Today NAB and Telstra have announced a startup joint venture to offer small businesses a digital marketplace. The new marketplace, called Proquo, will provide more than two million Australian small businesses an online platform where they can network, trade, or swap services with one another.
Proquo was a collaborative development by NAB’s innovation hub NAB Labs and Telstra’s Gurrowa Innovation Lab. While being a 50/50 joint venture between the two companies, Proquo will work as an independent entity, offering a range of services from other providers to create briefs for the work they need. Small businesses will also be able to use the platform to swap or exchange skills or services, exchange quotes, manage payments and publish reviews without the use of multiple platforms and services.
If selling something through Proquo, businesses will be charged a fee between 7.5 percent to 10 percent, but there will be no fees charged for swaps. The marketplace will be available to anyone with an ABN, but the only services that can be traded are design, marketing, accounting, legal, or technology services.
NAB executive general manager of micro and small business Leigh O’Neill said, “Small business owners tell us they are continually looking for new ways to do business and we think Proquo will provide them with a unique way to network and grow their business.
“Strategic partnerships like this one with Telstra, to combine the capabilities of two of Australia’s biggest companies, creates a really innovative business option for the small business community.”
Innovation is now seen as one of the biggest key areas of business development, however according to recent Commonwealth Bank research findings, businesses spend as little as three days thinking about innovation or working on it. More than a third percent of small to mid-sized business decision makers cited conflicting priorities as the most common roadblock to innovation, closely followed by not knowing where to start and needing to find the right people to help.
This means that, despite 88 percent of Australian business decision makers identifying innovation as highly relevant on their development agenda, most struggle with putting their ideas into action – perhaps because for many ‘innovation’ itself is difficult to define.
These results reinforce the action of larger businesses like Commonwealth Bank, NAB, and Telstra to lead the way when it comes to providing small businesses with support. However in saying small businesses need to innovate and foster innovative culture, it is also important that these big companies themselves look towards creating more innovative products themselves.
Because of such a large gap between what the big banks offer and what fintech startups offer in Australia, SMEs are shifting their focus towards alternative funding options that create services around the individual, not around the market.
Last month fintech startup Spotcap hit an $11 million lending milestone to SMEs as it celebrated its one year anniversary. Managing director of Spotcap Australia Lachlan Heussler said while many fintech startups focus on delivering products to fill gaps in the market and meet the needs of their customer base, banks are still trying to educate their customers on what they should do to appeal to them.
As small businesses look to find better access to financing and easier ways to innovate, the fintech landscape in Australia is growing and is delivering improved tailor suited alternatives than currently the big banks can’t offer.
For many industries, not just the financial services sector, companies are aligning themselves with tech startups and innovators to drive them into the next wave of technology. Because of time constraints and insufficient services, small businesses look towards innovators to align themselves with high growth networks and alternative digital technologies to stay afloat in Australia’s fast moving tech landscape.
While larger corporations still support majority of small businesses in Australia, over the next few years their support levels may change as more disruptors look to join the marketplace.
Currently Telstra supports more than one million businesses across Australia by providing them with digital technology solutions to help them streamline their day-to-day activities.
Group managing director of Telstra Business Andy Ellis said offering a service like Proquo will help small businesses find new and innovative ways to network and thrive.
“Small businesses often struggle to get off the ground and our research shows that the exchanging of services will be a great advantage to many startups. We’re excited and proud to partner with NAB to offer this unique digital platform. This joint venture further highlights our commitment to small business so they can run, develop and grow their business,” he added.
Proquo will begin a pilot phase this month, with a full launch expected in July.
Image: Leigh O’Neill and Andy Ellis. Source: Supplied.