Last Thursday was D-(demo) Day for 12 Australian startups, each of which were selected to participate in the investment program run by global VC fund Antler.

For the 31 founders involved, it was the culmination of four months spent launching their businesses, after being individually chosen from a field of more than 1,000 applicants.

As part of the program, each company started with a $100,000 pre-seed investment from Antler, in return for a 10 per cent stake in the business.

And all roads then led to Demo Day, when all 12 companies pitched their value proposition to a packed house at Sydney Town Hall.

Speaking with Stockhead, Antler partner Anthony Millet said the event attracted the presence of every major Australian VC fund, along with more than 200 angel investors, business leaders and state government representatives.

“It was a special event which brought the whole ecosystem together, and showcased the talent of these founders who can really drive the industry forward,” he said.

The 12 companies presenting spanned the breadth of the tech sector, including fintech, medtech and deep tech startups.

Millet said a standout feature of the event was Antler’s ability to maintain crowd engagement for all 12 presentations.

The company created a web app that allowed audience members to reach out directly to presenting companies after each pitch, for either investment or advisory purposes. And the number of contacts ranged between 10 and 25, “so there’s a lot of very high quality leads that each company is receiving”, Millet said.

He said the feedback from investors was centred around the quality of the founders, many of whom already had experience building and exiting a business or left senior corporate roles to join the program.

“Something that’s pretty common in Antler programs globally is that by the time businesses reach Demo Day they’re already operating as if they’re 18-24 months old, rather than three to four months,” Millet said.

“Helping these companies clear that initial period, which can often by chaotic and opaque, and getting to a position where they can raise seed capital very fast is beneficial for both the companies and the investing community.”

While all 12 companies are now engaging with other VC funds and investors, five Antler companies had already closed a round or received partial funding prior to the pitch. Amounts raised ranged from $750k, to an already-closed round of $1.8m.


Cutting through the red tape

Millet said the hugely successful Demo Day was evidence that Australia’s tech scene was crying out for a model that could cut the red tape for compelling business ideas.

“The amount of entrepreneurial talent in Australia is really quite incredible, but there’s really been a lack of options for these people to work in an environment where they can succeed,” Millet said.

“Starting a business is hard and risky, and a smart entrepreneur does what they can to de-risk that environment for their business idea.”

“Our program creates an opportunity to form a strong co-founding team and allows them to validate or upgrade an idea. And the people we’re attracting aren’t locally focused, but want to build global businesses.”

Antler currently operates in eight jurisdictions — increasing to more than 15 by the end of 2020 — with access to a network of international advisors, investors and customers.

Looking ahead, Millet said the Antler team was excited by its second Australian program which would kick off early next year. Around 50 applicants have been approved, with interviews underway to bring the total closer to 100.

The field includes a number of PhDs and senior staff from large tech companies, and Millet highlighted the potential for high-level scientific ideas to be paired with founders who had experience commercialising and scaling a business.

“All in all cohort two is looking just as strong, if not stronger, than cohort one and we’re excited to see the results of that,” Millet said.

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