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Sunshine Coast Innovation Centre shows off innovative local food and lifestyle startups

Queensland foodies, innovators and researchers gathered last week at the Sunshine Coast Innovation Centre for a showcase of local food and wellness companies looking to scale globally.

USC Deputy Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation, Roland DeMarco, opened the event with a challenge.

“I’m frustrated that Australia is usually bottom or second bottom of the ladder for innovation. We’ve got to turn this around and it’s entrepreneurship exercises like this that are critical to that.”

Jacqui Wilson-Smith, Head of Innovation at Gourmet Garden – a Queensland success story whose parent company sold to U.S. conglomerate McCormick & Company in April this year for $150 million – followed with her message, “innovation is not just for startups”.

“A few years ago, our herbs-in-a-tube business had a respectable 10 percent market penetration in Australia. But customers both loved and hated our squeeze tube packaging. So we set upon a journey to disrupt our own product.”

The result? In 2014, after many hours of customer consultation and design thinking, plus various packaging iterations, Gourmet Garden launched a Lightly Dried Herb range in resealable pouches, which has doubled the company’s overall business revenue.

The eight companies showcased

The gong for the most entertaining presentation of the day went to Russell Gibbons from Huds and Toke. He grabbed the audience’s attention early by introducing himself as the “Heston Blumenthal for dog and horse treats” and even ate his product on stage.

Gibbons proceeded to hold our attention with his story of how his company – already the recipient of a few business awards – has just emerged from a 6-12 month process of “tears and reinvention” to re-engineer their own product. With their product’s new ability to stay fresh during long transit, this Queensland Company has big plans to put a dent in the $190 million Australian pet treat market and the $400 million Japanese market, before expanding to the lucrative, billion-dollar global market.

An unexpected theme of the day was how adversity can prompt the creation of companies.

Twin brothers, Chris and Richard, developed their clip-together crockery product WandsPro when Richard had a near-death experience with thirteen tiger sharks and they decided “we’d better invent something before it’s too late!”

Former stockbroker, Chanelle Louise, started her company after her partner suffered a traumatic brain injury and was told he could no longer drink alcohol. Chanelle’s product Cilk was a drinkable beauty supplement, which has already been featured in Vogue and on MasterChef regular Shannon Bennett’s menu at Melbourne restaurant, Vue de monde.

Ex-park ranger Kelly Briese created Briese Botanicals – a natural anti-ageing skincare product based on Australian native plant extracts, after she suffered a serious electrical accident a few years ago and struggled to find products for her newly sensitive skin.

The remaining four companies were a hit after providing the audience with free samples. But these treats were all created for humans.

SpareHarvest – An online marketplace for growers and foodies, who want to “share locally, but connect globally”. Founder Helen Andrews explained that if we didn’t share our excess produce, 52 percent of it turns into methane. So, “in addition to the social benefit of meeting our neighbours and sharing our food, there’s an important environmental benefit” in the concept.

CrazyFresh – Healthy, delicious and affordable meals, ordered online then delivered right to your door. Barely three months old, this company has already secured an impressive, online customer base – plus a contract with the Mater Private Hospital in Brisbane.

SunLife – Michael Buckley, a software-developer-turned-superfoods-innovator, espoused grand plans for his soon to be launched, freeze dried products. His modern manufacturing facility not only freeze dries the goodness in fresh fruits and vegetables, but acts as “a showroom for SunLife’s products, equipment and innovation”.

Hive Haven – The winner of multiple business awards and who for the last three years, has been developing and trialling their hive assembly technology to provide sustainable solutions to everyday apiary problems such as temperature control, small hive beetle infestation and spore-based disease.

Whilst most of the showcased companies were early stage, the Innovation Centre’s CEO Mark Paddenburg reminded us that the companies were not to be underestimated.

“One only has to look at our local food and wellness alumni, such as NewNRG, who now have offices in Singapore and San Francisco, Food Matters, now a multimillion dollar e-commerce giant, and Victus Health to know that big things can come out of the Sunshine Coast.”


About Andrea Martins

Andrea Martins is a startup founder, writer and passionate participant in the Sunshine Coast and Brisbane startup ecosystems. Say hi to her on Twitter at @andreaexpat