How a history of entrepreneurship has become the Gold Coast’s most valuable asset

The Daily Telegraph | April 2018

In little more than 50 years, the Gold Coast has evolved from a sleepy coastal town of beachside shacks housing less than 20,000 residents to Australia’s sixth largest city.

While many have been attracted to the city because of the warm weather and promise of a better lifestyle, it’s the entrepreneurship and youthful ambition bubbling away behind the scenes that has built this great Australian city into what it is today.

Today, one in five workers on the Gold Coast works for themselves. This entrepreneurial mindset combined with one of Australia’s largest education sectors* and significant investment in to research is what many are predicting to be the future of the Gold Coast.

Now as the incredible Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games has come and gone, the rest of Australia is looking to the Gold Coast with a renewed sense of curiosity.

Meet the entrepreneurs that are helping the Gold Coast shine on the world stage.

Nik Mirkovic and Alex Tomic, HiSmile

Gold Coast born and raised entrepreneurs Nik Mirkovic and Alex Tomic were fresh out of school when they set their sights on starting a global business. After identifying a gap in the market in home tooth whitening, the duo launched their subscription-based product targeting millennial females via celebrity endorsements on Instagram in 2014. Within 18 months they’d turned over a cool $10 million.

“We thought there wasn’t really a brand out there in teeth whitening that stood for anything more than just the product. We thought – great – there’s a gap. And the other thing is there’s longevity to it. Everyone’s always going to have teeth: everyone’s always going to take care of them,” Mirkovic said. “We went in with the mindset that we weren’t going to make a quick buck. We just wanted to build a brand that stood for something. I think that’s what will make us the biggest company in the oral hygiene and teeth whitening category.”

It didn’t take long for the duo to outgrow the kitchen bench space prompting a move to a bigger warehouse on the outskirts of the Gold Coast. They have since moved the business to the popular beachside locale of Mermaid Beach, with a new office fit-out inspired by the likes of Facebook or Google. Mirkovic and Tomic are now worth a combined wealth of $46 million, and are the youngest entrants on the Australian Financial Review’s 2017 Young Rich List, coming in at No. 58 and No. 59 respectively this year. The business boasts current revenue of $20 million and is predicted to grow dramatically next year with the increase of staff from 30 to around 100.

Aside from the warehouse that fulfils orders, HiSmile is an entirely online business. Mirkovic and Tomic could have set up shop wherever they wanted. But it was a yearning to build a brand in their hometown that has been the defining reason to stay on the Gold Coast. The location and amenities enable their 30+ employees to take advantage of the beach, or a local yoga class.

“For us, it’s the perfect place. A lot of people have commented that we’d be better off in a bigger pond like Sydney or Melbourne, but for us, the Gold Coast works because we like to maintain that balance of work and lifestyle. That was part of our decision to move to Mermaid Beach where we are literally one hundred meters from the beach,” Mirkovic said. “It’s too easy to get caught up in the rat race. We’re very much focused on us rather than what the next big guy is doing. The Gold Coast truly allows us to do that.”

Careful not to pigeonhole HiSmile as a gimmick, Mirkovic and Tomic are brand-orientated with their long-term roadmap in mind.

“We’re definitely focused on 2020 and 2025 so we’re in it for the long term. I think that’s what sets us apart from the rest, or any other startup,” Mirkovic said. “We can take over the world based from the Gold Coast. Let’s do it.”

Danny Maher, Opmantek

Danny Maher, Opmantek CEO, is at the forefront of the Gold Coast, and Australian, tech industry.

The Gold Coast-based software firm provides commercial open source network management and IT audit software to more than 130,000 organisations worldwide.

“We have a new client install an Opmantek product every six minutes which is more than any other business software company in the world,” Maher said.

“Opmantek is a classic high growth, high tech, Silicon Valley-style company. We set up on the Gold Coast due to the investment attraction programs that the Gold Coast City Council was running, and we’ve never looked back.”

For Maher, the Gold Coast’s landscape allows him to decompress after a stressful day.

“The Gold Coast is a wonderful place to live. When you’re running and growing a global software company like Opmantek you need to work long hours, and it can be high stress. The Gold Coast is a great place to recharge,” he said.

Maher recently announced Opmantek’s investment in the Gold Coast Innovation Hub, a space designed for business leaders to connect, commercialise and grow innovative companies. It reflects Maher’s passion and dedication to building the Gold Coast’s reputation as a leader in the innovation space.

“This is one of the best investments and largest innovation spaces in Australia,” he said. “What Opmantek has shown and proven is how to commercialise technology from Australia and from the Gold Coast. Australians are great innovators, and the Gold Coast Hub will grow and manufacture companies like no other place ever has in the world, including Silicon Valley.”

The Gold Coast might once have been deemed too isolated to build a global company, but Maher said technology has enabled Opmantek to thrive.

“Technology has changed our ability to work and live from anywhere, and the tech industry has naturally been one of the first ones to embrace that. The Gold Coast has two international airports that are easily accessible, and it’s a place where all our clients and partners want to visit,” he said.

Lauren Hall, iVvy

“The Gold Coast has a thriving entrepreneurial spirit. It’s in complete contrast to the tourist perspective of our relaxed, beach culture.” – Lauren Hall, CEO of tech company iVvy

Originally from South Africa, Hall built and launched the tech platform iVvy in Johannesburg. The platform was developed “out of frustration” as a way to bring the fundamentally manual processes within the events industry into the digital era.

“At that point, I was awarded funding from the South African Government to rebuild the platform because of the national benefits it could bring the country,” she said.

“But within two days of the awarded funds, my application to relocate to Australia came through after a five-year process. We opted to walk away from the money and move to Australia for the safety of our children. We had no jobs, no network and no money as it had all been invested into my IP which I brought to Australia.”

In contrast to life in Johannesburg, the Gold Coast offered a comparatively safe lifestyle to raise her family.

“I always knew that it did not matter where I was going to live, that I could build the technology I believed would change the world of events from anywhere. All I needed was a good team and enough capital as I had already proven market demand for my solution,” she said.

Her ambition has paid off: she and Co-Founder James Greig now deliver their product worldwide and have offices in USA, South Africa, and UK with customers in 14 countries.

Recently, iVvy won an iAward, Australia’s leading awards program for innovation in the digital economy, and three international Silver Stevie Awards at the New York Women in Business Awards.

Lauren was also selected as one of five Australians chosen to participate in EY’s Entrepreneurial Winning Women Asia Pacific program 2016 and was also the 2016 Gold Coast Business Woman of the Year and a 2016 Telstra Business Women’s Award Queensland finalist.

“Gold Coasters actively seek opportunities, interact globally and aren’t afraid to challenge tradition. For a technology company with global ambition such as iVvy, the energy, connectedness and support of fellow entrepreneurs on the Gold Coast is a huge asset.”- Lauren Hall, CEO of tech company iVvy

The lifestyle opportunity is an obvious drawcard for the Gold Coast’s increasing pool of budding entrepreneurs, media, corporates and creatives.

“We think local, act globally in a very literal sense.We can create global career pathways for our staff, and look across the globe for talent, not just within our own backyard,” she said.

Greg Young, Body Science International

Greg Young founded Body Science International (BSI) from a second-hand desk in his garage eighteen years ago, providing elite athletes and health fanatics with vitamins and protein supplements that were proudly “steroid-free”.

The business has grown, turning over about $40 million a year, and employing over 40 staff across Australia.

“BSI offers an almost Gold Coast family-like atmosphere,” Young said. “The flat hierarchy in the company helps improve communication and decision-making paths, and pragmatic solutions.”

Young said it’s been rewarding for him to see the Gold Coast attract admiration, even jealousy, from the broader business community.

“You can’t beat my daily routine. I surf 300 meters from home with my mates and son, enjoy a coffee at the local, then jump in the car for an easy eight-minute drive to the office. Having the airport fifteen-minutes away is fantastic too.”

Young believes an entrepreneurial spirit is woven into the fabric of the city.

“The Gold Coast is 100 percent entrepreneurial. It’s ingrained in each Gold Coaster. We live and breathe this every day. It’s a region of boundless opportunity with similar like-minded people striving with innovation and attaining best in industry excellence.” – Greg Young, founder BodyScience International

He said the Gold Coast offers a unique opportunity to meet other people working in the body science industry.

“I’ve had great connections particularly with world-leading experts like Gold Coast doctor Hal Rice who performs Innovative surgery treating stroke symptoms,” he said.

“Support in the form of introductions and interactions with similar minded people like yourself is unmeasurable. The council often invites groups of business owners from our industry to meet and exchange ideas.”

Learn more about how the Gold Coast fosters entrepreneurial ambition at businessgoldcoast.com

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