Telstra to invest $800,000 a year on startups

Turnbull urges greater entrepreneurial spirit for Australia

The muru-D program includes access to a co-working space located at 363 Oxford Street in Paddington, NSW. Credit: Adam Bender

The muru-D program includes access to a co-working space located at 363 Oxford Street in Paddington, NSW. Credit: Adam Bender

Telstra will provide $40,000 in funding to 10 Australian technology startups every six months under a seed funding program announced today.

Telstra has today opened muru-D, a startup incubator in Paddington that will provide access to a investment, a co-working space, business support, mentoring and coaching. The program lasts six months and will be held twice a year.

The word “muru” means “pathway to” in the indigenous Gadigal language, while the D stands for “digital.”

Speaking at the launch in Paddington, member for Wentworth and communications minister Malcolm Turnbull praised the startup initiative as “totally antithetical to everything Telstra used to stand for.”

“Isn’t it fantastic that Telstra—this gigantic institution, this huge telco—is embracing innovation in this insurgent manner?” the minister said.

Turnbull, who has a business background and whose appointment as comms minister after the recent election was welcomed by startups, called for increasing the risk-taking, entrepreneurial culture in Australia as a whole.

“In Australia we are still too harsh on entrepreneurs and innovators whose projects don’t succeed,” he said.

“Australia has the potential to be a much more innovative country than we are ... A lot of that has to do with cultural changes and changes of mindset.”

Turnbull repeated his support for changes to tax laws governing employee share options. Changes to the rules made under Labor three years ago discouraged Australian startups from providing the options to employees, a key non-cash incentive.

“They are absolutely a major disincentive to startup businesses in Australia, the way they are structured,” Turnbull said.

A review of the rules, started by Labor in June, is still under way, he said. “Subject to affordability ... I think we all recognise that we need to have a tax system that … encourages startups, that encourages people to issue stock to employees in new businesses.”

Telstra has launched muru-D as it works to increase the telco’s partnerships with startups. The muru-D program has been in the works for about four months, said muru-D co-founder Charlotte Yarkoni, who is Telstra executive director of global applications and platforms.

At a speech last week, the company’s CIO Patrick Eltridge said working with startups is a “strategic necessity” for Telstra to survive increasing competition from over-the-top players and other rivals in a post-NBN world.

“We are way beyond the point where we build all this stuff ourselves,” Eltridge said at the Australian Computer Society Foundation lunch on Friday. “I want to be seen as a fit-for-purpose partner to a startup,” he said.

Telstra is also seeking to increase recruitment of “the sort of talent that startups attract,” he said.

Telstra isn’t the only big business in Australia to open its arms to startups. Last week, Optus announced it would begin accepting more applications to its Optus-Innov8 seed fund for startups. Banks are also increasingly looking at startup partnerships to keep ahead of the competition.

Follow Adam Bender on Twitter: @WatchAdam

Follow Techworld Australia on Twitter: @Techworld_AU

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