14/08/2017 - 13:51

Shared spaces connect businesses, foster collaborative opportunities

14/08/2017 - 13:51

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SPECIAL REPORT: There is a range of places for small businesses and startups to access support, but technological change means some are rethinking their approach. Click through for the updated BNIQ list of SME and startup business centres.

Shared spaces connect businesses, foster collaborative opportunities
CHANGE UP: Phil Kemp says Business Foundations is closing its Fremantle Prison incubator, and will create a new innovation hub. Photo: Attila Csaszar

Having spent two decades as an adviser to the small business sector, Business Foundations executive director Phil Kemp has concluded that traditional incubators are finished as a service.

Given that realisation, his organisation is planning to eschew the old model in favour of a new defence innovation hub in Rockingham.

“We’re closing the old and starting the new,” Mr Kemp told Business News.

“The new for us is an innovation hub in Rockingham looking at international supply chains, joining small business to big business within supply chains, developing innovation technology and working with universities in a much more flexible environment where people can come in and come out.”

Mr Kemp said the facility would be known as the Maritime and Defence Technology Centre, with Business Foundations currently working on a funding proposal to the federal Department of Industry as part of the National Science and Innovation Agenda, to be completed by December.

The City of Rockingham, French Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Australian Defence Industry Network are all supporters.

“We are looking at an operating budget of $1 million per annum to achieve the results, assisting startup technology businesses commercialise their innovation,” Mr Kemp said. 

“An expectation of the funding is that it focuses on assisting technologies that have export potential and are able to join local and international supply chains.”

He said the organisation’s existing incubators, which emerged when small business was a less-significant part of the economy, will be closed down as part of the new approach.

“We’re closing our Fremantle Prison business incubator,” Mr Kemp said.

“We’re closing our operation in Rockingham and in Kwinana.

“We just believe that small business owners don’t need that approach any more.”

Those incubators generally offered permanent, lockable offices, Mr Kemp said.

By comparison, he said co-working spaces with flexible usage definitely had value.

“Businesses will need connectivity, there’s no doubt about it, but they don’t need to do it (by) running their business from one premises,” Mr Kemp said.

“Co-working spaces and shared-office spaces, certainly there’s a need ... and more flexible arrangements, where they can build networks, learn from us and each other.”

Clive Haddow says there has been strong demand for The Growth Box. Photo: Attila Csaszar

Developments

Closer to Perth, there are plans for a new hub for scalable businesses and the expansion of an existing one.

The first is a new co-working space at the University of Western Australia in Crawley.

That will be in the old masonic hall on Broadway, led by Rob Shannon.

Set to open in 2018, it will be for UWA alumni with scalable businesses targeting growth.

A second major move is the expansion of the Flux co-working space in the city, to double its capacity to around 2,800 square metres, as revealed in Business News online last week.

Flux is operated under a joint venture between property developer Hawaiian and Perth co-working hub Spacecubed.

The plan includes a new agribusiness technology hub and a virtual reality lab.

Spacecubed founder Brodie McCulloch told Business News that agritech was a priority as it played to one of Western Australia’s strengths, while virtual reality was growing as an area of interest among Flux members.

Meanwhile, the Malaga Districts Business Association opened a new co-working and incubation space, The Growth Box, in July with seed grants from the Department of Commerce and the City of Swan.

It will mix approaches, with both permanent executive offices and open-plan spaces.

Growth Box chief executive Clive Haddow told Business News he had had to turn back some potential users because of strong inquiry.

Mr Haddow said the facility’s strength was a fast internet connection, with 100 megabits per second upload and download speeds.

“The key with us is that we’re really going to try and foster the digital aspect of the hub,” he said.

However, the hub would not be exclusively focused on technology and it was hoped that professional services firms such as accountants and lawyers would become anchor tenants at the facility.

Hackathons and relationships with institutions such as Edith Cowan University and Curtin University were in the pipeline, according to Mr Haddow.

In Balcatta, the dial is set slightly further towards more traditional small businesses at the Stirling Business Centre.

Stirling Business Association chief executive Yvonne Atkinson told Business News the centre had a co-working space for eight people and 22 offices.

Illustrating the diversity of offerings across Perth, she said the facility’s demographic was probably aged from 35 upwards.

“A lot of our tenants at the moment are mum and dad businesses and service businesses,” Ms Atkinson said.

There was still a focus on collaboration between tenants, which ranged from accountants and bookkeepers to a gaming technology company and a scientist researching antibiotics.

“We want to create that community so people feel like they’re being helped,” Ms Atkinson said.

“In business it can be incredibly isolating.”

She said the centre had spare capacity, and a priority would be raising awareness about the space.

“There had been times when there was a waiting list for the centre and people couldn’t get in here,” Ms Atkinson told Business News.

“Certainly recently that has changed; some of that’s changed because of technology and people don’t need to be in the centre the same way they did before.”

UWA-based co-working space Bloom is focused on a different demographic, with chief executive Darren Lomman telling Business News it had started off four years ago as a group of university students who wanted to support people in the startup space.

“We’re working with the really young guys, the really green guys, it’s a bit different to Core (part of Flux); they’re typically guys who have got ten years’ experience under their belt,” Mr Lomman said.

Bloom members were generally in the 17 to 30 age group, he said, which created a good cultural fit of people with similar values.

“It’s about supporting young innovators who are going to make our world a better place, guys who take the risk and forego the safety of a nine-to-five job,” Mr Lomman said.

He said Bloom planned to more than double its number of members, to 100, by 2020.

Yvonne Atkinson hopes to create a community so businesses won’t feel isolated. Photo: Attila Csaszar

Programs

One of the largest operators of collaboration spaces is Business Station, which runs the Edith Cowan University Business and Innovation Centre in Joondalup and the Welshpool Business Enterprise Centre, among others.

It was initially involved in a further co-working project, the Fielder Street Collective, targeted at the creative industry and based at the ABC building in East Perth.

That is continuing under the management of Screenwest, with Business Station stepping out after a six-month pilot.

Business Station general manager Mark South said the organisation had last week launched a similar, smaller-scale project in Fremantle.

“We’ll look to encourage graphic designers and other creative people into that facility, it’ll be like a shared office arrangement,” Mr South told Business News.

“We would support any sort of businesses starting up, but usually the ones we’re attracting are existing businesses that want to move out from their home base arrangements.”

The organisation is contracted to run part of the state government’s Business Local program, a one-on-one business advisory service, and a federal government program called Australian Small Business Advisory Services, with responsibility for the Wanneroo and Joondalup regions.

Business Foundations and RSM are among those providing the Business Local program, with RSM’s remit including regional locales from the Wheatbelt to the Pilbara.

The federal government provides a further program through the National Innovation and Science Agenda – Accelerating Commercialisation – which provides businesses with advice and matched funding of up to $1 million for taking products to market.

And the WA government has the Industry Facilitation and Support Program for productivity enhancements, allocating matched grants of up to $25,000.

Startup assist

Startups have a wide range of accelerator-type programs available to them.

Plus Eight, which is a partnership between Spacecubed and Telstra, will be allocating $400,000 this year to eight startups, while the Unearthed hackathon (Flux) granted around $70,000 through this program.

Curtin University has been a big supporter of the sector, with $30,000 granted via the OzApp Awards and $30,000 through the Curtin Accelerate program.

However, the Vocus Upstart program and HBF Activate did not run this year, after allocating around $370,000 between them in 2016.

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