The Return of Startup Muster: A Deep Dive into Australia's Premiere Startup Ecosystem

The Startup Muster 2023 report is back after a 5-year break, and Antler is thrilled to be a sponsor alongside Atlassian, The Gild Group, Microsoft, and the NSW Government. Dive into our takeaways from the report and a comprehensive look at Australia's startup scene, including growing sectors like greentech and biotech, gender diversity, and the state of funding. Discover why Antler is a top-recommended accelerator and how our program can help your startup scale.


Maeve Couch

As the Marketing and Communications Manager, Maeve is focussed on bolstering Antler Australia's marketing and media presence while helping nurture and build robust digital and physical identities for their Australian founder cohorts. Working with startups for over 5 years, including the fintech Cape as their Marketing Manager and through her own digital marketing company, she has amplified a diverse suite of companies from their inception to global expansion.

This year, Antler is thrilled to sponsor the relaunch of the Startup Muster report after a five-year hiatus in collaboration with the NSW Government, Atlassian, Microsoft, and The Gild Group.

This annual report produced by Murray Hurps and Adam Spencer provides invaluable insights into the progress, challenges, and opportunities in Australia's burgeoning startup scene, and we're here to break it down for you.

A Snapshot of the Survey

The Startup Muster 2023 survey pulled in a considerable amount of data, with 1,106 participants answering 165,308 questions - 585 were founders, and 322 were supporters of the startup ecosystem. The rigorous methodology ensured that the insights gleaned were valuable and comprehensive, with efforts taken to remove any bottlenecks or inconsistencies. Beyond numbers, the data encapsulated in the report aids decision-making crucial for fostering and developing the ecosystem of startups, accelerators, communities, and VCs.

5 Key Takeaways

Five key highlights that stood out to us included:

  • The startup ecosystem is growing in greentech, health and biotech, and advanced manufacturing, with greentech seeing a whopping 9% increase since the last report in 2018
  • The percentage of female founders has unfortunately only seen a marginal increase, standing at 27%
  • AI remains front-of-mind and integral to startup operations, with 56% of startups using AI for key team functions
  • Founders are mostly committed to solving problems they've experienced personally or identifying compelling opportunities, which aligns with what we at Antler often look for in founder expertise, grit, and the problem-solving capacities of startup teams
  • The data reinforces the focus on impact-driven startups; 21% are driven purely by impact, while a majority (56%) balance impact and profit

The State of Funding

When it comes to funding, VC/private equity ranked as the fourth most common source, falling behind personal contributions, family and friends funding, and R&D tax offsets.

Founders with successful fundraising rounds put in an average of 447 hours and talked to 72 investors. It's no wonder founders feel like fundraising is a full-time job! These stats further underscore why firms like Antler are crucial. 

Antler has a personal passion that goes beyond traditional investing. And as our portfolio companies grow, we are a long-term capital partner that provides follow-on funding or access to tier-one VC firms in subsequent fundraising rounds. Globally, we have helped create and invested in more than 900 startups across a wide range of industries and technologies, with the goal of backing more than 6,000 by 2030.

While fundraising was ranked as the most pressing challenge founders are facing, respondents found the most beneficial aspect of working with an accelerator or program was the networks and connections they provided access to.

The Benefits of Accessing Accelerators and Incubators

We’re proud that Antler was recommended as a top accelerator/incubator by founders in this year’s report. We see this as a validation of our model which is underpinned by our residencies through which we offer co-founder matching, deep business model validation, a global platform for scaling, capital and community. This helps the companies we invest in to scale faster, backed by our truly global network of founders, advisors, and investors.

The report also found that despite this, there is still a disconnect between founders accessing these types of networks and communities with only 31% of founders identifying as being part of an innovation precinct or cluster. Perhaps part of this was involvement in community events and activities, where participation was recorded at all-time lows for the survey, sitting at 1.2 events attended per month. 

Maxine Sherrin, the aptly named “Queen of Spark” who has stepped down this year and handed the reigns over to Harry Godber and David Lillo-Trynes, says the transactionality in the Australian ecosystem and “all-take and no-give” behaviour is hampering efforts to drive community building and engagement. She suggested Australia should follow international counterparts who have cast aside this mercantilism to produce a more giving and collaborative environment for startups. 

Murray Hurps presenting the Startup Muster Report 2023

Gender Gap: Improvement at a Snail's Pace

One thematic finding that stands out—yet also underlines the persistent problem and need for immediate action—is the gender gap in startups. While the percentage of female founders has marginally increased from the 2018 data, it still stands at a disappointing 27%. Likewise, only 37% of average full-time employees in startups are female. Unsurprisingly, founders claimed gender was their primary personal challenge.

These numbers suggest that while steps have been taken to improve gender diversity, with gender as the highest identified impact area for respondents, the progress has been painfully slow. Amalgamating these findings, there’s a clear indication that, while progress is being made, there is still a long way to go in achieving gender parity, support, and recognition in the startup world.

The gender gap is not merely a statistic; it's a call for collective action. All stakeholders in the ecosystem, from accelerators like Antler to angel investors and government bodies, have a role to play in levelling the playing field. It's not only a moral imperative but also a business one, as we know diverse teams often outperform their less diverse counterparts. This requires effort from all stakeholders, including accelerators and investors like us, to help close this gap.

What This Means for the Startup Ecosystem

It's not just about the figures; the report brings with it the renewed vigour for the Australian startup community to double down on innovation, inclusivity, and impact. The effect the return of Startup Muster has on all these aspects will continue to increase each subsequent year, and - through the support from governments, individuals, corporations, and organisations - the ecosystem is poised for transformative growth in tandem.

Partner at Antler in Australia, Mike Abbott, commented, “The pace of innovation is moving faster than ever. By backing the founders driving transformation, VCs fuel the engine of progress. That’s why Antler exists: To back the world's most driven founders, from day zero to greatness. We know a better future will not happen automatically—the world needs talented, driven, and resilient people to build it.

“We are determined to help thousands of founders launch and scale the next generation of great companies that address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. We’re proud to be supporting StartupMuster and be working towards our shared goal of making progress inevitable,” Abbott said.

The Next Step?

If you're a founder and want to be part of this ever-growing and exciting landscape, consider joining Antler's residency program, the next one of which is coming up this January. You can apply here!

Alternatively, for a more in-depth look at all the data and what it means for the Australian startup landscape, you can read the full Startup Muster 2023 report here.

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