Mikaela Aitken
Writer, Editor & Strategist

Venture capitals
Gold Coast

When it comes to launching a business, a warm breeze, blue skies and the mild buzz of a resurgent local economy can do wonders for taking the stress out of starting up. We take the measure of three cities with room to bloom.

Writer: Mikaela Aitken
Photography: Natalie McComas

“My dream was always to move to the Gold Coast to make surfboards,” says Kiwi native Dale Wilson, who owns cult board-manufacturer Byrning Spears. Since the 1970s, surfers and shapers such as Byrning Spears founder Allan Byrne have given “the Coast”, as it’s known locally, an international profile. The surf industry now contributes €2.1bn each year to the eastern Australian city’s economy and employs about 21,000 people. “We have the best waves, plus a major city, so all the infrastruc- ture for business is here. And any time the surf is good, the factory is shut.”

In the past decade, others have started to catch on to the appeal of a city characterised by a stable business environment, high quality of life and a close-knit community. “I’m the opposite of the Coast [type] and yet I can’t leave, it’s like a magnet,” says longtime resident and restaurateur Simon Gloftis, owner of Hellenika and Nineteen at The Star. “It’s the perfect storm right now for businesses, where everything has hit critical mass and kids are no longer saying, ‘When I go to Sydney or Melbourne’.”

The sun-drenched city is experiencing a long and sustained period of growth, boosted by hosting the 2018 Commonwealth Games and heavy government investment in transport infrastructure, as well as culture, education, health and the knowledge sector. This positive climate is something city hall says has encouraged residents to dream big and take risks. “We are officially the small-business capital of Australia,” says the mayor, Tom Tate, explaining that there are 63,000 small enterprises among the city’s population of 590,000.

Cornerstone Stores, for example, is a tidy new café and hub for Gold Coast-based retailers that opened in February 2018 in the Currumbin neighbourhood. “The talent and designers were here,” says Renee Honey, who set it up along with her brother, mother and husband. “But there wasn’t really any opportunity for them to step out of the market world and rent shop space.”
This sense of a city evolving by supporting its own is also clear at homeware shop and studio Kira & Kira, where finance-worker-turned-furniture-maker Grason Kira and his wife stock artwork, linen and glass lamps made by artist friends also from the Coast. Kira says it’s the dream work environment: “It’s kind of like a holiday all the time. People aren’t frantic here — even the bosses aren’t frantic.”

“It’s about working as a community,” says Isla Wilson, who along with her husband, own Dust Temple, a popular gallery, music venue and café. The only downside is that construction companies and large tourism operators have dominated the economy for so long that getting planning permission can be expensive and lengthy. “Effecting change is the thing you have to work hard for,” says Wilson. “But the more we have other small businesses come in and push the boundaries, the better it will be for everyone.”