It’s with a heavy heart and jet lagged eyes I write this blog post. Yesterday our government failed our start up and evicted my business partner.
I run Sydney-based start-up Disrupt. a platform for designing you own sports equipment – surfboards, skateboards, yoga mats and a long list of other sporting equipment were working to bring online. We’re a muru-D class 2 graduate, a venture-backed start-up who’s focused on promoting and growing local manufacturing.
We have deliberately chosen to keep our HQ and engineering, operations and production team here in Sydney. We employ nine people in our Sydney office: five Australians, a Brazilian, a BDM from the US, myself (British-Australian) and until yesterday my business partner and COO (British).
Keeping our HQ in Australia means employing Australians, paying Austrian taxes on not only local sales but on the transfer of profits we make in our overseas subsidiaries. We’re committed to not only Disrupt as a company but Australia as a country, our country.
After winning a trip to SXSW as top company at The Australian Web summit we spend two weeks attending events and setting up an office in LA, we integrated into five quality US based manufacturers and set up two sales channel partnerships.
I planned to stay in the US to develop and build that market with our COO returning Sydney to work with the local team whilst direction global logistics and supply chain.
To give you an idea of our COOs background, he was one of the founding team who built Europe's largest platform for youth sports travel which they later exited through trade sale to Tui Travel. He could have taken a lot of time off was offered exec level corporate and consulting jobs. I was however fortunate enough that he shared the same vision and passion to create high quality locally made custom sports equipment and decided to join Disrupt, he was willing to forego a salary, willing to work 12hr days and ride the rollercoaster once again.
He has become an integral part of the Disrupt family, using his experience and contacts to set up manufacturing integration and open up sales channels both locally and overseas, he build efficiency and scalability into all of our operations and I feel honoured to work beside him.
Yesterday that was torn away from me, when our COO arrived back to Sydney he was pulled aside by Border Force, subsequently held in a detention centre/prison for two days before being deported to the UK, leaving his car, house, family, and most importantly our company here in Sydney.
Why? Because as a start-up the government refuses to recognise us a business (for the purpose of sponsoring highly skilled individuals on temporary work visas), despite the fact that he has been personally been approved already. The advice from immigration that his’ only opportunity to work on Disrupt is to first ‘add value to the economy’ by picking Bananas for three months? And even then he would only be allowed to work here for six months. Sorry, What?
This probably comes as a surprise to many people but that’s how our backward Immigration policy works, they see that picking fruit as adding more to the countries economy than working for a high-growth start-up.
Our COO chose to tell immigration that he had completed his fruit-picking as the only way he could continue to work here, to be clear he was in the wrong and fully accepts responsibility. However when backed into a corner with no other options, what are you supposed to do. Our team is gutted and I feel personally let down by our over-promising government resulting in something that certainly impact our growth as we’ve had to cull some of our expansion plans.
Whilst I have my own personal pain, I’m more concerned about the long-term negative impact immigration has and will have on the Australian tech scene with other companies facing similar challenges: How can they bring in highly skilled individuals from countries with more developed tech eco-systems to work in Australian start-ups?
The PM’s ‘ideas boom’ campaign has been blasted over the media and recently (ironically) my COO and I were asked by the immigration department to consult with them on what an entrepreneurs visa would look like. As friendly as the people that ran the panel, we both walked away shaking our heads as they had absolutely no idea. None. The requirements they were considering (must be a single founder (the visa is for one person), based overseas - not already in Australia and have raised $500k funding was just crazy, I can’t think of any examples of companies that fit the bill and how does this even promote internal innovation?
Wel good luck to them, with the government deporting my COO and business partner and with no light on the horizon, we’re being left with very little option than to pull the plug on our Australia as our HQ. It’ll be a solum day if we’re forced to do that.
Please someone save our start-ups.