An Interview with Stuart Richardson, Founder, York Butter Factory


Can Australia’s foremost innovation hub, the York Butter Factory, inspire our next entrepreneurial and technological boom?

Silicon Valley has long stood as a byword for innovation and entrepreneurial mettle – an open, collaborative and engaging environment to inspire the world’s most ingenious thinkers.

But what can we make of Australia’s budding, though less well-resourced, start-up sector? Is there a dedicated home for emerging entrepreneurs to test ideas, hobnob with industry experts and flesh out nascent business proposals in a safe and impartial work space?

FST Media sat down with Stuart Richardson, co-founder of the York Butter Factory (YBF), one of Australia’s most dynamic and vibrant innovation hubs, to gain first-hand insight into this unique co-working space for local start-ups and established tech industry players.

Stuart Richardson will be featured guest presenter at the 2016 Melbourne Banking conference.

FST Media: How would you define your role at York Butter Factory?

Richardson: I’m one of two cofounders. The York Butter Factory has been part of a broader vision that we’ve focused on realising: taking the latent capacity of Australia’s human capital and intellectual property and seeing that gain access to the global economy.

FST Media: How has the YBF fostered a culture of innovation?

Richardson: We focus on bringing communities together from diverse backgrounds with common areas of interest. We use various tools to promote both informal and formal interactions on an ongoing basis. Rather than adopting a hierarchical ‘command and control’ approach – which has typically been the way of the past – we aim to do this on an eco-system basis.

Each year, the York Butter Factory hosts over 200 events: these could be meet-ups for very small and nascent group of R-Programmers all the way through to start-up weekends, which take over the entire space and bring new or young entrepreneurs into this unique environment. That’s complemented with things like master classes, where we bring in Australian and world leaders in particular fields to share their experience or expertise with those members of the community we engage with.

FST Media: What technology or innovation will prove the single biggest game changer for today’s start-ups?

Richardson: There is considerable focus around collaboration technology. The availability of tools and software to accelerate development helps take us further away from machine code and furthers our ability to create software using natural language or other simple-to-use platforms. Collaboration technologies, and the connectedness they enable, will make a significant difference to productivity.

The extension of that – and this is applicable to financial services – is the ability to manage significant volumes of data and to visualise this effectively using tools such as augmented or virtual reality.

FST Media: How do you drive competitiveness and innovation in the fintech sector?

Richardson: It’s very much about being at the frontier, or intersection, of the start-up environment – both domestically and globally. But it’s also about working closely with corporates and leading academic institutions to bring together an open innovation opportunity.

We’re more than just a co-working space. While this may have been where we started functionally, we haven’t rested on our laurels. We provide open innovation platforms, offering entrepreneurs the best possible opportunity to launch their businesses in the most successful way.

Specifically within fintech, it’s been about demonstrating thought leadership, and that means being globally aware of what’s happening in the economy, how that is relevant to Australia given that fintech is administered and regulated on a country-by-country basis. It’s also about identifying potential changes that need to be made to remove the friction that’s historically existed for new or innovative financial products and services introduced to the market – including ADI authorisation by APRA and licenses to prove new concepts.

FST Media: How does YBF engage with corporates across Australia?

Richardson: We work closely with groups such as ANZ bank, Salesforce, IBM, Ernst and Young and Qantas to not only provide access to the entrepreneurial ecosystem, but to also offer a platform through which they can explore and experiment in a safe and neutral territory. Our co-working space is immune from internal corporate inertia, but also independent of company norms, which can stifle creativity and the success of innovative and progressive initiatives.

FST Media: What’s the most in demand disruptive skill set or innovation?

Richardson: Our aim is to foster the ‘beginner’s mindset’; that is, to approach different problems with curiosity and to understand what it means and knowing the best way to view it. What we’re really trying to unlock is creativity, because in today’s day and age, people are really driven to very responsive thinking and transactional behaviours.

Creativity and innovation really require that next level depth of thought and analysis. Creating that space is really important; but it can’t exist in a vacuum either. There’s also that healthy requirement to get things done, but to get things done in a way that serves a purpose.

FST Media: What do you see as the ideal innovation ecosystem, and how can start-ups and big corps effectively collaborate?

Richardson: It really comes back to the open innovation platform, the capacity to create a safe environment for interactions not only between start-ups and between corporates, but also the academic environment – how do they come together to really solve material and significant problems?

That needs to be done in a space that isn’t controlled or adversely influenced by objectives or incentives that can exist for a commercial outcome and monetary reward; or, similarly, that you’re unable to access something because it’s too expensive or you don’t have the access to human capital.

FST Media: What’s been your proudest innovation or achievement in your career?

Richardson: While we certainly don’t have any form of monopoly over it, the ecosystem that we’ve created around us at the York Butter Factory, and the success that individual participants are now benefitting from, is truly humbling.

Don’t miss Stuart Richardson at the 10th Annual Future of Banking & Financial Services, Melbourne, June 1, 2016. To secure your pass to this flagship event or to view the conference agenda, click here.