How The Australian constructed The List of 100 Innovators in Australia

• Tech editor David Swan talks about making his first magazine

The Australian has launched the inaugural edition of The List: 100 Innovators published in The Australian as a 112-page gloss large format magazine and on

The list celebrates and highlights the future-focused leaders, ingenuity and products that are set to make Australia an innovation nation, and covers categories such as energy, technology, finance, business, software, education, medicine, healthcare, agriculture, food, retail, sport and arts and design.

The list is curated and edited by technology editor David Swan who spoke to Mediaweek about the inaugural edition.

Swan said that the inspiration came from The List: Australia’s Richest 250, and conversations with key stakeholders.

“Myself and John Lehmann, who’s the managing editor of The Australian, and Edwina McCann who is the chief at Vogue Australia thought that the format would work incredibly well for featuring Australia’s top innovators.

“Particularly now at this moment in time, with a backdrop of the pandemic, a lot of Australian startups are now worth more than a billion dollars. A couple of years ago, there were only one or two, now there is over 20. And it feels like a real moment in time for innovation in Australia. So we thought now is an excellent time to do something like this.”

Nicole Liu, founder, Kin Fertility; Andrew Dowding, director, The Indigenous Mapping Workshop; and Danielle Lebon, Natasha Buttigieg and Avin Chadee, co-founders of Co-Lab Pantry.

When asked about the process of putting The List together, Swan said the process took about three to four months to complete.

“My deputy editor, Victoria Baker, is the editor of Vogue codes. And we spent about three or four months worth of research, in terms of unearthing some of the innovators in Australia who don’t normally get much attention.

“Some are household names, like Atlassian, or a Canva, where it’s pretty well known that they’re innovators, whereas we also really wanted to showcase some of the stories that haven’t been told.

“I tried to think of what sort of metrics we could use to rank each of them. But it quickly became clear, it’s not like Australia’s richest person, it’s a much harder thing to measure. We didn’t have a metric to rank one to 100. We just found the people who are doing really unique, innovative things and the stuff that people would want to learn about.”

To help finalise the list, Swan used an advisory panel that included:
Former Netflix CMO Jackie Lee-Joe
Engineers Australia chief engineer Jane MacMaster
Culture Amp CEO Didier Elzinga
ANU Chancellor Julie Bishop
Carlton Football Club president-elect Luke Sayers
Business leader David Gonski
Cicada Innovations CEO Sally-Ann Williams
Atlassian work futurist Dominic Price
UTS innovation advisor Roy Green
Hipages CEO Roby Sharon-Zipser

“We have 10 judges. And you know while we would have preferred to sit down in a room together. We’ve couldn’t during Covid obviously. But their input makes this list quite definitive. If it was just me and Victoria coming up with it, it is subjective but having them pass their eyes over it and giving their input too helps make it more definitive,” said Swan.

Swan said that on top of creating the list, the other challenge was putting a magazine together, but he had help from the Vogue team.

“It is a huge learning curve. I haven’t done a magazine since the student newspaper back in university a decade ago. Working with the Vogue team has been a huge learning curve for me with whole new systems and ways of doing things but it is incredibly rewarding too and I am looking forward to doing more in the magazine space as well.”

Some of the innovations on the list include insects that turn food waste into animal feed, geospatial tools for visualising Indigenous history, AI software to help select viable embryos for IVF. When asked what they were looking for and what disqualified people from the list, Swan said they were looking for the unique.

“I think that there are a lot of copycat ideas around. We’ve included AfterPay, but not sort of the ones that came later. We are also disqualifying things that are a few decades old. You could still be doing something innovative, but we wanted to highlight the fresh sort of underdog companies who were the new kids on the block more than some banks who call themselves innovative.

“I think once you’re 100 years old, you are not qualified to be on our list. And a certain size too, I think when you have 1000s of employees you inherently can’t be as nimble or as innovative as a smaller startup.”

When asked about the future of this project, Swan said this is just the beginning with lots more planned moving forward.

“It’s really setting up a franchise that will last for years to come and hopefully become a default place where people can read and learn about the most interesting things in this country.

“It’s going to have an evergreen online presence. I’m going to set up a LinkedIn group where people can share what they’re doing and connect. And there’ll be a physical launch event whenever lockdown ends as well.

“It’s been a tonne of work and we will be able to build on it every year and have it become bigger and bigger. It’s going to be a huge part of my workload going forward.”

Covering technology during the media bargaining code

While Swan is known for covering technology, he was also front and centre in the media sector this year due in large part to his coverage of the media bargaining code that saw Google and Facebook negotiating financial deals with Australian publishers.

Swan said that it was an intense topic to cover but it ended with a good result for all parties involved.

“I received some very pointed emails. I had to try to remove myself from the saga. I was just trying to report how the deals were being done. I’ve learned that the YouTube community is probably one of the most vocal and pointed communities out there. We are yet to reap the rewards but as an initiator, it felt like a really pivotal moment in terms of millions of dollars, and that is not an insignificant thing.”

Swan also said he thinks we are just at the start of the story in regards to governments and the tech giants, and he is enjoying being at the coal face of it.

“We are just at day one in terms of regulating the tech giants. I think there’s a huge appetite in Australia, and particularly the US and Europe as well to bring the likes of Facebook and Google to heel. I think the ACCC’s news bargaining code was a really positive example of how to do that proactively and get what ultimately can be described as a win-win for all sides, including consumers and buyers. I’d like to see that sort of replicated elsewhere. I’m looking forward to having a front seat for Australia. And the US in particular.”

KPMG is the launch partner of The List: 100 Innovators 2021.
The issue is also supported by key advertisers including Audi and Tiffany & Co.

The List: 100 Innovators 2021 magazine is available August 20 in The Australian and online at

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