Who have been the nation’s most inspiring innovators of 2023? Analysing top-performing innovators is an eternally popular and relevant exercise for founders, innovators and entrepreneurs. The reason for this is simple: every founder wants to crack the code and discover the secret sauce behind their peers’ success. The end of the year is the perfect time for players in the Australian innovation ecosystem to chew over the past 12 months. And reflecting on the question of who Australia’s all-star innovators were in 2023 can be uplifting and spur on founders and entrepreneurs to ensure next year is even better.
Looking back on 2023
Spiralling interest rates, sky-high global inflation, dwindling investor appetites for funding start-ups and scale-ups, climate change that’s accelerating, wars in Europe and the Middle East and a pandemic that refuses to go away. These are just some of the trends and drivers that have made life challenging for businesses with innovation.
Artificial intelligence (AI) has long been identified as a megatrend that would shape the current decade. But its wild rise to prominence and dominance this year caught many founders, governments and regulators off guard. The frenzied popularity of AI has provided some welcome relief to counter the downturn in investor funding for start-ups. But it has meant that funders have been pouring money into AI at the expense of other innovations. Consequently, many founders have felt compelled to tack on AI to their innovation projects to attract equity funding, when this may not be the best choice for their ventures.
Inventive Aussies who inspire
Despite the challenging economic conditions at home and abroad, Australia ranked in the top quartile globally for innovation.  That means there was no shortage of exceptional Australian innovators this year. Indeed, there are too many for us to feature. So we’ve chosen to focus on three industry sectors that are not only booming but are also shaping our future in multiple ways instead:
- Wellbeing 
From these crucial and topical sectors, we’ve selected four founders. These inspiring innovators have already had an outsized influence in shaping their sectors and people’s lives around the world. And they’ve been hitting the headlines again this year. 2023 has been a big year for these founders, and we fully expect their influence to be felt far and wide, long into the future too.
Kayla Itsines and Tobi Pearce — Sweat
Kayla Itsines and Tobi Pearce are the co-founders of Sweat, the pioneering health and fitness app that’s designed by women for women. The SA-based business was founded in 2015 and was originally called the Bikini Body Guide after the workout ebook that Itsines and Pearce created to ensure Itsines’ clients could train with her wherever they were. Pearce soon turned the ebook into an app that became a global phenomenon and made its co-founders social media stars and multi-millionaires. Itsines and Pearce sold Sweat to the US-based iFIT Health & Fitness in 2021 in a $150 million US$ deal. But, in November 2023, the former business partners sensationally announced that they had bought their old company — reportedly for a bargain price. Itsines will continue as head trainer at Sweat, and Pearce will be a non-executive adviser at the company.
Itsines has often talked of her passion to empower women through fitness and support them on their health and fitness journey. And, it’s this driving force that seems to have been the catalyst for the business buyback, with the duo reaffirming their deep commitment to return Sweat to its roots and focus on serving its worldwide community of subscribers.
Pearce has credited fitness as the motivator that helped him turn his life around and escape homelessness and his troubled childhood. Converging his passion for exercise with a natural curiosity for business led him to launch Sweat with Itsines. But Pearce believes sustained success comes from maintaining good habits and routines.
Pearce and Itsines revolutionised the way women exercised in the 2010s. With technology driving an ever-expanding wellbeing sector this decade, we’re watching the return of Itsines and Pearce to Sweat with anticipation. It will be fascinating to see how they’ll continue shaping the fitness and wellbeing sector for years to come.
Dr Catriona Wallace — Flamingo AI
Dr Catriona Wallace founded Artificial Intelligence ASX-listed company Flamingo AI — the second only woman-led (CEO & Chair) business ever to list on the Australian Stock Exchange. Flamingo AI is the Australian software-as-a-service AI business behind the information-sharing product SmartHub that focuses on enhancing collaboration and customer experience.
Wallace exited the company in 2020, but not before she was recognised by the Australian Financial Review as the Most Influential Woman in Business & Entrepreneurship and by LinkedIn as a Top Voice in Technology.
Responsible Metaverse Alliance and the Gradient Institute
In 2022, Wallace launched the Responsible Metaverse Alliance, a social enterprise and international movement dedicated to supporting the development of the metaverse, and virtual worlds that also addresses potential safety and legal issues in the metaverse, including sexual harassment. She is also a Director at the Gradient Institute — an independent, nonprofit research institute that works to build safety, ethics, accountability and transparency into AI systems. Earlier this year in March, Wallace was appointed as a judge on Shark Tank Australia.
With AI as the megatrend of the year, if not the century, arguably 2023 has been Wallace’s year. The spotlight has shone on her dedicated efforts to ensure AI is developed ethically, so that its benefits are maximised, and potential harms.
Wallace is a human rights activist, passionate about standing her ground on issues. She encourages other entrepreneurs to succeed by holding true to their values, embracing innovation and learning from mistakes.
Tegan Lock — Loam Bio
Tegan Lock, a co-founder of Loam Bio, is a farmer-turned-founder who has created a carbon-sequestering innovation. Loam Bio’s technology helps plants take CO2 from the atmosphere, transforming it into the most stable forms of soil carbon and turning the world’s croplands into giant carbon sinks. As well as carbon capture to tackle climate change, Loam Bio’s innovative product also tackles food security by boosting crop yields.
Loam Bio started life as a not-for-profit a decade ago, but in order to scale it up, Lock and her co-founders transitioned the business into a for-profit model in 2019. Since then, Loam has gone on to secure millions of investment dollars from Silicon Valley’s tech and climate-conscious billionaires. In February this year, the company made global headlines after reeling in a $105 million Series B raise, which featured investment from Grok Ventures, founded by billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes to back businesses developing carbonisation technologies.
2023 has been a big year for Lock and Loam Bio. It marks the year when her start-up attracted significant Australian investment and seriously began to scale up. The ratcheting up of financial support is propelling Lock towards her mission of saving the planet and supporting food security and farming livelihoods. When it comes to success, Lock’s advice to other founders and entrepreneurs is simple: back yourself because you have more knowledge and capability than you think. But don’t underestimate how difficult being a founder or entrepreneur is.
If these impressive Aussie entrepreneurs have inspired you, there are even more uplifting examples of Australian innovators who have kicked some serious goals this year. Check out the winners of the 2023 GENE Awards, the Deloitte Tech Fast 50 2023 or the 2023 InnovationAus for Excellence. The festive break and summer holidays are a great time to relax and reflect on your own business. What would you change or do differently next year? And, what does 2024 hold for your start-up, scale-up or innovation business? Remember, if you need flexible, non-dilutionary capital to get your ideas up and running, reach out to our expert R&D finance team.
 https://www.wipo.int/portal/en/index.html. (2023). Global Innovation Index 2023. [online] Available at: https://www.wipo.int/edocs/pubdocs/en/wipo-pub-2000-2023/au.pdf
 Mckinsey & Company (2023). The wellness industry: Trends and predictions | The Next Normal | McKinsey & Company. [online] www.mckinsey.com. Available at: https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/the-next-normal/wellness.
 BAZAAR, H. (2021). Kayla Itsines Turned Her Passion Into a Profitable Business. [online] Harper’s Bazaar Australia. Available at: https://harpersbazaar.com.au/australiass-leading-fitness-trainer-kayla-itsines/.
 The CEO Magazine. (n.d.). Tobi Pearce reveals how he built the Sweat empire from his couch. [online] Available at: https://www.theceomagazine.com/events/sweat-tobi-pearce/
 Qantas.com. (2023). How Dr Catriona Wallace Is Pushing Australia in the Right Direction. [online] Available at: https://www.qantas.com/travelinsider/en/lifestyle/people/catriona-wallace-career-path.html
 www.linkedin.com. (n.d.). Farmer to founder: this Aussie entrepreneur is tackling climate change with billionaire backers. [online] Available at: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/farmer-founder-aussie-entrepreneur-tackling-climate-iakaf?trk=organization_guest_main-feed-card_feed-article-content