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Startup hubs set for Mackay, Rockhampton and Ipswich
Startup hubs set for Mackay, Rockhampton and Ipswich

Startup hubs set for Mackay, Rockhampton and Ipswich

2016 is shaping up to a be a hell of a year for Queensland entrepreneurs. With a new innovation hub planned for Brisbane City, a slew of new initiatives from Advance Queensland, and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s billion-dollar innovation scheme, it looks like we’re getting something new and shiny from every level of government.

The “ideas boom” has also extended to regional Queensland, which, from Cairns to Toowoomba, saw an overall growth in infrastructure and events last year. We can now expect three more startup hubs across the state, with plans for co-working spaces in Mackay, Rockhampton and Ipswich.

While the hubs are all at varying levels of completion, they demonstrate that startup groups are successfully emerging from smaller communities and startup infrastructure is being taken seriously by local governments. Check out information on the spaces below.

Mackay’s “Split Spaces”

Following last year’s inaugural Startup Weekend Mackay, the east-Queensland city’s startup community has rallied and formed their first co-working space, Split Spaces.

While Mackay has a relatively small startup community, Split Spaces Founder and Managing Director Jarryd Townson hopes a combination of strategies will bring out the region’s hidden entrepreneurs. He intends to work with members of local groups Startup Mackay and Young Professionals, and offer a range of collaboration methods such as virtual community memberships, social events, mentoring, and workshops.

“There’s probably a lot more closet entrepreneurs, people [that] that don’t really know who’s in the tech space and those sorts of things,” Townson said. “People don’t really understand the concept, and they don’t really have a support network and don’t really understand who’s out there, who’s around, who can assist, who can get involved, those sort of things.

“So we’re going to try to bring all that to the forefront and make it normal,” he said. “Being a regional town, it’s always these types of things that get hidden, or that happen in little pockets within the region, and nobody really knows what other people are doing.”

The hub has received support from local government and companies, such as Business in Bare FeetWoollum ConstructionFox & Buoy Marketing, and Minds Aligned, and members have networked with some of Australia’s established startup hubs as part of their validation process.

The team are in the final days of picking a permanent location, but have already organised their first two events: last night’s meetup “Life After Startup Weekend,” and a “Goal Setting Master Class” with Nick Bennett from Minds Aligned, a 5-hour class planned for February 6th that’s to be followed by a report back session in April

Rockhampton’s “Smart Hub”

On December 8th 2015, the Rockhampton Regional Council (RRC) adopted the Smart Regional Centre Strategy,” a proposal for economic, technological, environmental and societal infrastructure that comes on the back of stakeholder and community surveys.  

Key to the strategy is plans for a “one-stop-shop” Smart Hub along Rockhampton’s riverfront, which, among other things, would offer free or little cost spaces and opportunities for co-working, education courses, funding, mentoring and telecommuting.

The Smart Regional Centre Strategy ("Rockhampton Region: The Smart Way Forward") is expected to directly create at least 288 full time jobs, including 95 direct jobs and 193 flow-on jobs. Strategy courtesy of RRC.

The Smart Regional Centre Strategy (“Rockhampton Region: The Smart Way Forward”) is expected to directly create at least 288 full time jobs, including 95 direct jobs and 193 flow-on jobs. Strategy courtesy of RRC.

“We’re wanting to provide a place where we can have those startup groups, and we can provide a space for them at no or very little cost, mostly no cost at this stage, for them to work on those ideas,” RRC’s Manager of Corporate and Technology Drew Stevenson said.  “And be able to develop from there, in however long that it takes, that they transfer that particular innovation, that new company, and roll that into a business area in our CBD. And those people maybe even be the mentors.”

Arguably more promising, however, are the council’s plans to facilitate collaboration with peak industry bodies (such as Queensland Resources CouncilAgForce and GrowCon), CQUniversity, local employers (such as Aurizon, schools, Teys BrothersJMKelly) and others “to provide a stream of business problems to the hub for the participants to solve”.

The proposal also lists plans to eventually “establish a mechanism to trial a number of solutions arising from the Smart Hub per year,” which would give the hub a targeted, practical component.

Stevenson said there is plenty of enthusiasm within the Capricorn region for the Smart Hub, and has been in talks about Rockhampton joining Queensland’s Global Startup WeekendIn developing the space, he also plans to work with the Capricorn ICT Network, the Livingstone Shire Council, which is reportedly developing a similar initiative, and Rockhampton expats such as serial entrepreneur and Megaport founder Bevan Slattery.

Rockhampton's multifaceted strategy also focuses on connectivity, community engagement, education, transport and artwork, (click to embiggen). Infographic courtesy of RRC.

The Smart Regional Centre Strategy also focuses on connectivity, community engagement, education, transport and artwork (click to embiggen).

Unlike Split Spaces, Rockhampton’s Smart Hub is still very much in the planning stage, and while the strategy has been approved, the funding, infrastructure and location are still being drafted.

“Us being a council, you’ve got to get council approval for doing these things,” Stevenson said. “I presented it at a workshop, it’s been accepted as an initiative, and I was told to then go away and design up what it would look like, and then get a costing business case made for it.”

“What I want to do is then have it ready to go for the next round of the Building our Region fund,” he said, referring to the state government’s $200 million targeted infrastructure program for local government projects. “That funding application is open in early financial year of 2016, after July 2016, so that’s what I’m aiming towards at the moment.”

Ipswich’s “Fire Station 101”

While Mackay and Rockhampton are relatively new additions to Queensland’s startup ecosystem, Ipswich already has an internationally-recognised reputation as a “smart city”.

In January 2015, it became the first Australian city to be listed in the World Top 7 Intelligent Community by New York’s Intelligent Communities Forum, as a result of its targeted InfoCity Plan, accelerated broadband rollout, Digital Enterprise program, and plans for the Digital Hub Fire Station 101.

Australia’s first fully city-funded hub will be based in Ipswich’s former fire station headquarters at 101 Limestone Street, where renovations have been underway since November 2015. And while Fire Station 101 is still in development, they officially ran their first Pitch Night at a temporary location in December.

Mayor Paul Pisasale said the competition helped to identify the hub’s first startup projects, and thanked supporters from River City LabsiLabArowana CapitalAcacia Law and Presence.

“Anne-Marie Walton’s first place pitch, Express to Fun, came complete with a working prototype for a mobile app that has great potential for parents and children,” Pisasale said, referring to the winning app that could help parents create educational and interactive activities for their children. “Anne can now take advantage of a six-month membership to Fire Station 101 along with a pitch audit from Presence.”

Runners up included “Gaming Community,” a plan to develop a local community for gamers, software developers and designers, and “Makkit,” a subscription service developed by Brisbane’s own Anna Gerber that would deliver digital activity kits, with everything from robotics to electronics to crafts, to households.

A spokesperson from Ipswich City Council said more information about the hub will be released on February 25th, along with a new website. For now, you can find out more at their existing site.

Header image: Josh Hallett

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.