On the 29th of June, Australia’s largest inland non-capital city, Wagga Wagga in NSW, will play host to Regional PitchFest, the first ever competition specifically focused on rural-based tech entrepreneurs, supported by headline sponsor Beyond Bank.
Six country-founded tech startups will take to the stage to pitch for up to $10,000 in prizes. Aside from Wagga representing at the event, there is sure to be a tiny undercurrent of rivalry akin to the area’s inter-town annual footy competitions, with founders from towns like Deniliquin, Junee, Cootamundra, Henty and Albury pitching for the top prize as well.
“From high school kids to retirees, not for profits to existing businesses, the range and diversity [of entrants] was truly amazing,” said Dianna Somerville, organiser of the event.
Somerville is also the funder of RGTC (Regional Grants, Tenders and Corporate Services), a local company set up to help startup companies take advantage of regional grants, collaborate on projects within the tech community, and connect them to sales opportunities via activities like uncovering tenders that could be suitable for scaling startups to send a proposal through for.
“The event is aims to give the finalists the chance to take an important step in commercialising their idea, [as well as] inspire others to do something with their ideas. As we know, an idea is great, but it is not worth anything if you do nothing with it,” Somerville said.
It should be noted that this isn’t regional Australia’s first foray into tech entrepreneurship outside of the main cities. In fact, once-off examples of the fast-growth experienced by tech companies like Townsville-based SafetyCulture, and Cooma’s shopping platform for women, Birdsnest are now becoming commonplace conversation among the business communities in regional Australia.
Wagga, for example, recently launched Working Spaces HQ, a coworking space that is similarly structured to Fishburners in Sydney or Melbourne’s York Butter Factory. It has Simone Eyles, cofounder of one of Wagga’s most well-known startup companies, 365Cups, a platform that changes the way people and businesses order ahead for things they need, on board as an anchor tenant / founder.
Still based in Wagga, 365Cups has been able to expand rapidly, servicing customers right around Australia and throughout New Zealand, all before the NBN was ever in play.
In fact, a quick scan across the service of the regional local business ecosystem in Wagga reveals that it and other regional centres represent the perfect environment to raise a startup company in. All the eight elements identified in the 2015 Crossroads Report by StartupAUS are present to at least some degree in the community. Perhaps this is why Wagga Wagga and other regional communities like Albury / Wodonga, Byron Bay, Deniliquin and others have a friendly wager happening that their town will be the first to reach 100 regionally-based tech startups.
And looking at the most recent Startup Daily Insights data from this week, that milestone is going to take a lot less time than what the general public, government and city startup communities may think.
The industries these startups are launching into are not just FoodTech or AgriTech; in fact, there is quite a bit of diversity, with areas such as Media, Marketplaces and Big Data also being explored. This has seen startups like WaggaWagga.tv, PopupGigs, and Pawshake launch alongside startups addressing location-specific problems like AgTribe, a collaborative consumption platform that connects community members with farm machinery and equipment they need to hire
These regional centres seem to be taking a holistic approach in building their rural startup communities, focusing not just on turning startup ideas into businesses, but on creating early-stage seed and angel funding opportunities to assist in driving the growth of these businesses – an important and very clever move.
Somerville is one of the community-based champions in this area, recently launching Bush Angels, a platform being used to educate potential country-based angel investors and match investors with an interest in seeing the regional economy grow.
Featured Image: Simone Eyles, Cofounder 365Cups | Source: Provided