Providing assistance to help grow the regional innovation ecosystem is a balancing act. Too little and the ecosystem stalls and stagnates; too much, and it becomes unsustainable. Perfecting the secret sauce is crucial to ensuring harmony across regional and metro locations.

I’m based in the country, but I get it – Sydney is the gateway city. Most international investors and entrepreneurs choose it as the entry point for doing business in NSW …and the rest of Australia.  But ditch any preconceptions about the regional innovation ecosystem playing second fiddle.

Regional NSW is increasingly now welcoming a steady stream of international investors and talent, the regional startup ecosystem has been maturing nicely in recent years, and together with a host of on the ground, practical support, is merging into a greenhouse of innovation – that includes some internationally recognised, cutting-edge tech.

Ask any regional business, and they will give you compelling reasons for why they are operating out of regional NSW. Lifestyle is obviously a big one – affordability, natural beauty, open spaces, and short commutes typically top the list.  But it’s also coupled with more compelling business reasons – which include significant Government support.  

What people don’t always realise is there’s a strong NSW Government focus on making innovation, and doing business outside of Sydney easy. So while Sydney may be the arrival point – smart, global investors are increasingly looking beyond. For the metro startup community, finding out what the regions offer, and how well connected they actually are, can be an eye-opener, and sometimes a prelude to making the sea or tree change.  

Haven’t quite persuaded you yet?

The Sydney Startup Hub (the new epicentre of the NSW startup community) is set to commence operations in early 2018. It features a regional landing pad that will offer practical support, such as free meeting space or video-conferencing facilities for regional startups visiting Sydney. It will provide a lens between the regional, metro and international startup community, and help build connections to tap into talent, investment, networks and more.

The interconnectedness of the regional ecosystem itself will be, and is, a lure for global investors. So creating a dedicated portal to access it, both physically and virtually gives regional startups and scaling businesses visibility on a global stage, regardless of their verticals. 

 Even a cursory glance at the programs and support (including financial) offered by the likes of Jobs for NSW and the Boosting Business Innovation Program reveals how Government has been instrumental in creating a robust ecosystem – from offering Minimum Viable Product grants or interest-free Regional Growth Loans, to supporting the development of an interconnected network of incubators and co-working spaces for aspiring entrepreneurs. (BTW, new tech incubator Bathurst Upstairs should be on your radar).

 Meanwhile, regional NSW offers lean startups a broader range of customers who can test assumptions and provide feedback for products, especially for teams working in the agtech and food verticals.

Take for example Netherland-based business, mOOvement, an agri-focused startup which gathers, combines and analyses data, aiming to increase farm productivity globally. Mid this year, mOOvement temporarily relocated to Armidale to validate and test assumptions at the UNE Smart Regional Incubator. For companies like mOOvement, this is an increasingly attractive proposition as it gives them direct access to a diverse agricultural landscape, paired with specialist knowledge (and rotational seasons) – an opportunity which isn’t always possible in the big smoke.  

And there’s even a Regional Innovation Strategy (led by Jobs for NSW) which will evolve a regional hub and spoke network in growing centres such as Armidale, Wagga Wagga and Coffs Harbour with Sydney – to provide a community reaching across NSW and dedicated access to global networks and international partners via the Regional Landing Pad in the Sydney Startup Hub.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

To find out more about our regional ecosystem, or what support is available for regional startups or scaling small to medium enterprises, please get in touch with me, or contact the wider Jobs for NSW team.

Guest Author – Chris Celovic, Cluster Champion,New England Agtech Cluster

Chris Celovic is experienced in developing innovation with corporate business, government and NFP organisations in Australia and internationally. His extensive professional experience, honed in high pressure, multi-disciplinary environments has given him the ability to work collaboratively to improve organisational process and increase business productivity especially using technology, big data and facilitating joined-up services.