When we think about technology entrepreneurs we’re often thinking of the Silicon Valley staples in turtlenecks and sweatpants, sitting in ergonomic chairs, riding around on company branded bicycles and eating a free, healthy lunch.
But while it might be the norm in the USA, back here in Australia we’re fine with getting our work done without the bells and whistles. Today, there are a number entrepreneur centres emerging across regional areas. And passionate people in those communities are dedicated to working towards creating an innovative start-up culture far away from the big city lights and turtlenecks, and prefer to do it all from the comforts of their regional areas.
We spoke with entrepreneur Dianna Somerville who is an integral part of the Wagga Wagga start-up scene. Dianna, as she describes herself, is a lady who left her country town home and went away to join the Australian Navy. For a number of years she worked on warships but eventually moved back home and “became a farmer’s wife”.
“The lack of ocean meant I had to find my new professional identity, like so many people moving back to the land,” she said.
With a background in contracts, defence management and operation services she began to notice there was a huge gap in people’s abilities to put documentation together. Especially in regional areas, where people had incredible abilities in their roles, but found applying for tenders, grants and contracts confusing and overwhelming. That’s how she started Regional Grants, Tenders and Corporate Services. Bored of working from her farm’s remote home office she became the first client of Working Spaces HQ, a co-working space opened and run by a local entrepreneur Simone Eyles.
Working in the co-shared space has opened Dianna’s eyes to how innovative people in Wagga are. Her passion has made her determined to make the area a regional hub that fosters the growth of local entrepreneurs who will build solutions to both regional, national and global problems.
Innovative start-ups coming out of Wagga
New ideas come up all the time, but some of the well-known start-ups to emerge from Wagga are:
Agtribe: It is a platform for farmers to advertise machinery for hire, which otherwise might be sitting idle in the shed or paddock. The idea sprung from a Wagga farmer who needed a piece of equipment but couldn't justify the cost to purchase it when he only needed it at certain times of the year.
Borrow my closet: Is Wagga’s first designer rental service. BMC allows people to rent one of the available, stylish designer dresses for special occasions. Dianna says it grew to prominence purely through Facebook and Instagram.
VA client solutions: Was started by Vicky Tooze in 2012. As a carer, she understood the difficulty of fitting in paid work around caring responsibilities. Her business helps other carers to get paid work that they can do at home. As she says it's also about the carers feeling valued. Her virtual assistance business helps other business with remote tasks such as reception, administration, bookkeeping, presentations, social media marketing and various other tasks.
365cups: Run by coworking space owner Simone Eyles this start-up tech app that allows customers to order coffee from their phones. It’s a win for both customers and businesses - businesses that sign up have one more way of being discovered and they can get their orders together quicker. And of course, customers walk away with a hot cup of Joe without waiting in line. The product works for chains or independent shops in any area that has an internet connection.
Fostering the growth of entrepreneurs in regional areas
Together Dianna and Simone are working on various initiatives to foster the growth of regional entrepreneurs. They want to show the young people in their town and surrounding areas that they do not have to leave their homes to be part of the start-up scene. Dianna says the roll out of the NBN has helped to make it easier, and slowly people are beginning to recognise they can grow their businesses from a regional area.
“The skill set of regional entrepreneurs is untapped. Sure, we’re moving to a lot of tech based solutions and the youth coming through are probably not going to drive a tractor like their mothers and fathers, but they'll be happy to build a robotic platform solution to drive the tractor for them,” Dianna says.
She’s personally involved in three initiatives to support the growth of regional entrepreneurs.
- 35 Degrees
Is an incubator both Simone and Dianna are working on. Simone has been offering advice and mentorship in the co-working space for sometime and both her and Dianna saw it as an opportunity. People in regional areas need guidance and mentorship to help turn their ideas into a reality. The incubator will be modelled similar to the ones running in capital cities around the country and will bring in a number of experts to help entrepreneurs make sense of the business world. The incubator is set for launch in June 2016.
- Agrihack (RGTC Group Initiative)
Primary school students from remote and rural areas surrounding Wagga will be invited to this special 3-day event at CSU 16 - 18 September. Dianna says this event is all about planting the seed to show children that there’s much more involved in agriculture than just driving tractors. On the first day students will tour the university’s agricultural section and then and will learn some basic lines of code. The following two days will be an open invitation to anyone who wants to join - there will be a dual technology and social hackathon. Groups including university students, local farmers and anyone else who wants to be involved will be formed. They will be given two regional challenges (tech and social) and will workshop to find ways to solve the problem.
Dianna says if the hackathon proves beneficial she will take it on the road because she wants to help bridge the gap between governments and farmers working in their own silos. “Its these kind of opportunities that provide collisions and open up collaboration between people,” she says. “Working together is what solves problems, not working in silos. And working with different skill sets, and different age groups helps people to see opportunities, roadblocks and solutions they perhaps didn’t see before.”
- Beyond Bank Regional Pitchfest (RGTC Group Initiative)
To be held at the Wagga Wagga Civic Theatre, The Beyond Bank Regional Pitchfest is basically Shark Tank in the bush, according to Dianna. A panel of four global, national and regional business leaders will judge the ideas pitched at the event. There’s a $5,000 cash prize up for grab and a spot at the first 35 Degree incubator program.
“It’s about providing an education piece for our community - you can come down, see contestants pitch their ideas and people might start thinking maybe I should do something with my great idea” Dianna says.
Regional entrepreneurship is growing in Australia, and with the internet and technology opening up access to information that was never as easily available before, it’s easy to see why. As Dianna says, “watch this space”.
The Department of Industry's purpose is to lead the NSW Government's contribution to making the State a fertile place for business growth, in order to create jobs and opportunities for citizens. Dianna Somerville was asked by the Department of Industry to be involved with the Women In Business Entrepreneurship Roundtables which began in December 2015.