tech Australia and many more have started at Pause Fest. Tesla showcased its first Model S at the festival, and Dropbox introduced its Paper product to the Australian audiences. HyperloopTT was invited to start conversations around fast transportation between Sydney and Melbourne in 2017, and the team also helped to connect the Victorian StateGov with SXSW, where they are now running the Australia House among other initiatives.

There is a definite shift in attitudes for innovation in Australia, but not quite at the rate like in other countries – yet. There is a growing appetite to be exposed to different influences and opinions, and to invest in crazy ideas. And there are numbers to prove that.

In the 2019 Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2019, by Startup Genome, the total valuation of the ecosystems in both Melbourne and Sydney is at $8.9 billion collectively, with Sydney ahead of its counterpart by $4.5 billion. Melbourne is in – what the report terms as – "early globalisation phase". This is the stage of impressive growth. Sydney, on the other hand, is in the "late globalisation phase" with a more mature market.

But it's not an inter-city competition here. The entire Australian ecosystem is winning. We are no longer watching from the sidelines as the US and Europe dominate. This makes an event like Pause Fest more relevant and necessary than ever, as it reflects the environment while also pushing boundaries and staying ahead. It will continue to be that vehicle for fostering relationships, ideas and collaborations within the ecosystem for years to come.

And a new chapter begins this February as the brightest minds gather in Melbourne and tackle the question: who owns the future?

Expect to be surprised because Pause Fest brings only extraordinary and non-standard thinking to challenge you.