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  • Writer's pictureDavid James Connolly

Australia’s next unicorns will come from five areas

An edited extract of a speech given by

Robyn Denholm, the Tesla and

Technology Council of Australia

chairman, at the Australian Financial

Review Business Summit 2022.

“As we reflect on the last 70 years and celebrate each of those

defining moments of great storytelling – I want to challenge the

room to think about the role that each and every one of us must

play in defining the next 70 years of Australia’s future.

“Australia is renowned for punching above our weight, for a

country of 27 million people, we make ourselves known on the

world stage. Whether it’s sports, arts, industry or any number of

other sectors, Aussies typically are among the world’s best.

We’re a competitive bunch, we strive to be the best we can. We

have a great ‘can do attitude’ and we are not afraid to change the status quo.

“Last year’s Summer Olympics and this year’s Winter Olympics

are perfect illustrations of this fact. We are no strangers to

celebrating these victories and the names of our greatest

sporting heroes are woven into the fabric of our national

identity and I think this is a fantastic Aussie trait.

“But imagine for a moment if we applied that same approach to

setting the agenda for our economy and for our business

leaders, for the decades to come. If we looked across our

modern workforce and identified areas where we could punch

above our weight and believe that we could win.

“One area which will define our future economic prosperity, I

believe, is seizing the opportunity of our innate technology

leadership and using our natural advantage to make Australian businesses the

most competitive in the world.

“The reason I call out technology here, apart from the fact that

I’m the chair of the Technology Council of Australia and Chair of

Tesla and through Blackbird get to help some of the most

phenomenal tech startups in Australia and NZ is because, I am a

technology optimist.

“Over the course of my career, I have witnessed a changing

dynamic in the modern workforce. Once when talking about

tech, we all visualised people parked behind computer screens

writing code, in languages mere mortals didn’t understand.

However, today I struggle to think of a single business or job in

our vibrant and diverse economy that is not in some way

touched by technology.

“Today’s technologists might be found sitting on a tractor,

mapping out new digital farming strategies, in a warehouse

building an e-commerce solution or a high-school student

designing new software for sharing education resources. We are

now all technologists, and our businesses are all technology

businesses and I think it’s time the business community

embraced our new identity.

“I call out our potential here because the benefits of technology

leadership can help lift and grow all sectors of our economy. I

believe, the only way to drive sustained, real economic growth is

through productivity gains. That by its very definition means

applying technology. The only way to be globally competitive

and increase our exports across all sectors whilst at the same

time improving the standard of living for everyone is through


“Until 30 years ago, Australia did not have a strong, local tech

sector. But in the last 30 years, that’s changed. In Australia

today, the technology sector is generating $167 billion in output

per year and employing over 860,000 Australians. That makes it

equivalent to our third biggest industry by value – just behind

banking and mining – and our seventh biggest employer.

“In the last 30 years, we have created 100 Australian tech

companies’ worth $100m plus. More than twenty have gone on

to become unicorns. They include great companies like

Atlassian, Canva, Afterpay, Wisetech, Seek, REA, Airwallex,

SafetyCulture, Go1, Cultureamp and most recently Employment


“What is so exciting about these companies are the common

traits they possess. These are businesses who have dreamed big

from the beginning, sought to solve complex problems, have

challenged the status quo, taken risks, failed, succeeded, grown,

and prospered. They have reimagined the way we do business

and have not shied away from creating the type of world-beating

excellence which has the potential to define the next era of

Australia’s economic prosperity.

“But we need to re-gain some of our appetite for risk taking,

because in order to create the next cohort of world-changing

engineers, scientists and entrepreneurs, we need to ensure we

celebrate and amplify this type of risk taking, visionary thinking,

we have got to view failure as a stepping stone to success.

“I say re-gain our risk appetite for risk taking ... I recall many

examples in my youth of Australian risk taking. I think the loss

of our risk appetite in business was primarily driven by being so

successful doing what we were doing for almost 30 years

without a recession ... But that is now in the rear-view mirror,

and with it the opportunity to set a course for our future, we

have the opportunity to re-embrace our appetite for risk taking.

“In the same way we celebrate our sporting stars, we must all

work toward a future where the next generation of young

people are celebrating the achievements of our greatest creators

& innovators, like Melanie Perkins, Cliff Obrecht and Cameron

Adams, co-founders of Canva. Or maybe its Scott Farquhar and

Mike Cannon-Brooks of Atlassian.

“Because what we are really trying to do is inspire them with a

different type of leadership. One that they could be.

“New work the Tech Council has done with McKinsey has

looked at which tech industries are actually producing the

highest-value companies in the last couple of decades. It found

four tech subsectors drive 95 per cent of the company value

being created. They are B2C and B2B software, life sciences and

health, and fintech. Three out of four of these sectors are

software, and the other – life sciences – is heavily dependent on

software and analytics to be competitive.

“But no one is telling that story. In fact, it’s more common to

hear myths such as Canva, Atlassian and Afterpay being

exceptions to the main way we create value in Australia. The

reality is the reverse – these companies are the most successful

examples of the main way Australia is now commercialising

ideas, creating new companies, and generating new jobs.

“The other clear finding from the research is that Australia’s

software strength is now lifting up other industries. The

research identifies five tech segments which have the most

potential to produce Australia’s next unicorns and high-value

tech sectors, based on Australia’s domain expertise and the

growth pathway for the sector.

“They are mining tech, ed tech, gaming, distributed ledger and

diversified fintech. This shows how strength in software,

combined with strength in traditional industries such as mining

(Australia’s largest industry by value), financial services

(Australia’s second largest industry) and education (Australia’s

largest service export industry), are now generating exciting

new industries, companies and jobs for Australia.”

Best regards,

David James Connolly

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