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Australia Joins Flood Of Global Investment In Silicon Valley


If you're just joining us, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath. Silicon Valley's dynamic and flush economy is attracting investors from all over the world. The Chinese e-commerce giant, Alibaba, has already invested millions into the ride-sharing company Lyft. Russian investors have large stakes in companies like Facebook and Twitter.

Now Australia is getting in on the action. Carlos Watson is the co-founder of the online magazine, Ozy. And he joins us now. Carlos, what kind of investments are we talking about here?

CARLOS WATSON: You know, they're classic tech investments for the most part - software companies, app developers. One of the most interesting is a so-called Internet of Things company called LiFi Labs that is trying to redesign the light bulb - basically, a wireless light bulb that you can control from your phone.

RATH: And is this just an infusion of cash or is Silicon Valley also attracting Australian talent - you know, engineers, programmers?

WATSON: What's interesting, as you've seen, several hundred entrepreneurs set up companies initially in Australia - be it Melbourne, Sydney, elsewhere. But then once they've got proof of concept, Arun, they're coming to Silicon Valley - Palo Alto, Mountain View, elsewhere - for a number of reasons.

One, they think that they can raise more capital. There's more of an established venture capital industry there for them to raise money from. But they're also saying there's a bigger market here. They're saying rather than stay at home, where 21 million people in my country, let me come to a place that's got 300 million-plus and that regularly exports to the world.

So you have seen quite a boon over the last 24 months. And the reality is it may just be beginning. We may see a lot more people begin to make this move as you see more and more very public successes. And often, the way you know a country really comes to prominence in the Valley is when they're not only offering up entrepreneurs or even investment, but when the big, established companies start buying some of our most interesting up-and-comers. And so I would keep my eye out for that over the next six to 12 months as a real sign that this trend is thickening and growing.

RATH: And why is it happening now and why Australia?

WATSON: You know, I think a couple of reasons. One is that as the Australian government itself has begun to push heavily this idea of startups, and that was part of the kind of seeding of it. You also had a number of entrepreneurs in Australia, who had some success with various kinds of e-commerce companies, actually put money back into creating these hubs called accelerators where lots of would-be entrepreneurs can come gather together and begin to practice their craft and trade.

And while all of that was happening, you began to have folks from Silicon Valley make the reverse Marco Polo trip and go to Australia and start to find companies there that they wanted to invest in. And so you've always had engineering talent. You've always had people who've had some success in business. But now there began to be a way towards Silicon Valley and some quarter of a billion, maybe almost half a billion dollars in investment later. You now have a number of interesting companies that have either set up camp here or have attracted Silicon Valley investment back home.

RATH: Is there any downside to this, you know, any risks or complications that come with all that foreign money?

WATSON: You know, Arun, the most obvious one is brain drain. And lots of countries all over the world have seen that. In many cases, they lose their best and brightest.

Now, the question is, is it that simple in the global economy or, in fact, will you have entrepreneurs who maybe spend some of their time in the states, but then spend more time back at home? And there are benefits on both sides. So I would say the jury's still out. Everyone, at the moment, seems to be pretty happy about it - from the Australian government itself to the various entrepreneurs, who feel like they're getting big and interesting new opportunities.

RATH: Carlos Watson is the co-founder of the online magazine, Ozy. Carlos, thank you.

WATSON: Arun, really good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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