San Francisco calling: Victorian software giant sells for $US1.6 billion

Launched just a decade back, local software company Aconex sold recently for $US1.6 billion. We chart its rise.

To show how the Victorian Government can help local businesses expand internationally, consider the meteoric rise of construction and engineering cloud software giant, Aconex.

Established in Victoria 10 years ago, its plans to crack the lucrative US market were given a boost by the Victorian Government’s Access Program. The initiative is still going strong, offering access to facilities, export-related assistance and in-country expertise to Victorian companies entering overseas markets.

In Aconex’s case, the government provided a host desk at its San Francisco-based Victorian Government Trade and Investment office (VGTI). It also offered networking opportunities and support to help Aconex establish its first US office in San Bruno, California.

Success swiftly followed, and Aconex is now one of Victoria’s leading global tech companies, with more than 850 employees worldwide and a customer base of 70,000 user organisations in 70 countries.

Brian Carnahan potrait shot"Our initial discussions with Aconex were about the US business climate," recalls Brian Carnahan, the Victorian Government’s San Francisco-based US Trade Director.

"We referred Aconex to opportunities created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act," he said.

The 2009 Act is an economic stimulus bill, funding projects to help the US recover from the global financial crisis.

"The VGTI also hosted an event for global representatives of Aconex to meet the US business community," Brian continues. "This expanded their network and reach in the Americas. Aconex then leveraged the support to help develop its presence in market to identify and secure projects."

And secure projects it did. In a big way. In 2010, Aconex won a contract to provide the overall technology solution for the $US3.2 billion Panama Canal Expansion, which was designed to double the canal’s vessel capacity. Aconex’s solution managed information and processes that helped create a new Pacific Access Channel, and improvements to channel navigation and water supply.

When Aconex sold to San Francisco-based Oracle Corp for $US1.6 billion in December 2017, Brian says the success of the firm was "not a surprise". "Even in the beginning," he says, ‘the dedication and diligence of the founders and employees working toward building a successful company was evident, and that’s a solid foundation for companies growing successfully in the Americas."

Michael Kapel, Commissioner for Victoria to the Americas, concurs, noting that Aconex’s success highlights the value the international network can bring to small Victorian companies looking to expand globally.

"It also shows the critical importance during early days of expansion of getting good advice, how success in global markets takes many years of perseverance and application and how government support can be very helpful," he adds.

"Of course, we’re not responsible for their subsequent success, that’s down to them. However, the VGTI played an important role in helping them successfully establish in the Americas."

Since the initial Victorian Government support, Aconex has gone truly global. It now has 13 offices in the US, Canada and Latin America, plus some 30 offices internationally.

Does Brian have any parting advice for Victorian businesses with international expansion in their sights? "Properly prepare before entering the market – spend time developing a business plan that allows for the expense and time required to compete successfully," he says.

"Search out experts and mentors to evaluate approaches, ask questions and be open to pivoting as opportunities arise. And stick to focusing intently on a primary market – don’t spread time and investments too broadly in search of every opportunity too soon in the process."

International expansion: how we can help

Are you looking to grow your business by expanding offshore? Then get in touch with one of our Trade Victoria team located in Melbourne and Regional Offices across the State or one of our 22 Victorian Government Trade and Investment offices around the globe.

Victorian Government Trade and Investment international office staff in market can help with:

  • market intelligence
  • strategies for market entry
  • cultural training
  • introductions and networking to in-market experts
  • logistical support, and
  • product and service evaluation.