Harbour City Labs, the ACS growth incubator based at Sydney’s Barangaroo district, celebrated its third anniversary on this month.

The Sydney lab, the second in the ACS network of growth incubators, was established in 2018 to demonstrate sustainable Australian technology businesses and entrepreneurs can be successful while remaining onshore. 

“The initial focus was to support early stage Australian entrepreneurs in an accelerator model,” said Andrew Corbett-Jones, Head of Growth, Harbour City Labs.

“Our customer focus has evolved during our 3yrs from ‘early stage’ to ‘growth’ businesses and rather than a traditional accelerator model, we assist our founders to scale using Entrepreneurs In Residence who provide business advisory and a curated program of work to founders and their team.“

Over the three years, 21 companies have called HCL home, with a combined capital raising of about $50m.

Even with last year’s COVID shutdown, the Labs proved resilient, says Siobhan Casey, ACS’ Director for Scaleups and Innovation Labs.

“For HCL, occupancy dropped at the peak of COVID, however it never fell to critical levels, and in fact seven new companies joined HCL between April and December 2020. And occupancy is just about back to where it should be.”

Among the latest members of the labs is data management service Crystal Box. Co-founder Jacqueline O’Brien told Information Age the access to industry leaders was as a key factor in taking space in January.

Carli Johnston, Virtual Method co-founder, and Jacqueline O’Brien, co-founder of Crystal Box, at Harbour City Labs’ third anniversary celebrations

“For us, besides the amazing location was actually to be really close with ACS and ADMA ,” said O’Brien.

“They are key bodies in industries who are effecting change and also working with the government on certain policies for us, particularly in this space.”

Carli Johnston, co-found of industrial VR production agency Virtual Method, also cited the Labs’ location as a key part of her businesses’ choosing to locate in the Sydney facility.

“We were actually working with one of the companies in HCL and they asked us to come here for a meeting.

“We sat in the office here and had a look around and went ‘wow’ and said this does not feel like a startup – no pizza boxes all over the place. So professional!

“This is more aligned to we how we want to represent ourselves to the world and want to make sure that we look as professional as possible, and this place looks incredibly professional.”

Founder of the second longest HCL member, Data Insite’s Neil Alexander, added the professional atmosphere is good for later stage startups.

L-R: Catalina Tobar, Alistair Bridie, and Liam Frappell from Unleash live; and Ray Singh from Inspace XR.

“It’s very tech-centric, it’s quiet, clean, spacious – spacious compared to any other startup space by a significant margin.

“I definitely advise coming here for those serious about building things who aren’t that interested in the lifestyle elements of a startup kind of pipeline – there isn’t any of that hype.

“If you’re a super, super early stage startup, then maybe you like excitement and the noise and the chaos of other startup-focused hubs. If you really want to build a lot of product you have to do it well. You need a quiet, consistent, structured environment and this is great. This is the ideal place.”

Siobhan Casey says the Labs deliberately go out of their way to develop the professional atmosphere.

“Time and again, our residents tell us that due to our location and quality of our facilities, their customers take them more seriously and their contract values are higher.

“Arguably no other scale-up space in Australia has the same mix of prestige office space, quality fit-out and resources, location and affordable pricing as HCL.

“How many scale-ups get to gaze out the window at the Opera House, and Harbour Bridge from 27 floors up?”


This article was originally published in ACS Information Age.