Startups a focus for Lord Mayoral candidates in upcoming City of Sydney election
The battle for Lord Mayor of Sydney is well and truly underway, with election day looming this Saturday. In the middle of the ring is Clover Moore, who has served as Lord Mayor since 2004, with the Labor Party’s Linda Scott, Christine Forster of the Liberal Party, Sydney Matters Independent team leader Angela Vithoulkas, and the Greens’ Lindsay Johnston signing up to contest the fight.
A lock for the last three elections, receiving 51.1 percent of the vote in 2012, Moore’s hold on Town Hall is less certain this time around, with a state law passed in 2014 making it compulsory for local businesses in the City of Sydney to enrol and vote.
While there has been controversy around the law, with some stating this will give businesses in the City two votes, it will in fact see a City of Sydney business owner who lives in another local government area allowed to vote as a resident in their local area, and as a non-residential/business voter in the City of Sydney.
However, if a City of Sydney business owner is a resident in the City, they will only have the one vote in the City. The exception to this rule, which may have fuelled the debate, is if a corporation in the City of Sydney has two directors, in which case they will both be allowed to vote. However, 90 percent of small businesses in the city are run by sole traders.
Still, the impact could be significant: around 23,000 business owners have enrolled this year, a huge rise from the 1,700 enrolled in 2012. Overall enrolment in 2012 was around 101,000.
Among these businesses are pubs, clubs, and McDonald’s franchises, but a growing number are startups, pushing the candidates to create startup policies and put them front and centre, talking up their vision for Sydney to become a global tech leader.
As Lord Mayor, Moore has over the past few years helped develop and put into place a number of the City’s policies around technology and startups, such as the Tech Startups Action Plan and Sustainable Sydney 2030 strategy. If re-elected, Moore will seek to continue executing on these strategies.
The action plan is a 10-year plan that aims to further support industry programs that provide entrepreneurship skills and knowledge and has revealed that it will help startups to better connect with high profile investors.
The five areas of focus include building a strong entrepreneurial culture and community, creating skilled and connected entrepreneurs, increasing the startup ecosystem density, supporting entrepreneurs’ access to funding, and developing entrepreneurs’ access to market.
The Sustainable Sydney 2030 strategy, meanwhile, centres on making Sydney a green, global, and connected city. As part of this Council will look to reduce carbon emissions, with a network of green infrastructure to reduce energy, water, and waste demands, while as a global city Council will ensure premium spaces for business activities, high quality jobs in the CBD, and support for social, cultural, and recreational facilities to attract and retain talent.
We spoke to Moore in depth about her vision for Sydney startups earlier this year:
Forster, who has served as a City of Sydney Councillor since 2012, has highlighted the need to digitise Council itself and proposed the appointment of a Chief Digital Officer who will “lead digital change and build a world-class team to oversee our digitisation policies”.
“Both businesses and residents in the City of Sydney say dealing with Council is frustrating and time consuming. I want to transform the way our businesses and residents engage with council. I’ll be appointing Director of Digital, whose first job is to develop a strategy to update Council’s systems and processes to improve service delivery,” Forster said.
In a bid to improve service delivery Forster will also take a leaf out of the NSW Government’s book by making available to the community Council data, through which both Council itself and innovators can look to better tailor services to community needs.
To further encourage innovation Forster said she will also create a City of Sydney Digi-Challenge, offering support and prize money to people who help solve local issues through digital solutions. She will also establish the Sydney Emerging Entrepreneurs Program, providing practical support and small grants to emerging startups.
Forster has also proposed the opening of an incubator, similar to Brisbane’s The Capital, to provide affordable office space for startups, and the creation of international satellite offices to help Sydney startups expand overseas. San Francisco would be the first satellite office to open, with Forster saying she would also explore Guangzhou and Singapore.
Serving as a Councillor since 2012, Vithoulkas is a long-time small business owner and startup founder herself, launching digital radio station Eagle Waves Radio – now SME Radio – out of her George St cafe Vivo Cafe in 2013.
Though Council has made some positive steps, releasing its Tech Startups Action Plan earlier this year, Vithoulkas said that the City continues to simply consult with stakeholders and the startup community rather than developing genuine partnerships.
“The Sydney Matters Independent Team is committed to turning this around by providing more action and less lip-service,” Vithoulkas said.
Sydney Matters, which counts former Australian Computer Society president Edward Mandla in its team, has proposed a two phase plan to help startups, to be rolled out over five years. The first phase, taking two years, will see the Council work with existing coworking organisations to identify Council-owned properties that can be used to house startups, distribute funding to existing coworking organisations, design and establish a new central hub for startups and tech entrepreneurs, create a platform to collect data on the startup ecosystem, and make council data open sourced for startups to tap into.
Phase two will see the creation and development of a tech entrepreneurship centre, the introduction of an Entrepreneur in Residence program at Town Hall that will see a leader from the startup ecosystem work with the City on strategy to identify and nurture opportunities for the sector, and improve the quality and quantity of entrepreneurship education.
During her campaign Vithoulkas has also advocated for free WiFi throughout the City and opportunities to improve City services through IoT.
We spoke to Vithoulkas in depth about her vision for Sydney startups earlier this year:
Elected to the City of Sydney Council in 2012, Scott’s plan for Sydney focuses on creating a fair, affordable, sustainable, and fun Sydney.
Through her focus on sustainability Scott has proposed interest-free loans and rebate schemes to encourage local residents and businesses to install solar and grey water systems, the installation of solar panels on all City properties, investing funds into known effective renewable energy projects like solar, and trialling the introduction of smart technology in the City’s properties, infrastructure and services to ensure energy efficiency.
Labor would also “prioritise development conditions that require the installation of car share, electric car charging stations and end of trip cycling facilities”, and trial air filter technology towers and air filters on the City’s fleet of garbage trucks to improve air quality.
Scott told Paul Wallbank that Labor would also explore opportunities for the Internet of Things to improve City services, work with startups and universities to create tech startup precincts and expand existing university-based hubs and accelerators, and deliver its own City-owned coworking space as part of a tech startup precinct.
Similar to Forster’s international satellite offices, Scott said Labor will also explore the establishment of landing pads for Sydney startups in sister cities, and neighbouring and regional councils in NSW.
The vision of Johnston and the Greens for Sydney does not have a clear focus on startups at its core; rather, Johnston said its support for tech and startups will come under the umbrella of its support for small businesses.
The core Greens’ plan has four focus areas, including “repealing legislation giving businesses two votes at the City of Sydney elections” and reopening and increasing the number of women’s refuges.
As well as through the championing of small businesses, innovative technologies would come into play within the Greens’ focus on creating a “renewable economy that will provide more jobs and help combat climate change”.
Johnston said the Greens would look to create startup parks, or precincts, for the community and help to support startups through aiding them in securing investment.
“We would like the City to involve itself with some significant credit unions so that, where startups meet the necessary criteria, in that they’re likely to be successful, the City involves itself as a guarantor somewhere along the line until a startup gets up and running, so the City takes some of the risk,” he said.
Disclaimer: Founder of Startup Daily, Mat Beeche is running as a councillor candidate on the Sydney Matters ticket in this Saturday’s election. He was not involved in the decision to publish this article and has had no say in the formation of its contents.
Image: Clockwise – Lindsay Johnston, Clover Moore, Christine Forster, Angela Vithoulkas, Linda Scott.