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Startup roadshow turns spotlight to smaller Queensland regions

ilab’s Regional Startup Roadshow is currently making the rounds with some of Queensland’s least-represented startup communities.

Unlike Queensland’s recent slew of Startup Weekends, the roadshow is looking to attract members from smaller regional cities. Seminars began Monday in Mackay, with a crowd of roughly forty people, continued in Rockhampton today, and will run tomorrow and Friday in Gladstone and Maryborough respectively.

Headed by ilab director Bernie Woodcroft and MTP Innovation Group’s Gary Morgan, the two-hour breakfast seminars are designed to connect early-stage entrepreneurs with local and statewide resources.

“In Mackay, Rocky and other centres, they’re not yet involved to the extent that say Townsville, Cairns and Toowoomba normally would be,” Woodcroft said. “This is really about just delving down into these communities to try and find out who’s doing what, who can come together and do what, and what’s happening on the ground that we can leverage.”

Woodcroft believed that Monday’s event, which was opened by Mackay’s Regional Council Mayor Deidre Cumerford, demonstrated enough interest to warrant more local initiatives. He also cited Mackay’s growing unemployment, which hit 10.3 per cent in January, and the declining mining sector as reasons for the city’s startup potential.

“[The turnout] was a reaction to the fact that Mackay is challenged by the swift reduction in incomes related to coal mining, and that means that the whole community is looking to adjust and do some different things,” Woodcroft said. “They’re looking at new opportunities and how to go about finding new opportunities.”

“To a degree, it’s more that this is being viewed as a good alternative or a necessary alternative than perhaps some of the more high income jobs that were more readily available going back a couple of years,” he said. “Necessity is proving the mother of invention.”

Woodcroft has been involved with a number of recent regional initiatives, and cited last Thursday’s Mentor Blaze, which ran 216 mentoring sessions in two hours across Brisbane, Cairns and Townsville, as an initiative that connected regional entrepreneurs with resources beyond their own communities.

Last Thursday's Mentor Blaze connected hundreds of budding entrepreneurs to mentors from around the state. Photo: ilab

Mentor Blaze demonstrated how easily regional entrepreneurs could connect with mentors. Photo: ilab

But while Cairns and Townsville both have developed ecosystems and some recent success stories, cities like Mackay have a relatively low startup profile. According to Woodcroft, the city has “a pretty shallow ecosystem, if you could even call it that,” and its entrepreneurs, like car-servicing platform Strictly Service’s Darren Cooke, have had to travel in-and-out of the region to grow their business.

Cooke attended Monday’s seminar and, while his history growing Strictly Service meant he was already familiar with the introductory information, he appreciated the focus on building networks and highlighting the opportunities, “that do lay dormant in these areas, [but] are just not harnessed.”

“It was very much something I already knew based on [my] journey, but in terms of what I did take from it, it connected me to those people in the community,” Cooke said. “To come together and collaborate, to actually stoke the fire essentially.”

“I’ve only ever had to look beyond the local region, due to the current mindset of people in these types of regions,” he said. “Not to say everybody, but generally speaking [people are] unaware that programs extend past their situations; everyone is really just trying to deal with their current situation, with what they’ve got, but have no idea what’s outside their box.”

Cooke would like to see more be done to reach out to people that are willing to engage and develop initiatives, such as connecting them with mentors.

“Because that’s the problem here, people have great ideas but don’t know where to turn or what the next step is, or, and it’s a hard journey don’t get me wrong, but how easy it is to take that one step.”

In terms of future initiatives, Woodcroft hopes to bring a Startup Weekend to the city in September, to coincide with Townsville’s event, and noted that ilab’s latest Germinate program, which specifically calls for regional applicants, has extended its deadline to May 10th in order to accommodate roadshow participants.

About Chris Woods

Chris Woods (@tophermwoods) is the Tech Street Journal's Editor-in-Chief. He lives in Brisbane, has worked in places like Sydney and New York (State of), and will someday update his media-news blog.