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2023 packed a punch

17 January, 2024
2023 packed a punch | News | Pause Awards
Ignition Lane Wrap monthly
Gavin Appel & Rebecca Eastwood
17 January, 2024
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Welcome to Ignition Lane’s Wrap, where they cut through the noise to bring you their favourite insights from the technology and startup world.

2023’s heavy hitters

The companies that shocked us, distracted us and wow’ed us in 2023.

OpenAI’s board fired Sam Altman, prompting a full-scale revolt from staff who said they’d leave and follow Altman to Microsoft if he wasn’t reinstated (which would have made the greatest, cheapest acquihire in history). After a confusing five days, Altman was reinstated as CEO and the board reshuffled. There are now no women on OpenAI’s board.

Canva wowed us with Magic AI and insane growth. It is approaching US$2B+ ARR, growing at 50% (incredible at that level of revenue), is cash flow positive, with more than 170 million monthly users (for context, ChatGPT is approaching 200 million users).

Nvidia’s (chipmaker) market cap soared past US$1 trillion.

Fleet Space topped The AFR’s Fast 100 list for 2023: “its satellite-enabled technology for hunting critical minerals was used by the likes of Rio Tinto, Barrick Gold and Core Lithium to complete 150 geological surveys. Its revenue grew at a compound annual rate of 582 per cent over the last three years, to reach $8.9 million.”

Binance (cryptocurrency exchange) and its CEO (Changpeng Zhao) pled guilty to criminal charges for anti-money laundering and sanctions violations for enabling terrorism and illegal narcotics activity. This was one the U.S. Attorney General’s largest enforcement actions in history, with over US$4 billion (AU$6.1bn) in penalties. The settlement agreement allows Binance to continue operating. Bitcoin hit an 18-month high this week. Who says crime doesn’t pay?!

Milkrun closed its doors after burning through $85m.

SBV crashed after a bank run. Yep, that was 2023.

The messy state of Aussie venture

Down down (and we’re definitely not talking about prices at Coles). According to Cut Through Venture, Australian startup investment year-to-date is just $3.1 billion – down 58% compared to 2022’s $7.3 billion, and well below the $10.6 billion raised in 2021. Climate tech tops the charts for the largest sector to attract VC investment.

One positive side-effect of this dearth of capital raising is that the media are now forced to go beyond big raise headlines to celebrate startup success and hard work – such as Mentorloop quietly building a sustainable startup, and Deputy’s path to profitability with revenue growing by 38% to $104m last FY.

Spare a thought for the VCs. It’s not just startups who are struggling. VCs themselves are finding it tough to raise their next funds. In Australia, smaller funds in particular are under pressure to figure out what differentiates them in order to justify why LPs should still back them. Some have closed their doors.

Over in the US, the number of VC funds raised this year is on pace to hit a nine-year low. Mega OpenView wound down this week, and there’s likely more to come. The Information:

The sudden fall of the firm, which employed at least 74 people and had raised a total of $2.4 billion, could be a sign of rising pressure on VC firms to generate returns in an era of higher interest rates. Its 2020 fund has lost money on paper, according to documents seen by The Information.

Blackbird under fire. It’s been a rough few weeks in the press for one of Australia’s biggest VCs, Blackbird. The AFR reported grumblings from other VCs that Blackbird is cutting their lunch, and has become an “Australian Tiger Global,” i.e. winning over founders with high valuations. We guess that’s one way to differentiate from the VC crowd.

Separately, there has been critique of its gender diversity investment. Media headlines paint a picture that Blackbird has only invested in male-founded startups—11 to be precise—since it made a pledge in July to invest in more women founders (Blackbird says unannounced investments do include women founders). Blackbird then posted updated gender investment stats, which were equally not great—just 23% (5 of 22) of the companies it has invested in via its 2022 fund have at least one woman founder—prompting The AFR’s Rear Window to pounce.

Anywhooo, you may be thinking, “who cares this is a pipeline issue. VCs can’t magic up more startups with women founders.” And yes, we still need to get more women into tech careers:

share of Gen Zeres

But then there are data points like this, that clearly highlight the deeply rooted in biases that still persist in the investment world: despite the fact that more than 70% of femtech companies are founded by women, all-male femtech startups raised significantly more than women founders in each of the last five years.

Carta’s latest Annual Equity Report also concludes that we’ve headed backwards in 2023. “Since the startup boom of 2021, fundraising has been harder for all founders, but no one has been more affected than women founders and founders of color.”

Everyone needs to do better. Not just the big dawgs like Blackbird, who are actually leading the way with their gender investment transparency and targets.

To make matters worse. Sexual harassment in startupland has come to the fore over the last month. It started with Sam Joel, founder and chief executive of GiveTree, stepping down after posting a slew of offensive remarks regarding women in Australia’s tech industry. Then more stories started to come out of the woodwork. Founder of startups Normal and Fuzzy, Lucy Wark, listed a raft of examples showcasing that sexual harassment, victim-silencing and protection of perpetrators is a persistent problem across Australia’s startups and investors.

Note, it just so happens that all of the ‘good news’ Aussie stories mentioned in this Wrap are startups led or founded by women – Canva, Fleet Space, Mentorloop, Deputy, Tractor Ventures and even Australia’s eSafety Commissioner (mentioned below).

Guess who’s back. Westpac’s VC Reinventure might not be writing any more cheques, but Westpac can’t resist. It led a $28m Series B for Rich Data Co, an AI loan assessor for small businesses.

Equity’s out, debt’s in. HSBC launched a $200m venture debt offer for Australian scaleups to compete against One Ventures, PFG and Tractor Ventures (who can now approve loans in 24 hours!) in the venture debt space.

Offsite 2024

It’s been a monumental year for startup leaders. Fatigue is setting in, and it’s time to take a well-deserved break. As Stripe’s formidable COO advised, “whether you’re in that moment right before growth — or you’re on your way there — press pause.”

Come back in the new year with a fresh perspective, and let us help you focus, align, and kick the year off with a bang.

We currently have one (maaaaybe two) spot available to facilitate an offsite in Jan. Lock it in now.

“If you’re in tech, I highly recommend Ignition Lane facilitate your offsite. In just a few hours, they surfaced our core strategy by asking engaging, thought-provoking questions that helped our team to bond & align.”

-Paul Greenberg, Chairman MyDeal (and godfather of online retail)

On the rise around the world

Is VR and AR about to have its moment? Meta’s Quest 2 and Quest 3 outsold Apple AirPods and AirPods Pro on Amazon on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. In other Meta news, Facebook is rolling out default end-to-end encryption for personal messages and calls across the platform and on Messenger. About time.

Not if, but when. A data breach at genetic testing company 23andMe allowed hackers to steal 6.9 million users’ personal details. It then changed its terms of service to prevent customers from suing the firm or pursuing class-action lawsuits against it. Hot PR & legal tip: maybe do that before you’ve been breached.

The likelihood of being breached is increasingly inevitable. A new report commissioned by Apple says 2.6+ billion personal records have been exposed in data breaches over the past two years. In ANZ there are growing calls to introduce a ‘right to erasure’ under privacy laws, particularly after the 14 million person data breach at Latitude Finance.

Deepfake. Australia’s eSafety Commissioner released world-first industry standards that will require tech giants to take better action to stop online child sexual abuse material and pro-terror content, including “deepfake” child porn.

Videos featuring Elijah Wood, Mike Tyson, and Priscilla Presley have been edited to push anti-Ukraine disinformation, according to Microsoft researchers.

There’s an app for that. Uber will open up its platform to London’s black cabs next year. It has done the same with taxis in Paris, New York and Rome.

Granfluencers. China’s government has tried to limit young people’s use of Douyin, China’s most popular short-form video app. Instead it turns out the elderly have become hooked, as they try to find connection and companionship. In the West, Twitch’s CEO says there’s a market for grandmas to livestream knitting.

That’s a wrap! We hope you enjoyed it.

Bex, Gavin and the team at Ignition Lane

Gavin and Bex make it their business to know everything going on in technology, startups and venture capital.

Gavin is the Founder and CEO of Ignition Lane. He has 25 years of experience in the technology industry across startups, corporates and venture capital. Gavin was a founding Partner at venture capital firm Square Peg, an SVP of Product and Technology at Experian, and was one of the first employees and CTO at Hitwise – a venture-backed startup that was acquired for US$240m in 2007.

Bex is a founding Partner at Ignition Lane. Driven by curiosity, her career is the epitome of unconventional – spanning technology commercialisation and operations, corporate law, IT delivery and more. Applying this unique mix of skills and experience, she now works with CEOs and their teams to solve problems, drive growth and move beyond the status quo.


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Category tracks



Creating an inclusive and collaborative workplace culture is essential for success and growth. Entries should demonstrate how this transformation has been achieved across core business functions, that showcase expertise, leadership, and vision in delivering a positive impact and growth for the business, staff, stakeholders and customers.

Recognising outstanding business success in the marketplace, regardless of company size, and celebrating the impact made on the industry. Entries should showcase exceptional expertise, leadership and vision in the execution of business strategies that have left a significant impression.

Showcase a company's commitment to their purpose and mission to create a positive impact on the environment, people and community. The entries should demonstrate ideas intended to change the world; work which sets out to positively impact ingrained gender inequality, social imbalance or injustice.

Awarded to a single entry in a category, Grand Prix is the top accolade in that category. To win the Grand Prix, the entire Judging Board must unanimously agree that the entry deserves the accolade of being the best in that category.

​​Focusing on the productivity and elegance of execution to deliver impactful ideas to a market with the power to cut through the noise. Entries should demonstrate how the innovation and optimisation of the customer journey led to scaled consumer engagement and commercial success.

Elevating every voice in the ecosystem is crucial for the collective success and growth of the industry. The entries should demonstrate ingenuity which leads to the creation of new products and services, through leadership, by elevating the internal culture and communities they serve.


Categories


  • Culture champion New

    For the best in Culture Category Track. This award recognises the best entry out of all winning entries in the track that have created a thriving culture.

    WHO: The top winners from all categories in Culture.

    WHAT: Judges are looking for the sole winner that can proudly represent the track demonstrating exceptional leadership, results and impact in their field.


  • Diverse Co.

    For nurturing an inclusive environment. This award recognises a workplace that has successfully and intentionally encouraged innovation among diverse employees.

    WHO: Diversity and inclusion managers, HR professionals, company founders, team leads, and talent acquisition specialists.

    WHAT: Judges are looking for entries that demonstrate a purposeful, innovative approach to nurturing an inclusive environment and empowering diverse employees.


  • Large team culture

    For fostering innovation. This award recognises a workplace with over 1000+ employees that has outpaced their cohort in fostering a culture of innovation.

    WHO: CEOs, CTOs, COOs, HR directors, and team leads in organisations with 1000+ employees.

    WHAT: Judges seek evidence of a workplace that has excelled at fostering a culture of innovation, surpassing peers in the large team cohort.


  • Medium team culture

    For fostering innovation. This award recognises a workplace with 21-999 employees that has outpaced their cohort in fostering a culture of innovation.

    WHO: CEOs, CTOs, COOs, HR directors, and team leads in organisations with 21-999 employees.

    WHAT: Judges expect entries to highlight the company's success in fostering a culture of innovation that outperforms others within the medium team cohort.


  • Small team culture

    For fostering innovation. This award recognises a workplace with less than 20 employees that has outpaced their cohort in fostering a culture of innovation

    WHO: CEOs, CTOs, COOs, HR directors, and team leads in organisations with less than 20 employees.

    WHAT: Judges are looking for entries that demonstrate exceptional success in fostering a culture of innovation, outpacing their small team cohort.


  • Work sweet work

    For a great workplace culture. This award recognises a company that has managed to improve or attain outstanding levels of employee engagement, retention and satisfaction.

    WHO: HR directors, employee engagement managers, company founders, and team leads.

    WHAT: Judges will assess entries that show significant improvement or attainment of outstanding levels of employee engagement, retention, and satisfaction.


  • Company of the Year

    For the best company. This award recognises a company leadership, success, ambition to excel against all odds with the solid future development plans.

    WHO: CEOs, COOs, CTOs, company founders, and general managers.

    WHAT: Judges expect entries to demonstrate exceptional leadership, success, ambition to excel, and solid plans for future development.


  • Defiant ones

    For new tech breakthroughs. This award recognises a company that defines the future of the industry they play in.

    WHO: CEOs, CTOs, company founders, product managers, and innovation leads.

    WHAT: Judges seek entries that showcase groundbreaking technology that redefines the industry they operate in.


  • Excellence champion New

    For the best in Excellence Category Track. This award recognises the best entry out of all winning entries in the track that have executed to a highest standard.

    WHO: The top winners from all categories in Excellence.

    WHAT: Judges are looking for the sole winner that can proudly represent the track demonstrating exceptional leadership, results and impact in their field.


  • Hall of fame

    For a lifetime achievement. This award recognises a game-changer who paved the way by breaking new grounds and inventing new categories.

    WHO: Judging Board will privately nominate and pick the winner.

    WHAT: Judges are looking for the sole winner to award for their lifetime achievement.


  • Hammer

    For nailing it. This award recognises a company’s success – on their own terms – in the market.

    WHO: CEOs, COOs, company founders, sales directors and market strategists.

    WHAT: Judges expect entries to highlight the company's unique success in the market on their own terms.


  • I wish I'd done that

    For sheer brilliance. This award recognises a company’s simple and clever idea in a niche market.

    WHO: Company founders, CEOs, CTOs, product managers and niche market strategists.

    WHAT: Judges will assess entries that showcase a simple, clever, and innovative idea within a niche market.


  • New & first

    For new and First Peoples. This award recognises a successful company with its founders from indigenous, migrant or ethnic heritage in Australia.

    WHO: Indigenous, migrant, or ethnic heritage founders, CEOs, company founders and entrepreneurs.

    WHAT: Judges seek entries from successful companies led by founders from diverse backgrounds, making an impact in Australia.


  • On the rise

    For early stage mavericks. This award recognises an early stage startup that has done well in its first three years.

    WHO: Early-stage startup founders, CEOs, CTOs, and entrepreneurs.

    WHAT: Judges expect entries to demonstrate significant success within the first three years of operation.


  • Prodigy

    For being exceptional. This award recognises an under 30 year old person with exceptional qualities or abilities.

    WHO: Under-30 entrepreneurs, CEOs, CTOs, COOs and innovators.

    WHAT: Judges seek entries that showcase exceptional qualities or abilities of individuals under 30 years old.


  • Singularity New

    For an artificial intelligence business. This award recognises a company for developing ai services or those who have successfully integrated ai in their systems to deliver new products and services.

    WHO: AI company founders, CEOs, CTOs and product managers.

    WHAT: Judges are looking for companies developing AI services or successfully integrating AI into their systems to deliver new products and services.


  • Trendsetter New

    For influencer led business. This award recognises a person that has built their own business or a product through their followers' reach in social media.

    WHO: Social media influencers, content creators, entrepreneurs, and company founders.

    WHAT: Judges will assess entries that demonstrate successful businesses or products built through the reach of their social media followers.


  • Women in business

    For levelling the playing field. This award recognises a successful female leader and entrepreneur who is paving the way forward for the future generations.

    WHO: Female entrepreneurs, CEOs, company founders and business leaders.

    WHAT: Judges expect entries to highlight the achievements of successful female leaders paving the way for future generations.


  • B-Good

    For a good business. This award recognises a company that has done well to change our economic system to positively impact all stakeholders through their commercial practice.

    WHO: CEOs, company founders, corporate social responsibility managers and sustainability directors.

    WHAT: Judges seek entries that demonstrate positive impact on stakeholders through ethical and sustainable commercial practices.


  • Circular Pioneer

    For making a real difference. This award category recognises a company that is pioneering their circular efforts.

    WHO: CEOs, company founders, sustainability directors, environmental managers and circular economy strategists.

    WHAT: Judges are looking for companies that excel in implementing and pioneering circular economy efforts.


  • Fame for good New

    For a celebrity driven social impact. This award recognises a company that broke into the market by a famous person using its fame for the right cause and purpose.

    WHO: Celebrity-founded companies, CEOs, social impact leads and philanthropic entrepreneurs.

    WHAT: Judges will assess entries that demonstrate the effective use of fame for driving social impact and purpose.


  • Going green

    For delivering impact at scale. This award recognises a company that is actively leading and delivering impact and scale through sustainable efforts in clean energy, climate change, healthy environment, social and economic justice etc.

    WHO: CEOs, COOs, company founders, sustainability directors and environmental managers.

    WHAT: Judges expect entries to showcase leadership in sustainable efforts in clean energy, climate change, healthy environments, social, and economic justice.


  • Good champion New

    For the best in Good Category Track. This award recognises the best entry out of all winning entries in the track that have displayed great impact in society.

    WHO: The top winners from all categories in Good.

    WHAT: Judges are looking for the sole winner that can proudly represent the track demonstrating exceptional leadership, results and impact in their field.


  • You've got ethics

    For leadership in environmental social governance. This award category recognises a company that is promoting accountability, good governance, leadership in Corporate Social Responsibility and solving societal problems.

    WHO: CEOs, COOs, company founders, CSR managers and sustainability directors.

    WHAT: Judges seek entries that highlight leadership in environmental social governance, accountability, and solving societal problems.


  • Design first

    For design led products. This award recognises a company that is using design to drive product innovation with the entire company onboard.

    WHO: CEOs,CTOs, company founders, design leads and product managers.

    WHAT: Judges expect entries to showcase how design drives product innovation within the company.


  • Great pivot

    For a sudden change in direction. This award recognises a company that has taken a pivot, based on insights, to deliver exceptional products.

    WHO: Company founders, CEOs, CTOs, COOs and product managers.
    WHAT: Judges will assess entries that showcase successful pivots based on insights, resulting in exceptional products.


  • Growth champion New

    For the best in Growth Category Track. This award recognises the best entry out of all winning entries in the track that have displayed incredible success.

    WHO: The top winners from all categories in Growth.

    WHAT: Judges are looking for the sole winner that can proudly represent the track demonstrating exceptional leadership, results and impact in their field.


  • Movement New

    For an event experience. This award recognises a company that has delivered an innovative event, conference, campaign or brand activation that emotionally moved people, delivered great social impact or vent viral.

    WHO: Event organisers, conference planners, marketing directors and brand activation leads.

    WHAT: Judges are looking for entries that demonstrate innovative events or campaigns that have emotionally moved people, created significant social impact, or went viral.


  • New model New

    For the new business model. This award recognises a company that has developed an elegant business model which is eating up the market itself.

    WHO: CEOs, company founders, COOs, business strategists and innovation leads.

    WHAT: Judges expect entries to highlight an elegant business model that is transforming the market.


  • Out of the garage

    For scaling globally. This award recognises a company’s global growth, expansion, and success.

    WHO: Company founders, CEOs, CTOs and international expansion leads.

    WHAT: Judges seek entries that showcase successful global growth, expansion and impact.


  • Pioneer New

    For the first to market. This award recognises a company that has broken into the market with a new product line never seen before, creating a new category.

    WHO: CEOs, CTOs, company founders, product managers and innovation leads.

    WHAT: Judges are looking for entries that demonstrate groundbreaking, first-to-market product lines that created a new category.


  • Wildfire

    For conquering a marketplace. This award recognises a company that has made a significant impact on the marketplace in the shortest amount of time.

    WHO: CEOs, company founders, market strategists and sales directors.

    WHAT: Judges expect entries to highlight significant, rapid impact on the marketplace.


  • Angel

    For early stage support. This award recognises an angel investor that has garnered a portfolio of companies and has a good track record of helping founders succeed.

    WHO: Angel investors, venture capitalists and early-stage startup mentors.

    WHAT: This is a free entry and will be evaluated by the public as the People's Choice award.


  • C-Suite

    For the best leadership. This award recognises the highest-ranking executive that has impeccable leadership, management and interpersonal skills.

    WHO: CEOs, CFOs, CTOs, COOs and executive leaders.

    WHAT: Judges will assess entries that demonstrate impeccable leadership, management and interpersonal skills.


  • Down under New

    For launching in the Australian market. This award recognises an international company who is looking to expand into the Australian market and build recognition in the local ecosystem.

    WHO: International company founders, CEOs, market entry strategists and business development leads.

    WHAT: Judges expect entries to showcase successful expansion into the Australian market and local ecosystem recognition.


  • Ecosystem star

    For being the community champ. This award recognises a person for their tireless energy in organising, engaging and advocating to their community, business or network.

    WHO: Community managers, ecosystem leaders, network builders and advocacy leads.

    WHAT: Judges are looking for entries that highlight tireless energy in organising, engaging, and advocating for their communities, businesses or networks.


  • Future builder

    For grit to start a new venture. This award recognises a founder at any level and life stage who has decided to start jumping the hoops of their own business.

    WHO: Startup founders, entrepreneurs, and business owners at any level or life stage.

    WHAT: Judges expect entries to showcase the grit and determination required to start and grow a new venture.


  • Game changer New

    For an elite athlete turned entrepreneur. This award recognises an athlete for starting their side hustle and turning it into a small empire.

    WHO: Elite athletes turned entrepreneurs, company founders and CEOs.

    WHAT: Judges will evaluate entries that demonstrate successful side hustles turned into thriving businesses.


  • Growth hacker New

    For the growth marketing experts. This award recognises a marketing specialist focused on the rapid growth of a company through data mining and experimentation.

    WHO: Growth marketing experts, data analysts and digital marketing specialists.

    WHAT: Judges seek entries that showcase rapid company growth through data mining and experimentation.


  • Hottest hub

    For the best community. This award recognises a co-working space that provides boutique experience, world class facilities with community management.

    WHO: Co-working space operators, community managers and facility managers.

    WHAT: Judges will assess entries that demonstrate boutique experiences, world-class facilities and exceptional community management.


  • Launch pad

    For activating the support systems. This award recognises an accelerator or incubator with a good reputation in providing the best startup program and industry connections.

    WHO: Accelerator and incubator managers, program directors and startup mentors.

    WHAT: Judges are looking for entries that showcase a strong reputation in providing the best startup programs and industry connections.


  • Mind&Body New

    For the best wellness provider. This award recognises a business that provides self-care services or apps, retreats, getaways, gyms, clubs, tiny house stays and healthy retailers.

    WHO: Wellness service providers, app developers, retreat organisers, gym owners and healthy retailers.

    WHAT: Judges expect entries to demonstrate excellence in providing self-care services, products or experiences that promote well-being.


  • Operators champion New

    For the best in Operators Category Track. This award recognises the best entry out of all winning entries in the track that have displayed impeccable leadership.

    WHO: The top winners from all categories in Operators.

    WHAT: Judges are looking for the sole winner that can proudly represent the track demonstrating exceptional leadership, results and impact in their field.


  • Silent achiever

    For those that do the heavy lifting. This award recognises a person that has exceeded expectations, executed and delivered flawlessly projects from the backseat.

    WHO: Project managers, team leads, operations managers and product managers.

    WHAT: Judges are looking for entries that demonstrate exceeding expectations and flawless execution of projects from a behind-the-scenes role.


  • TopCoder New

    For the cleanest code. This award recognises a developer with excellent technical skills, writing a clean code and being a team player.

    WHO: Developers, software engineers and technical leads.

    WHAT: Judges are looking for entries that showcase excellent technical skills, clean code writing and strong teamwork abilities.


  • Venture cap

    For backing the future business. This award recognises a VC firm with a portfolio of companies that have made a significant contribution to the growth and success of the AU economy.

    WHO: Venture capital firms, investment managers and portfolio managers.

    WHAT: This is a free entry and will be evaluated by the public as the People's Choice award.


  • Champion

    Awarded to a single entry in all five Category Track, Champion is the top accolade from all categories in that track. To win the Champion, you need to be at Grand Prix level or score the most points.


  • Diamond

    Awarded to a best-in-show, Diamond is the highest accolade at Pause Awards. To win the Diamond, you need to be one of the five Champion winners.


  • Grand Prix

    Awarded to a single entry in a category, Grand Prix is the top accolade in that category. To win the Grand Prix, the entire Judging Board must unanimously agree that the entry deserves the accolade of being the best in that category.

Pause Awards launch on 15 May 2024!
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