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Nassim covers the accounting and tax rounds for BRW, as well as general business news. She previously worked for The Age newspaper covering general news, state politics and economics.

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Young Rich tech investor Bardia Housman returning to Australia to help build thriving start-up ecosystem

Published 26 September 2013 11:39, Updated 26 November 2013 12:10

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Young Rich tech investor Bardia Housman returning to Australia to help build thriving start-up ecosystem

Bardia Housman’s advice to Australian entrepreneurs is to learn to take greater risks and share their ideas with other entrepreneurs.

Rich technology investor Bardia Housman has made a host of angel investments in tech-related ventures including Slant, Switchcam and Blackbird VC.

After six years in San Francisco, 39-year-old Housman, who made this year’s BRW Young Rich list with $30 million in wealth, wants to return to Sydney early next year to start another tech-related business and make further investments in local start-ups.

He says while Sydney can never be Silicon Valley, it can work towards having a thriving start-up ecosystem that better connects with venture capital investors in the US.

The steady stream of tech entrepreneurs moving onto the BRW Young Rich list dropped from seven to three this year, but smart entrepreneurs are still finding ways to make money without moving to America.

“I don’t think any city can try and replicate Silicon Valley, and shouldn’t try to,” he says. “There are other cities around the world have a tech eco-system that’s thriving and they do that by tapping into Silicon Valley.

“I always say to Australian entrepreneurs that if you’re building a company in Australia it makes sense to stay in Australia, but if you have global aspirations, it doesn’t make sense to stay. The experience and ideas in Silicon Valley are richer and can really help build your business.”

Take bigger risks and get inspired

Iranian-born Housman says another reason he, and many other Australians, moved to Silicon Valley is because they want to brainstorm and get inspired.

Housman is currently working as a mentor at start-up fund Startmate and is one of the owners of Startup House. Located a few blocks from Twitter’s and Atlassian’s San Francisco headquarters, Startup House provides office space and living quarters for people developing new technology companies.

His advice to Australian entrepreneurs is to learn to take greater risks and share their ideas with other entrepreneurs. He says this require a major cultural shift.

“The risk culture here [in Silicon Valley] is very different to Australia’s,” he says. “Australians are definitely not as risk-taking. People who come here are trying to solve very big problems. One of the things I have noticed about Australian entrepreneurs is that they don’t really share their idea. They think someone will steal it, whereas in Silicon Valley everybody will share the idea. It’s through collaboration that they are able to validate their ideas and develop faster.”

Housman wants to be a mentor to Aussie start-ups

Housman says while he has no firm plans yet for when he returns home to Sydney, he will probably start another tech company and investigate opportunities in Asia.

Housman has already developed and sold two technology companies. His first, Australia’s first free email service, Start.com, which he started with another Australian entrepreneur Michael Mak in 1997, was two years later sold to LookSmart for more than $5 million.

The site attracted 250,000 users, but LookSmart paid Housman and Mak $90,000 to take the service back after the dotcom crash.

His second venture, which he founded with entrepreneur Adam Broadway, was a hosting platform for web designers called BusinessCatalyst. It was sold to software giant Adobe in 2009.

Housman is also an early-stage investor in tech start-ups. He has already made angel investments of $50,000 to $100,000 in companies including Slant, Switchcam and Blackbird VC. He’s also been busy buying commercial property around San Francisco and northern California, often leasing buildings to technology companies.

“I moved my last company to the US years ago because it was starting to grow really quickly,” he says. “I feel like it’s now time to come back.”

Housman says StartupHouse is now being run by its co-founder, Australian entrepreneur Elias Bizannes, who also moved from Sydney to San Francisco and works as a director at Charles River Ventures.

Housman says he’s keen to carry on a mentoring role like the one he’s had at Startmate – a group of startup executives offering mentorship and seed financing to founders of Australian-based Internet businesses.

“One of the reasons I invested in Blackbird VC is because I like investing in Australian companies with global aspirations,” he says. “Seek and Carsales.com.au and Realestate.com.au are great Australian businesses. Australian entrepreneurs are very strong. They have great communication and technical skills and that’s what excites me most about coming back.”

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