By Melissa Keogh
It’s hard to believe how different South Australia’s tech scene would be if entrepreneur Simon Hackett had accepted a job offer in the US in the early 1990s.
It was just before the ‘dot-com boom’ when the tech pioneer turned down a job opportunity with a “great company” and instead launched his own business – Internode – from Adelaide in 1991.
Internode grew to become a nationally significant broadband provider and by 2011 it had 450 staff, 200,000 customers and an annual turnover of more than $180m.
Simon says choosing to stay in Adelaide was a “conscious choice”.
“Sometimes it feels that success comes despite being in Adelaide rather than because of it,” he says.
“But in Internode’s case, we built a 450-person plus organisation filled with smart people and a high retention rate, which I think would be difficult to achieve in the eastern capitals, where there is much fiercer competition for talent.
“I’m incredibly proud to be South Australian.”
Before the birth of Internode, Simon was involved in establishing the first signs of the internet in Australia.
After graduating from the University of Adelaide in 1986, he was part of a national university team that created the Australian Academic and Research Network (AARNet) – the first emergence of the internet in the country.
From then onwards, the internet became bigger and more integral to people’s lives than most people could have expected.
By the year 2000, broadband internet started to come about, so Simon pushed for Internode to become a nationally significant broadband provider.
“We achieved this during the next 12 years, pioneering many important communication technologies in Australia and winning an incredibly loyal and satisfied customer base,” he says.
In 2012 Internode was sold to internet service provider iiNet of which Simon was director for 18 months before joining the board of the National Broadband Network (NBN).
In 2015 iiNet was sold to TPG.
Simon says his time with Internode was a great learning experience as the internet in Australia was growing at “incredible speed”.
But like all entrepreneurial pursuits, it wasn’t without its challenges.
“We had some challenging times in an industry that was dominated by a huge company which was both a supplier and a competitor – Telstra,” he says.
“But we managed to survive them all.”
Aside from his internet pursuits, Simon launched a company Base64 in 2012 from a historic mansion in Kent Town.
The 19th Century property provides workspaces and encourages collaboration among a range of technology businesses and start-ups.
Base64 is also home to Australian battery manufacturer Redflow’s battery laboratory.
Simon invested in the Brisbane-based company in 2014, becoming its executive officer before recently stepping down and becoming a non-executive board member.
“Redflow is an Australian company that has developed the world’s smallest zinc-bromine flow battery, a unique design that is free of some of the limitations of traditional chemistries such as lead-acid and lithium,” he says.
“Redflow has a team in Adelaide who have launched the ZCell residential battery and developed software to make all Redflow batteries easier to use.
“That’s the sort of smarts you can get in a place like Adelaide.”
In a nod to his interests in renewable energy, Simon is a fan of electric carmaker Tesla and its Model S vehicles.
He says SA’s uptake of wind and solar systems, along with the world’s biggest battery being built near Jamestown, makes the state a world leader.