Australians in Startups: Neil Smith

Around the world, governments are struggling to pay for the building or repair of essential infrastructure such as bridges, roads, and airports. Yet there is no easy way for investors to find and analyze all the opportunities to fund such projects.

Neil Smith aims to change that. His startup, Infraccess, will use big data technology to gather all the information about infrastructure projects from across the internet and deliver it to investors at one website.

Where were you born? 

I was born in Geraldton, a small town north of Perth, but I was brought up and did my high school and then university in Perth.

How long have you been in New York?

I left Australia to go to London to do my MBA at Cass Business School, at City University. After I got my MBA, I was there for about 5 years working in finance and then came across here. I’ve been in New York now for 16 years.

What brought you to New York?

I hadn’t really thought of living in New York – I was always a bit scared of the place. Then I came over here to do the New York Marathon and just immediately fell in love with it. I was working with Citigroup in London at the time . . . I came over here to set up and run an investment management business within Citigroup.

What motivates you to get up in the morning?

There are two things that motivate me to get up in the morning: the first is my homemade espresso, and the second is to walk my dog. There’s nothing better than getting out in the morning and walking around New York.

What did you do in Australia before coming to the US?

I was working in politics and government.

Neil networking in Washington DC @ Bipartisan Policy Seminar on Infrastructure Investing

 

What stage is Infraccess at in the startup lifecycle? 

Essentially Infraccess has been bootstrapped by myself and my business partner to date. We’ve developed a proof of concept, or a prototype, showing that we can use technology to scrape this infrastructure project data from across the internet and use data science to come up with predictive analytics on it as well.

We’ve got a data acquisition firm ready to go ahead and essentially industrialize all of the technology. We’ve got a firm that wants to do the coding to develop the platform. We’re just seeking some funding now, so we’re talking to financers.

Australia’s at the forefront of having private investment in infrastructure. All the super funds have been big players in that for a long time. So we’re applying some of that expertise here but hoping to draw new investors in, such as the big US pension funds, institutional investors, asset managers, banks, and government agencies. They will be prime potential clients, and obviously I’m talking to them.

Users of our website platform will pay a 2-year subscription fee to get access to the data.

What excites you about starting up a business?

The exciting thing about working for yourself and for a startup is that it’s all reliant on you, and you’re learning new things every day. I’m having to learn myself to go to financers. The venture capital and angel investment world is completely different to the institutional world that I used to work in, when I was in investment banking and investment management.

I’m also out there talking to potential clients, getting the leads, warming them up. At the same time, I’m going out to talk to technologists and data science people, developing the product, and learning and applying project management skills.

Every day I’m doing a multitude of things at the same time. In London and then here I’d always worked for large corporates. Coming out into the big wide world and working for myself – it’s scary but it’s also liberating as well.

What advice would you offer another Australian coming to the US?

I’m a very shy person, although people don’t think I am. So it’s always very uncomfortable for me to go to cocktail parties and events like that, but you have to just suck that up and do it. Even if you think the networking event is not going to be directly relevant, just go along, because you never know whom you might meet there.

How has coming to New York impacted your career?

If I’d stayed in Australia, I don’t think I would’ve got the opportunities or developed some of the knowledge and skills that I have here by meeting people and through the diversity of people here. This place forces you to aim high. It really makes you go out and pushes you to do things big.

You can visit Infraccess at www.infraccess.net