As Australia’s startup landscape has grown over the last few years, it has usually been big city startups that have won plaudits and name drops from politicians, with much of the time since the launch of the National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA) last December spent discussing the creation of inner city tech hubs and whether it’s Sydney or Melbourne that will dominate and grow to rival Silicon Valley.
However, with the dismal performance of its $28 million ‘ideas boom’ advertising campaign behind it, the Government seems to be learning its lessons, over the last few months looking to open the conversation to businesses beyond the stereotypical tech sphere and outside the cities.
In an address to the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Canberra this week, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull set his sights on the Riverina, praising the city of Wagga Wagga for setting a target of creating 100 startups by 2020 and local entrepreneur Simone Eyles for her work in boosting the local startup sector.
Calling on businesses large and small to play a part in “building a robust culture of entrepreneurship”, Turnbull said he was frequently reminded by local member and Minister for Small Business, Michael McCormack, that his electorate was leading the way thanks to its 2020 target.
“This is an idea driven by local entrepreneur, Simone Eyles. Simone’s 365Cups coffee app is a favourite of Michael’s, he tells me, because it enables him to order a coffee ahead of his arrival into town when he is travelling around the electorate. And, as he notes, when you’re covering an electorate the size of Switzerland, caffeine can be your best friend. But Simone has not been content with running a highly successful business with $7 million in revenue,” Turnbull said.
“Now Simone in Wagga has unearthed startups ranging from health and fitness and photography, to agricultural and food technology. We want all Australians right around the country to have the opportunity to do that.”
While government has a role to play in creating opportunities, whether it be through the National Innovation and Science Agenda or a recent agreement between the City of Sydney and City of Wagga Wagga councils to share knowledge around tech startups, it has largely been regional entrepreneurs who have pushed their local communities forward when the government support was not yet there.
As well as Working Spaces HQ, Eyles cofounded incubator program Incubate @ 35 degrees with Dianna Somerville to help give local entrepreneurs structured support.
An ambassador of Silicon Paddock with Eyles, Somerville too has taken her work national, launching the Regional Pitchfest series; after launching in Wagga Wagga earlier this year, the event will later this month showcase the best Bendigo has to offer, with further events to be announced in regional centres around Australia.
Such examples can be found across the country: for example, working in Byron Bay, Dr Dan Swan launched coworking hub StartInno and later online program StartupAcademy to help share knowledge around startup methodologies and ecosystems in regional areas.
While the development of tech businesses is crucial, in his address Turnbull also urged regional businesses to take advantage of Free Trade Agreements Australia has signed with countries across Asia, including China, Japan, and Korea.
Though elements of these deals have been controversial, Turnbull said when it comes to produce in particular Australia can benefit greatly from exposure to Asia.
“There are descriptions made in China that Tasmania can be the delicatessen of China; well not even Tasmania is big enough to be the delicatessen of China, but nonetheless the opportunities are enormous,” he said.