Insights from Wholesale Investor on the London-link for Australian startups
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It might not be as common as fintech, biotech or ag-tech in the startup lexicon.
But it’s a phrase that Wholesale Investor (WI) CEO Steve Torso helped coin to describe LifeArt, a company on the WI platform which manufactures eco-sustainable coffins for the funeral market.
LifeArt proved to be a success story for WI’s expansion into the UK, where it recently ran another two-day event in June linking Australian and New Zealand businesses with UK investors.
“You might not think eco-friendly coffins are an obvious candidate for investment. But they came to a UK event we were doing at Bloomberg HQ, and they spoke to a group which turned out to be the largest co-op of funeral homes in a bloc of the UK market,” Torso said.
“They ended up doing a joint-venture with that group and really proved out their business model.”
The company has now opened an advanced manufacturing facility in Gloucester with operations in the UK and Australasia.
In the wake of Wholesale Investor’s latest UK conference, Torso spoke with Stockhead about some of the connections — and differences — between the UK and Australia.
The two-day event is held annually for companies on both sides of the Tasman — this year’s travelling party was evenly split — to meet with London investors and learn about the UK landscape.
The 2019 conference kicked off with a presentation from London & Partners, the government-backed promotional agency for the city of London.
That was followed by a welcoming function — “a light way for companies to start mingling with investors” — before the main event on day two, when companies presented to the network of investors in attendance.
“We try to make it an experience where companies can get a feel for what UK investors are looking for,” Torso says.
And given the strong history between the three countries, there’s a strong strategic component as well.
“Don’t underestimate how many Australians hold influential positions and are based in the UK market,” he added. “For each UK event I usually see 10-15 attendees that I’ve seen before at Australian events.”
One aspect that Torso noticed is that when it comes to investment connections at the ground level, the looming threat of Brexit has actually been a bit of a blessing.
“The thesis I have is two sided; on the one hand, the UK is now in a position where it actually has to work hard to convince businesses to move there. Hence you’ve got more engagement from groups like London & Partners and the Department of International Trade.”
“Then in the surround Euro-area you’ve got companies being a lot more proactive trying to secure businesses, positioning the region as more stable. So it’s actually created competition,” he said.
By sector, the investment narrative around artificial intelligence and machine learning came up frequently, along with blockchain — “I don’t think Australians understand how prominent that is in the UK”.
There was also a medical marijuana company that got plenty of attention, and Torso highlighted esports as a general theme of interest among British investors.
Then of course, fintech — an industry in which London is recognised as the global leader and where it feels like the UK is “sort of 12-18 months ahead”.
To put it in perspective, Torso highlighted his first business trip to London where he visited UK fintech incubator Level 39.
“This was in mid-2014, and I just couldn’t believe the prominence of fintech everywhere. Then you had Stone & Chalk launch here in around 2015, and everything else has sort of been a copy of that UK industry,” Torso said.