Opinion | All roads lead to Rome - but should they? | Gordon Whitehead

Did you know there has been a NSW Government inquiry into ways to strengthen and support the entrepreneurial ecosystem of startups in regional NSW? I didn’t and I’ve been helping local startups for nearly 10 years.

The Committee looked at the effectiveness of state government policies and programs aimed at supporting start-ups in regional areas, and initiatives to reduce barriers to entry for start-up businesses.

It heard that nearly a quarter of Australian startups are founded outside of capital cities and startups are projected to create more than half a million jobs across Australia in the coming decades. (From a report from Universities Australia and Startup Muster March 2017, 'Startup Smarts: Universities and the Startup Economy'.)

With more capital city based startups looking to regional areas for industry talent, lifestyle and to reduce costs, it is vital that there is increased support for nurturing regional innovation ecosystems and early stage start-ups.

The NSW Government has been very supportive of the regional startup ecosystem across NSW through grants and support for high-potential new businesses. Many of the startups have accessed vital grants to help them build a minimum viable product and advise on developing a business model for growth.

The NSW Government provides two key types of grants for startups:

  • Minimum Viable Product Grants are for startups that aren’t yet generating revenue. Grants of up to $25,000 are available for startups across all industries to progress from proof of concept to a minimum viable product stage of development.
  • Building Partnership Grants are for growing startups and SMEs that are generating revenue. Grants of up to $100,000 are available to fund a consortium project that enables the business to establish key accounts or achieve strategic growth.

But the reality is that the regional startup scene has a perception problem. Only last week, one of my colleagues spent a day with a government advisor from the tech industry who thought regional startups are a myth and for success, any regional startup should head to Sydney. This might have been true in ancient times. It's definitely not true today. Yet, some people still believe it.

Soon up to 2500 entrepreneurs will get Sydney CBD desks at subsidised rents, under a $35 million NSW government plan for a 17,000 square metre start-up hub. Four cornerstone tenants are all established co-working spaces that will relocate or expand from elsewhere in the city when the hub opens in 2018 – Fishburners, Tankstream Labs, creative industries specialist The Studio, and fintech specialist Stone & Chalk. There will also be a "landing pad" for entrepreneurs from regional NSW to come and pitch to Sydney-based venture capitalists.

Whilet there is a place for this, we also need the global experience to be available in regional Australia. There is no reason this cannot happen – we should be able to access the knowledge base that start-ups and innovators need from anywhere.   

There is an old saying that all roads lead to Rome. This might have been true in the past but it is not true for today. We need the global experience to come to the regions not the reverse.

Gordon Whitehead is ASBAS Coordinator, The Business Centre