From Rocky to rich list, tech innovator reveals career detours, and why regional Australia is good for start-up spirit
Ever seen one of those “Australia’s richest people” lists and wondered what it takes to get a spot?
For Bevan Slattery, it started with series of dramatic career detours, from aspiring accountant to DJ at Rockhampton’s Flamingos Nightclub, to local government clerk and finally IT whiz.
Then, he dropped out of uni with just one subject to go.
Now one of Australia’s most successful tech entrepreneurs, the Rockhampton-raised businessman did eventually get his Bachelor of Business from CQUniversity in 2014 – just 25 years after he started his studies.
In the interim, Mr Slattery founded a series of massive digital communications companies, including iSeek, PIPE Networks, NEXTDC, and Megaport.
Recently named CQUniversity’s Outstanding Alumnus of the Year for 2023, the founder of five ASX-listed companies, and CEO of tech and environment launchpad Soda Group, still credits his business smarts to his CQUniversity studies.
“These days I’m dealing with investors, auditors, bankers, capital raises probably close to half a billion dollars over the past 10, 15 years… and the financial knowledge that I have was exactly what I learned at CQU,” he told CQU’s How to Change a Life podcast.
While he’s built plenty of experience since, Mr Slattery said getting started as an entrepreneur in 1998 was down to “naïve confidence” and the support of his mates.
“I co-founded iSeek with a fellow Rocky friend, another CQU guy, Jason Gomersall. I was on the technical side, and Jason had great business acumen… and we saw the massive demand for mobile phones at the time, and we applied that to the internet,” he explained.
The duo sold the cloud, data centre and connectivity provider to a US firm for $25 million in 2000, before Mr Slattery founded PIPE Networks with another school friend and CQU alumnus Steve Baxter.
“My first two businesses, it was Rocky and CQU all the way!” he said.
And as PIPE Networks grew, he realised the importance of the regional can-do attitude to the business.
“It was very simple days - on Fridays we’d get a carton of beer, get a bin (a clean bin!) and throw some ice in it, and sit around having beers with our seven or eight staff,” he said.
“I remember one of those Fridays, we started talking, and realised every person there came from regional Queensland!
“There seemed to be a much more go-getter attitude, believing you can do things and thinking out of the box as well.
“In Rocky, you had to make your own fun, you rode your bike, you copied games! So that was a big contributing factor… it did help from just saying, ‘let’s give it a go’.”
Now he’s helping empower the next generation of entrepreneurs, through the venture arm of Soda Group.
“For us, it’s a bit of a personal ambition to see more people in science and STEM,” he said.
“We made the decision to back Australian companies with a global vision - companies with a lot of tech, a lot of R and D (research and development), and with a global application.
“It’s really important we get the deep sciences and deep tech supported, and not be afraid to send people to the best places where they can develop those skills… then also bring those skills back to Australia.”
Mr Slattery will be back in Rockhampton in December 2023 to receive his Outstanding Alumnus of the Year Award, at CQU’s Rockhampton graduation.
And he says seeing the graduates cross the stage will be a highlight.
“It’s a big chunk of young kids, and of course people graduating at all ages, but I see that optimism and the naivety that I had, in their eyes,” he said.
“It’s the absolute romance that they’re at the start of their journey - I walk away and think, there’s such an amazing life ahead of them.”
Listen to Bevan Slattery on How to Change a Life here.