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Launceston, TAS: Australia's Next Startup Hub?

Last week I had the pleasure of spending a day with James Riggall in Launceston, Tasmania (pronounced lawn-sest-un for those like me who struggle...). As soon as we met last month we hit it off with our mutual interest in co-working, the maker movement, and education so he invited me over to Launceston for a visit. See us left in my radio debut! He was in his element discussing his current co-working/startup endeavors and I nervously rattled off a few blips about my own interests and Fulbright plans. James himself initiated co-working spaces in both Launceston and Hobart which now have lives of their own under the Enterprize name. This is in addition to running his own technology company, BitLink and spending multiple hours a week working with students at The Battery Shed and Launceston College's STEAM Engine. In sum, he's pretty cool and doing great things with even more on the horizon.

Right now, Enterprize operates out of a shell space in the CBD of Launceston. CBD here is a generous term as the town is quite small (a bit under 87,000 residents in the entire metro area) and amazingly walkable. It reminds me so much of Ithaca, NY in that it is small, but mighty. Launceston has a strong arts culture, an amazing network of partnerships and unity in the community, and gorges to boot! Similarities between the two cities will strengthen even more as plans for the Northern Transformation take root and the University begins its relocation to the CBD.

My day in Launceston started with a tour of Macquarie House, the future home of Enterprize. This old storage warehouse was built in the 1830's and will soon begin renovations. It's initial use was storage of supplies used in the growth of Melbourne's first settlement, James joked that this makes Melbourne Enterprize's first successful startup - hah! The design plans to remove cheap additions/modifications made in the last 50 years, uncover its original timber structure, and bring it back to its former glory. The result will be a collision of the old and the new through its historic aesthetic and contemporary, tech-heavy utilization. Check out the website of the plans here.

Unlike the popular WeWork and other more "corporate" co-working set-ups, Enterprize is for now a free resource. Membership, however, does have two requirements: 1) you must be passionately working on something big, and 2) you must be a part of the community, attend events, and give back throughout your presence and your time. For this to work, controls must be cultural and not just something enforced by management. Isn't this true for all things?

The biggest takeaway of my day in Launceston was the power of its unique and strong culture of sharing. I asked James so many logistical questions about how all of this was possible. What types of contracts were signed? How does funding work? Who is liable for this and that? What if this happens? etc. etc. He response was always along the lines of "we don't often need formality and when we do, it's a simple as possible". It's created a town in which the Launceston College STEAM Engine shares tools with start-ups, the university helps design and build furniture, you can count on the community to rally and paint, furnish, and open up a new startup space over a weekend (true story!), and a place like Enterprize can remain affordable.

I think its this culture of sharing that will make Launceston a place to watch over the next five years.

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