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Inaugural Tablelands startup event breaks rural barriers

Continuing the state’s recent increase in regional events, the Tablelands’ first Startup Weekend concluded last Sunday and, despite geographic challenges, produced a variety of rural startup ideas.

Held at the Destiny Cafe in Atheron, Startup Weekend Tablelands ran the typical lean startup gamut from May 1st to 3rd, but focused on concepts grounded in regional issues.

They ranged from social networks to farming hardware, and the winning team, Fresh2U, created an idea rooted in both agriculture and sustainability: an online marketplace for distributing bulk fresh, but non-standard, produce that would otherwise go to waste.

The event faced unique geographical and marketing challenges, in that while the Tablelands is the size of Tasmania it has a population of just 45,000. This made their Startup Weekend the event with the largest land mass but the smallest potential market.

Steve Baxter introduced last weekend's event via Skype. Photo: George Corea

“Owning a bunch of small businesses can be like having a bunch of stubbed toes” – Steve Baxter, introducing Startup Weekend Tablelands via Skype. Photos: George Corea

In a prize-winning rundown of the Tablelands startup ecosystem, coordinator and ShareStuff founder George Corea explained the challenges of drawing attention to the market and capitalising on the “Rural Innovation” theme:

Rural Australia easily attracts investment only when we have a mine or a gas well in the back paddock. For those of us blessed not to have such blots on our unique rainforested landscape with its host of weird flora and fauna, we want investment in rural innovation whether that innovation sits in agriculture, tourism social enterprise, business models, leadership, service provision, technology, health and wellbeing, products unique to our area or consumer goods.

Other challenges included a lack of technical expertise amongst participants, who had an average age of 43 and, according to Corea, were likely to have been the oldest in Startup Weekend history.

But the event successfully produced 55 attendees, and even attracted one Mackay-based participant who travelled roughly 1000km to be there. Other strong ideas ranged from protective clothing for reducing back injuries on banana farms (Exo-Vest) to an interest-based social network (Tee-Up) to collaborative art spaces (Art-Pimps).

And while the number of teams who will continue working post-event remains to be seen, the creation of a private Facebook group for attendees demonstrates there’s some interest in keeping that particular ball rolling.

Additionally, Startup Tablelands are now running co-working events every Thursday, and (based on the success of Corea’s story), organisers have been selected for Madrid’s UP Global conference event in October.

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.