A chance meeting with an events coordinator from Australia at South by Southwest is turning into a six-month adventure Down Under for Mark Zmarzly, Founder of Lincoln Fintech startup Hip Pocket.
“I searched all the attendees for Fintech and reached out via LinkedIn to about 30,” Zmarzly said. “I had only connected with one until I met her near the end, and she was just awesome.”
Zmarzly mentioned that he had been invited to speak in Melbourne and was thinking about bringing his family. She suggested that he look into Hot DesQ, a grant program funded by the government in Queensland to invite startups to Australia.
“She told me if I wanted to bring my family, I should look at the grant program,” Zmarzly said. “We applied, and it was a really long process with lots of interviews.”
Zmarzly is among 28 entrepreneurs participating in this year’s cohort, including 6 from the U.S. Of those six, Hip Pocket is the only startup outside of the coasts. Few bring families along.
“I asked one of the organizers how many from last year brought families,” Zmarzly said. “The reply was ‘none, mate’.”
Zmarzly feels the experience for his wife and three children is well worth all the details necessary to bring them along. An $80,000 stipend provided to each participant helps defray the cost.
“We had to do visas for everyone, book airfare and find a place to live,” he said. “It’s a 21-day process to get a place, but we found a beautiful townhome.”
Located on the east coast of Australia, Brisbane is a city of 2.2 million with the winding Brisbane River running through it. The program will operate out of Fishburners, a coworking and startup community with locations in Sydney and Shanghai as well as Brisbane.
“They promote commuting and I’m planning to take a river ferry to work,” Zmarzly said. “The congestion can get intense, we’re not even planning on having a car.”
The program’s goals are to encourage entrepreneurs to relocate or establish a presence in Queensland and to provide mentoring for local startups from successful companies from the outside.
“The only stipulation is the mentoring component,” Zmarzly said. “Just like any ecosystem, they want to create density.”
Are there opportunities for Hip Pocket in Australia?
“Australia’s banking system is somewhat similar but I’ll have a lot to learn,” Zmarzly said. “It took over a year in the U.S., so there’s a question as to how quickly we can figure it out.”
Zmarzly’s expectations for the program are first and foremost altruistic.
“My expectation is first to see how much we can help other teams, and if we benefit that’s fantastic,” he said. “If you don’t have a ‘give first’ mentality, that’s not the Nebraska way. You’ll create more opportunity by looking for ways to help the ecosystem.”
Since Hip Pocket operates in the Fintech space, the hope is that teams assigned to Zmarzly will be in that space also.
“I’ve reached out to the Queensland Fintech group with about 700 members,” he said. “I’m hoping to work with younger teams looking for entry into the U.S. that I can help.”
He is also hoping to learn things that can be applied back home.
“I want to learn best practices and bring them back here,” Zmarzly said. “How will I bring this back and how can we learn from it to capitalize on our strengths? I want to create a pipeline back to Nebraska.”
The culture in Brisbane seems like a good match.
“Everybody says the people are amazing, so friendly and trying to help everyone,” Zmarzly said. “It’s a good fit for somebody from the Midwest.”
Although Zmarzly and his family are looking forward to the experience, there is no thought of moving to Australia permanently.
“We come back March 26,” he said.
Rod Armstrong is Vice President of Strategic Partnerships for AIM in Lincoln, Nebraska. He is a regular contributor to Silicon Prairie News.