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Should the Aussie brain drain to Silicon Valley be encouraged?

George Nott | July 27, 2016
Australians gaining experience, innovating and growing businesses overseas is good for the nation...if they ever come back

Ephox's success in Silicon Valley is positive for Australia, Roberts says: "My company has created dozens of high-paying tech jobs back in Australia as a result of me moving to Silicon Valley. We wouldn't be as successful as we were if we hadn't invested a lot of time and money into international markets."

Roberts is one of around 20,000 Australian expats - collectively known as the 'Aussie mafia' -living and working in the southern San Francisco Bay area. Some have been there for years, others come and go.

"They are some of the smartest people you will meet," says Roberts. "And Australians, in general, remain humble and easy to get along with even if they have had some success."

The sentiment is echoed by Australian Ernest Semerda, cofounder and CTO of Medlert, a logistics and communication platform for hospitals and ambulance providers, based in Silicon Valley.

"Even though today, a product can be engineered and distributed using online channels from any location in the world, I don't believe we should stop people moving overseas," he says.

The Sydneysider had always dreamed of working in the Valley, "the mecca of technology" and made the move in 2009. "I believe that if you want to get serious in your industry you need to be where the action is: Silicon Valley for technology, LA for the movie industry, New York for fashion and so on," he said.

If the hard work of building a business can be "expedited through an overseas startup community then we should encourage it," he says. "When the founders get to the growth phase, then make it fruitful for them to come back to Oz to grow their business locally."

Ripe for return?

When launching the Innovation Agenda in December, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said: "We want to make sure we retain and gain the best human capital that we can." There were a raft of measures aimed at creating an "innovation nation" that was an attractive place to do tech.

In April, Kelly O'Dwyer, then small business minister, was in New York speaking at a 'Down Under New York' event for Australians working in the city. "I don't think we should be concerned that people go over to the United States and New York and get experiences and learn new things," she said, "as long as we create the right environment for them to return and they are not compelled to go as an only option."

But is Australia the 'right environment' for them? If Australians that head for Silicon Valley end up returning, having grown their skills and experience, perhaps with capital and drive to set-up or expand businesses locally, it can only be a good thing for the nation.


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