Last week I received a phone call from Dinushi Dias, a journalist from Startup Smart, asking me why StartCon hadn’t moved to Melbourne in 2016. I was confused when she said that Philip Dalidakis (Minister for Small Business, Innovation & Trade in Victorian Government) had just told her in an interview, that the reason they pulled out of sponsoring StartCon was because we refused to meet their gender diversity requirements.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. We have not had a single conversation with anyone from the Victorian Government, or LaunchVic, about gender diversity.
We have attached all correspondence and documents below for your viewing pleasure to prove it. It speaks for itself.Register for Startcon 2016
The reason StartCon didn’t go to Melbourne this year is because Philip Dalidakis and his team couldn’t deliver on what they agreed upon in a signed letter. The Minister and his team tried to re-trade on multiple points including marketing support, and his department were unable to turn around a basic sponsorship agreement in five months despite repeated prodding, to the point of absurdity.
Absurdity, in that our Deputy CFO got sick of prodding so many times, his emails deteriorated to single question marks.
Dalidakis signed the original letter with sponsorship terms in October 2015. Given we had reached agreement on the deal points quickly (I had complimented originally that they had acted at “startup speed”), I thought that following up with the long form agreement would be a fairly simple process.
After this original signed agreement dated October 2015, the Government’s follow up proposal (provided two months later in December) was 6,000 words and 26 pages long and bore no resemblance whatsoever to the Minister’s signed sponsorship letter.
Our staff across conference calls and emails throughout December 2015 and January 2016 attempted to find a negotiated solution to the documentation. It was of particular surprise to our team that what was a simple sponsorship agreement (which StartCon has executed with dozens of major companies) was replaced with a convoluted ‘grant application’.
Across nearly 20 email threads and dozens of requests for a status update or updated documentation, the team at the Victorian Government was not able to come even close to progressing a document. Zero progress was made over months of frequent contact – the Dalidakis team were even incapable of using the ‘track changes’ function in Microsoft Word.
As conferences take a long time to plan and promote, I personally notified both Minister Dalidakis and Mehmet Tillem, his Chief of Staff, back in February 2016 that we had run out of time for this year, that at best we would have to push back to 2017, but if the minister came through with what had been agreed to in his signed letter then we might have a slim chance.
Since Dalidakis never managed to deliver on what he originally promised (in fact, the last time he responded to an email was in February 2016), negotiations never went forward.
Bizarrely, three months later on May 16, I received by registered post a snail mail letter from Dr Pradeep Phillip, the then CEO of LaunchVic, in which he- out of the blue- asks for 50/50 gender representation “across panel members, guests and keynote speakers plus a separate ‘diversity in tech’ session dedicated to gender and cultural diversity”. Guests?
Nobody from the Victorian government had ever mentioned anything about any diversity requirements up until this point in time. In fact, there was no such mention about diversity in any of the muddled drafts of their 26-page 6,000-word grant agreement. The only thing that Dalidakis wanted to know about attendees were the domestic/international split. I’ve attached a copy of the agreement below to prove this.
Given Pradeep both had my email address and telephone numbers, it was immediately apparent that these registered post letters were to be obviously used at some point for arse covering.
Arse covering, because simultaneously in May 2016 I received an FOIA request from the Freedom of Information Officer from the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources in Victoria for copies of the correspondence with Minister Dalidakis for StartCon. The FOIA request came from the Victorian opposition, who I can only guess were also wondering why he was taking so long to get this agreement finalised.
It’s hard enough building a startup in Australia, let alone a startup conference that is working hard to attract great international speakers to this country.
Melbourne is a fantastic city, with a great number of Australian startups as well as large listed technology businesses. Melbourne’s government has also fostered a vibrant cultural and social fabric, which is probably why it is doing so well in attracting international technology companies to the city.
It’s certainly not the first time a government minister has gone back on something they have promised. Frankly, in dealing with government, we considered the risk associated with us having to walk away from delivering the conference in Melbourne if Dalidakis was not able to deliver what was promised.
Like many things, it’s all part of the sovereign risk with building a startup in Australia.
However, the minister took things further in a reprehensible manner. Reprehensible because he has damaged the reputation of the conference, which has been the highlight of the year for many Australian startups over the last six years.
The StartCon team is upset at being used as a diversity punching bag, given that in 2015 the first female speaker we approached to speak said no because they wanted a fee, then proceeded to forget that they were asked and stir up a media frenzy in order to drive hits to their LinkedIn blog.
The StartCon team is also particularly upset that Dalidakis has manufactured diversity as an excuse, when the team has clearly put a lot of effort into promoting diversity at the conference. The team has found some amazing female speakers, for both the main stage and workshops, built a diverse lineup of judges for the pitch competition, and even partnered with leading women’s organisations – such as Leaders in Heels and LMBDW – to specifically ensure that women are key to the event. We also have more great female leaders to announce. Furthermore, the team putting it on are 80% women, led by Cheryl Mack.
Today Dalidakis announced that he had provided support to the $33b technology giant Cognizant, to open an office in Melbourne. This is great to hear and adds to the long line of companies that have been flocking to the city.
I hope they have a better experience than we did working with his office.
I’ve attached a copy of the original agreement, signed personally by Minister Dalidakis, along with five months of written correspondence with his department and Chief of Staff, showing their inability to finalise an agreement to the point that it was left so late, StartCon had to be convened in Sydney.
This is the real reason why StartCon didn’t make it to Melbourne this year.
As many Victorian startups, entrepreneurs and marketers will be upset that Australia’s biggest startup & growth conference won’t be making it down, the team would instead like to subsidise the cost so that they can make it up to Sydney to attend at Royal Randwick Racecourse on November 26 & 27.
It will be a fantastic conference and we look forward to seeing you all there!
So we present you the…
DALIDAKIS DOUBLE DEAL
a special 2 for 1 offer on startcon 2016 tickets purchased with a victorian address!
- Minister Dalidakis signed a sponsorship agreement for $200k per year for five years and announced this with much fanfare
- His department then re-traded and broke this agreement, and was unable over the subsequent 5 months to even finalise a simple agreement to reflect the sponsorship
- In recent days Minister Dalidakis has briefed articles to try to claim that StartCon’s “lack of desire to implement diversity metrics for the conference”
- This is a complete fabrication and nothing more than Minister Dalidakis trying to hide his inability to follow through on his commitment to bring StartCon to Melbourne
- StartCon will take place in Sydney in November with 3,000 attendees and will be the biggest and best StartCon ever
- 29 October 2015, Minister Dalidakis signs and executes a letter providing “$200,000 of sponsorship per annum for up to five years to support the event”
- 11 December 2015, Minister Dalidakis’ office sends its first draft contract
- Instead of a sponsorship agreement, it is a 26 page long grant application form
- 16 December 2015, Christopher Koch provides extensive due diligence information to Faye Schmidt and Kathy Coultas of “EcoDev” at Victorian Government and sends redlined agreement to be in line with the original signed commitment from the Minister
- 21 December 2015, Christopher Koch follows-up to see response
- 22 December 2015, Fay Schmidt from “EcoDev” replies saying that the Victorian Government refuse to “Sponsor” the conference and will only be an “Event Funder”
- 22 December 2015, Christopher Koch follows-up to see response
- 23 December 2015, Christopher Koch follows-up to see response
- 23 December 2015, Victorian Government provided a new contract but not in mark-up so has to be reviewed from the start again
- Incapable of even marking up a document:
- 29 December 2015, Christopher Koch replies to advise that the wholesale nature of the breach of the original signed sponsorship agreement is putting the entire arrangement in jeopardy:
- 7 January 2016, Christopher Koch follows-up to see response
- 12 January 2016, Christopher Koch follows-up to see response
- 13 January 2016, Christopher Koch follows-up to see response
- 14 January 2016, Christopher Koch follows-up to see response
- 19 January 2016, Christopher Koch follows-up to see response
- 29 January 2016, Christopher Koch follows-up to see response
- 8 February 2016, Christopher Koch follows-up to see response
- 10 February 2016, Christopher Koch follows-up to see response
- 19 February 2016, Christopher Koch follows-up to see response
- 19 February 2016, Matt Barrie emails to advise that due to the re-trade and lack of any ability to execute a document, StartCon must be planned and on that basis must happen again in Sydney:
- 3 March 2016, Minister Dalidakis’ CoS calls Christopher Koch to re-trade to a one year funding agreement, pre-filling a media release with quotes from Matt Barrie
- 16 May 2016, registered post snail mail letter from Dr Pradeep Phillip to Matt Barrie
- 24 May 2016, Freedom of Information request for communication between StartCon and Dalidakis, initiated by the Victorian opposition.
- 5 September 2016, another registered post snail mail letter from Dr Pradeep Phillip to Matt Barrie