Backing flows for innovation, jobs in the regions

16/10/2018 - 15:24


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Increased state and federal funding and support are helping new and existing businesses in country WA.

Maker + Co hosts a community of entrepreneurial business owners and artists in Bunbury, who receive co-working and innovation support to encourage entrepreneurship and creativity. Photo: ©2018 Google

Increased state and federal funding and support are helping new and existing businesses in country WA.

More than 40 government and industry leaders from across Western Australia have exchanged ideas, shared lessons learnt and grappled with the tough issues of enabling innovation and economic development in the regions.

The delegates came together at the WA Innovation Facilitator Forum on September 19-20, a collaboration meeting aimed at supporting or incubating businesses throughout the state.

The program, which I attended, was led by the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) and made possible through funding from the federal government’s Entrepreneurs’ Program (Incubator Support Initiative) with partnership support from the Meshpoints network.

Representatives from the South West, the Goldfields and the Wheatbelt shared lessons learned in the tough job of facilitating regional economic development.

The two-day program covered a mapping of the innovation ecosystem, explored private and public funding sources and delved into case studies of the progress being made in supporting business and jobs growth in the regions.

The passion in the room from the regional leaders was inspiring.

Many of the forum participants were business owners themselves, with the unenviable task of combining their mission of supporting regional development with keeping their own businesses sustainable.

This is no small feat as the discussions showed.

Co-working and innovation hub Maker + Co is a long-standing example of how private enterprises are encouraging jobs growth and business development outside of the metropolitan area.

Situated in a heritage building just off the main stretch of Bunbury’s town centre, Maker + Co is a community of business owners and artists helping encourage entrepreneurship and creativity in the 70,000 community of the Greater Bunbury area.

Colette McEntee, director of Maker + Co, knows first-hand how challenging and rewarding it can be trying to fulfil Maker + Co’s mission.

“Like so many other people in the startup community, we have put absolutely everything on the line to grow our business,” Ms McEntee said.

“The energy required to break new ground and form new pipelines for innovation and for trade in regional WA is enormous, however, we are incredibly excited and proud to be part of a strong, future-focused community in WA.”

Supporting regional development

The state and federal governments are beginning to recognise the challenge of business owners like Ms McEntee in the regions and have recently established a number of programs to assist in supporting business and innovation hubs.

One is the Regional New Industries Fund, recently launched through the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development.

The fund allocates $4.5 million across nine regions of WA to support venture creation, accelerate small-to-medium enterprise growth and seed innovation initiatives.

Businesses like Maker + Co can apply to the fund to develop R&D partnerships, accelerator programs and other innovation-focused initiatives.

Similarly, the federal government’s Incubator Support initiative is helping to build innovation ecosystems in the regions.

The initiative, launched in December last year, has allocated $23 million to programs that focus on supporting entrepreneurship and startup activity.

Andrew Outhwaite, regional incubator facilitator at Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, said Incubator Support funding, under the federal government’s Entrepreneurs’ Program, was aimed at supporting facilitators to grow incubators and advance the innovation ecosystem, especially in the regions.

“There are many great entrepreneurs and innovators existing and emerging in WA’s regions,” Mr Outhwaite said.

Incubators can also access the funding, up to $100,000 for each initiative, to establish an ‘expert in residence’ to help kick-start their incubator.

On a similar scale, the state government has invested $22.5 million towards the Regional Economic Development Grants program.

As part of Royalties for Regions, the RED Grant programs were established to boost investment in regional projects that contribute to economic growth initiatives, local marketing and innovation pilots.

While there is no shortage of funding opportunities for those in regions supporting business growth, funding alone cannot achieve the jobs outcomes the state needs.

In such a big state, networking, community building and enhancing capability is just as important as capital.

Providing capital would be wasteful without the complementing support and capacity-building initiatives to help  regional leaders succeed.

Meshpoints, established in 2015 by Spacecubed and Pollinators, is aiming to do just that.

Meshpoints coordinator Chandra Sundareswaran said the group’s mission was to provide practical support to local innovation facilitators who deliver social benefits to regional communities.

“Through forums like the WA Facilitators Forum, we envision more innovations emerging from regions, thanks to high-quality support and collaborative initiatives that reach across regions.”

Similarly, Agristart, launched by Natasha Ayers and Peter Rossdeutscher, aims to focus its regional supports efforts in the Agtech space.

Agristart runs education programs and events that aim to help commercialise agricultural research and encourage growth in the sector.

The signals for supporting jobs growth in the regions are pointing in the right direction, but there is more we can be doing.

Programs like the WA Facilitator Forum are an example of the power of collaboration when it comes to these sorts of initiatives.


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