When Geoff McQueen started his first business in the noughties he was widely regarded of being ahead of his time and at the leading edge of something he was always confident would happen in Wollongong.
Now as he and business partners Eamonn Bell, Christine Higgins and Glenn Fowler complete the move of his latest enterprise - Accelo - into a new CBD office with double the space, he can see that dream for what the city can become being realised.
Mr McQueen flew in from San Fransisco for the official opening of the new office for the Wollongong founded and Silicon Valley headquartered pioneer of Service Operations Automation (ServOps).
Accelo helps streamline operations for clients around the world using an integrated, cloud-based platform.
"We are on a mission to create a really globally significant technology company founded right here in the Illawarra," Mr McQueen said.
Accelo's new space in the MMJ building at 8 Regent Street can accommodate 100 people. It has 12 meetings rooms compared to two in the previous location on the corner of Keira and Crown Streets.
Mr McQueen said Accelo needed tonnes of space for its team in Australia to work collaboratively with their US colleagues to help thousands of businesses around the globe run their critical client service delivery. In the process Accelo helps boost revenue and productivity.
"All meeting rooms in our new office have big screens and cameras. We make extensive use of that technology to feel like we are all working together in one place," he said.
Accelo needs the space following a record year of growth that saw it increase its Wollongong team by 21 in 2018.
That included designers, software developers and product quality specialists and Accelo is still hiring.
"We are actively hiring developers. This is our technology hub, where we do all our coding and all our design from a product perspective," Mr McQueen said.
"And now we have started building up a Client Success Team in Wollongong. Previously it was something we ran globally out of the US. Amy Stewart is our first client success hire in Wollongong. She is helping manage our accounts from New Zealand to Perth.
"We are presently looking for people with skills who want to work in a startup and like the idea of working in Wollongong where they do not have to be part of the Sydney rat-race every day".
The rapid expansion of the Accelo team is showing that Wollongong City Council's ambitious economic development target of creating 10,000 new jobs in the next decade is possible.
Friday night was a chance for Mr McQueen to talk about what is happening in Wollongong. He has been watching on with great interested while living in the US for the last eight years. And loves coming back regularly and seeing the changes occurring that he always expected would happen.
"When I was helping to start what was the precursor to iAccelerate a decade ago my mindset was it is going to be a multi-decade project to try and help this city's economy diversity," he said.
Mr McQueen has long seen the potential of being able to take local skills and capabilities onto the world stage. And in doing so not only bring export income into the Illawarra but create jobs in Wollongong that could be done anywhere in the world.
"Why not have them here. It is an eco-system thing. It is not just one company. It takes a lot of businesses and start-ups having the same idea to strike out and make it happen".
Asked bout Wollongong City Council's employment goal of 10,000 new jobs in 10 years Mr McQueen said by 2029 that won't seem like it was too ambitious.
He sees no reason why it can't happen and won't happen in that time-frame.
Mr McQueen said that achievement will be the culmination of 20 years of gradual success.
The ground made during the last decade means Wollongong is on the crest of being able to call itself Australia's Silicon Beach.
What that will do is not only provide job opportunities for University of Wollongong graduates but people with skills from all over the world.
"For example at Accelo it is important for us to be a world class tech-company with a cross section of skills," Mr McQueen said.
"The Illawarra has a lot to offer. It has a beautiful natural environment with a great quality of life. Being able to give people work that is interesting and challenging on a world scale while still being able to live in a place like the Illawarra is pretty unique".
Mr McQueen said the startup community was a great sector for the council to focus on in creating more jobs because Wollongong offered a great quality of life. And the technology industry can create economic prosperity for the city and region without negatively impacting the environment.
"Looking to the future as someone who cares about the Illawarra this is what you want," he said.
"Sure there is a role for other industries. But if you want to have a place that stays beautiful and is prosperous than you want to be focusing on these kind of industries".
And with developers and investors looking at creating more commercial office space in the city it is showing that the success of startups such as Accelo, Easy Agile and Finocomp is creating confidence in the property market.
Mr McQueen was also excited in the amount of residential development occurring in the Wollongong CBD, such as the building right next door to Accelo's new office in Regent Street.
"It is so good," he said.
"I remember in 2005 we were looking a what to do in the city centre of Wollongong. I worked on a project with the Department of Planning. I was involved in a lot of community consultation work where I was wearing the hat of someone who was working in technology but also playing a part from a civic perspective.
"I remember some of those plans really clearly and how the chief government architects put together some sketches of what they thought the city could look like with a new mall, maybe one day with some traffic. And they drew tall buildings on the spine of Crown Street as a major thoroughfare and the natural high point for tall buildings".
Mr McQueen said when he flew back to Wollongong last week he was excited about what he saw.
"There was crane after crane after crane and they are for big buildings in the right places. It is just wonderful," he said.
Mr McQueen said the other great thing that is happening for an employer wanting to keep local graduates in the Illawarra as well as attract people with great skills from all over the world, is the number of good festivals and events happening. As well as the ever evolving bar and restaurant scene that would be the envy of many much larger cities.
"If you want to attract someone who can work anywhere in the world you have got to have something that makes them want to live in your community and be part of the community," he said.
"Affordable housing is also a function of that. And infrastructure is a function of that".
Mr McQueen said when he moved to the United States in 2011 there was only one wine bar in Wollongong. Now there are dozens of small bars and eateries providing so many options and so much variety.
- Launched as AffinityLive in 2011, Accelo raised over $15 million in venture capital from investors in New York, San Francisco and Sydney.
- It has more than 100 staff globally with other US offices are located in San Francisco and Denver.
- Accelo not only hires University of Wollongong graduates it has lured experienced developers to Wollongong from Sydney, China, Germany, India, Norway, Scotland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine and Vietnam".
- The acceleration of local start-up Accelo is showcasing Wollongong's potential to become Australia's Silicon Beach
- How startups are helping drive Wollongong's employment future and creating globally significant local job opportunities for UOW graduates
- Tim Jones takes over from his father Geoff to be the third generation Jones to be managing director of MMJ