Date: 19 Jul 2019
Australia’s software industry is youthful, big and booming. With the help of Austrade’s global networks, growing companies are reaching into overseas markets for venture capital and high-value clients.
Sydney-based Unleash live is a global leader in applying artificial intelligence (AI) to digital video and imagery. The company’s cloud-based software ingests live video from drones, IP cameras and smartphones, and provides real time analytics to enable faster decision making.
According to Co-founder, Hanno Blankenstein, Unleash live’s software appeals to organisations with large, external operations. ‘A mine-site officer in Western Australia can receive an alert triggered by unusual activity and instantly share live drone imagery with an expert in Europe,’ he says.
In 2018, Unleash live gained a landmark commercial contract. Its bid to supply the California State Government with an AI video analytics service to improve traffic and pedestrian flow won against global competition.
‘The contract was a triumph but also a huge challenge,’ says Blankenstein. ‘We were a company of 12 people with no physical presence in the United States. To service the contract, however, we would need a registered US business and US-based personnel.
‘We needed to scale up in the United States – and we needed to do it very quickly.’
The perfect US launch pad
In mid-2018, Blankenstein met the manager of the San Francisco Landing Pads program. This Austrade program helps Australian startups and scaleups to grow their exports with a three-month overseas residency. It includes a co-working space and business advisory services.
‘The Austrade manager explained that a San Francisco Landing Pad would be great for networking with Silicon Valley venture capitalists,’ says Blankenstein. ‘It would help us build a physical presence in the US and register as a legal entity, which were preconditions for the California contract.’
The Landing Pads program would also help Unleash live forge commercial connections. For example, Austrade could arrange invitations to major events in the California tech calendar.
‘We were impressed by Austrade’s commercial reach in the US,’ says Blankenstein. ‘Our target clients are large industrial companies but we were new to this huge new market. Austrade has nurtured industrial contacts in the US over many years.’
Straight to the heart of San Francisco
Blankenstein arrived on 2nd January 2019. With him was the company’s existing Head of Products, who would use Landing Pads to transition to the new role of Head of US operations. Their base was an Austrade Landing Pad within the WeWork offices at 44 Montgomery Street, in the heart of downtown San Francisco.
‘The Austrade staff are easy going, pragmatic, honest, fast and always available,’ says Blankenstein. ‘What made them great advisors is that they have all been through the US export learning curve themselves. Their advice was hands-on and real, because they had been in our position.’
Practical advice on setting up a US business
The immediate focus of the program was helping Unleash live create a US-registered company.
‘Austrade doesn’t work alone: by encouraging us to participate in the SelectUSA progam, they helped us to navigate the process of setting up a business in the US,’ says Blankenstein.
Blankenstein also gained practical advice from mentors, program participants and alumni. This included how to pitch software, how to find a US-based accountant, smart ideas for entertaining clients, where to work when travelling interstate, and how to find and hire new talent.
‘We learned direct from other companies how to meet the basic business challenges that confront any company that arrives in the US,’ says Blankenstein. ‘That saved us a huge amount of time.’
A highway into US venture capital
For Unleash live, the highlight of the San Francisco Landing Pad was gaining a shortcut into the Californian venture capital scene.
‘One of the Landing Pads mentors took the vital step of connecting us into the San Francisco Venture Capital community,’ says Blankenstein. ‘He gave us advice and contacts, and sent out pitch emails on our behalf.’
These contacts culminated in an Austrade and Australian Consulate event where Blankenstein was invited to pitch to the largest incubator in the world, with a room full of more than 100 venture capitalists. Unleash live was the star of the event.
‘Our ongoing relationships with the US-based Venture Capital community has proved one of the lasting benefits of the program,’ says Blankenstein. ‘This is vital for a company that is growing fast.’
Credibility and commercial leads
Blankenstein reports that the Austrade connection added credibility to commercial introductions. This is partly because the Landing Pads program vets applicants before inviting participation.
‘The reputation of the Austrade brand had a huge impact,’ he says. ‘Landing Pads carries a form of endorsement from Austrade, and that results in stronger leads and greater credibility.’
The experience has also helped to shape Unleash live as it becomes a global exporter. Australia will remain the company’s home for product development, where the intellectual property is created and maintained. The company’s San Francisco office will focus on business development and sales.
‘At the end of our three month residency we had 12 strong commercial leads,’ says Blankenstein. ‘Now we have a permanent office and we hope to hire six permanent employees. Within six months, we are confident to sign up a dozen new enterprise clients – that’s the legacy of Landing Pads.’