From software to digital marketing, fintech to logistics, AI to gaming, there is an elite pack of growth companies from Australia and New Zealand that have cut new ground in terms of both innovation and business results.
Inspired by the 2016 Tech Pioneers Report, first published by the office of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull [full list below], we have created an updated top 10 list of tech pioneers, including four companies that are now listed on the ASX or on Wall Street and seven that have reached $1 billion unicorn status. And, thankfully, only a couple of the original 50 companies listed in the 2016 Tech Pioneers Report have gone out of business.
Top 10 tech pioneers
As a tech pioneer, Atlassian is a proudly Australian company offering software solutions for developers and project managers, with 180,000+ customers worldwide.
Started in 2002 by Sydney boys Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scot Farquhar, Atlassian has become a global software company helping teams around the world unleash their potential. It builds tools that help teams collaborate, build, and create together.
In the same year, they created their flagship software, Jira, an issue and project tracker. In 2003 they launched Confluence, a collaboration platform that allows people to work on projects as a team, create content together and share media assets.
Other successful product releases include Trello, Opsgenie and Bamboo. Towards the end of 2015, Atlassian was valued at over $6 billion by its IPO.
Atlassian, the company behind enterprise software offerings like JIRA, and Bitbucket, listed on the Nasdaq at US$27.67. Since then it acquired Trello, got a mention in the 2016 Tech Pioneers report and increased its share price more than tenfold to over US$375.
The second company on our list of the top 10 tech pioneers is Xero, an ASX-listed technology company based in Wellington, New Zealand. It provides cloud-based accounting software for small and medium-sized companies.
Founded in 2006 by Rod Drury and Hamish Edwards, Xero is creating game-changing software for small businesses, including automated daily bank feeds, invoicing, expense payments, GST returns, and more.
Since going public in Australia in 2012 for $4.65 Xero (ASX: XRO) has surged to over $150 with a market cap of more than $20 billion.
The company says it now has more than 2.7 million global subscribers.
Afterpay, a true fintech unicorn, has wooed millions of millennials onto its app with the ability to make purchases in-store and online, spread out into four bite-sized scheduled payments. Repayments are interest-free, but late fees will be accrued if they are not paid back every two weeks.
Founded in 2015 by Anthony Eisen and Nick Molnar, the new credit choice has spawned its own product category 'Buy Now Pay Later' and heavily disrupted the credit card market in Australia, all while managing to skirt around existing Australian credit law.
Since its IPO on the ASX in mid 2017, Afterpay (ASX: APT) has shot up from its initial price of $2.95 to now trade – with significant volatility – at between $100 and $130 in recent times (although it has been as high as $160), giving it a current market capitalisation of over $30 billion.
In August 2021 it was announced that in early 2022 Afterpay would be acquired by US financial services and digital payments company, Square.
It was too early in Afterpay's journey for it to be considered for the 2016 Tech Pioneers Report, but it just goes to show how rapidly a digital company like this can scale once it enters the growth stage.
The fintech company now operates in five key markets – Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom, United States and Canada, with more markets slated to go live.
Our next top pick of tech pioneers is Canva, a graphic design platform formed to help create high quality social media graphics, posters, and other content. The company aims to empower creators of any skill level from all over the world with free access to a wide range of design tools, as well as paid subscriptions for added functionality.
Earning its spot on the technology pioneers list, the platform provides a huge library of more than one million illustrations, photographs and stock images.
Founded in Sydney, Australia in 2013 by Melanie Perkins, Cliff Obrecht and Cameron Adams, in its first year it gained over 750,000 users. Listed in 5th place on the 2016 Tech Pioneers Report, by August 2021 the as-yet-unlisted company was valued at $40 billion in its latest funding round.
Campaign Monitor is a tech pioneer and highly successful startup that you may never have heard of.
It offers effective email marketing solutions to two million marketers from 250,000 businesses around the world. They are given access to a wide range of expertly designed and professional-looking email marketing templates and multiple different layouts that can match their brand.
It was founded in 2004 by Dave Greiner and Ben Richardson in Sydney, Australia.
With simple drag and drop tools, Campaign Monitor makes it easier to gain new subscribers and send email newsletters that will help marketers to grow their business via the direct marketing channel.
SafetyCulture provides safety document templates for businesses. Founded in 2004 by Luke Anear in Townsville, Australia, it aims to make workplace safety affordable and accessible to everyone.
Its revolutionary health, safety and environmental management systems and plans, Standard Operating Procedures and Safe Work Method Statements, save lives and save time.
In 2020, SafetyCulture was added to the Australian Unicorn Club with a valuation of $1.3 billion, and its latest funding round values it at $2.2 billion.
A tech pioneer in the fintech industry, AirWallex is committed to allowing its business customers to do international money transfers 90% cheaper than the banks. This helps businesses to better manage cashflow, remittances and payments across borders.
Founded in 2015 in Melbourne by Jack Zhang, Max Li, Lucy Liu, and Xijing Dai, AirWallex offers businesses the chance to operate anytime and anywhere.
In 2019 the company entered the coveted Unicorn Club, with a valuation of over $1 billion, as one of the fastest ever Australian companies to achieve the milestone. That valuation has now risen to $2.6 billion.
Tech pioneer Basiq is a financial data aggregation platform supplying access to financial institutions through APIs.
Founded in 2016 by Damir Cuca and headquartered in Sydney, NSW, Australia, Basiq is a major open banking platform, allowing developers to create ingenious financial solutions.
Backed by NAB Ventures, Salesforce Ventures and Westpac’s Reinventure, the fintech was founded in 2017 and its core product is now being distributed by Equifax.
Next on our list of the top tech pioneers continuing to grow is WiseTech Global, a logistics software company founded in Sydney, Australia in 1994 by Richard White and Maree Isaccs.
The main WiseTech Global product, CargoWise, is a comprehensive logistics solution and forms a key link to the global supply chain. It’s used to boost the productivity and functionality critical to the smooth and timely delivery of goods.
Since going public in 2016 (ASX: WTC) for $4.01, it has lifted to over $45, with a market cap of $15 billion.
The final company on our top 10 tech pioneers list is Orbx, a leading flight simulation developer. It was founded in 2006 by John Venema and now has employees all over the world.
Orbx has become well known in its industry for providing superior content for flight simulation games with scenery packages that are used by flight sim makers to enrich the world their users can fly through – most notably via Microsoft's Flight Simulator.
With over 167,000 user accounts and over 350 technology-rich digital products for use on four different simulation platforms you could say that ORBX's business is... flying along nicely.
- Appen. A global leader in the development of high-quality, human-annotated training data for machine learning and artificial intelligence.
- Surf Lakes Queensland. An incredible application of tech and engineering to make surfable waves anywhere.