Sydney calls on start-up savvy to give laneway culture a boost

Starting up in a restaurant or shop in Sydney’s notoriously competitive and expensive central business district has become a bit easier, thanks to a targeted funding initiative and an evolving laneway culture.

 

Richard Roberts, the business adviser for the Finegrain grants, told StartupSmart Sydney’s laneway culture was beginning to take off.

 

“When we launched the Finegrain program in 2010, I didn’t know if we could encourage people to go to small bars and to walk down laneways, but they are,” Roberts says.

 

The Finegrain matching grants initiative offers up to $30,000 in matched funding.

 

The program also includes mentoring and training. Businesses can be start-ups or small businesses looking to use the funds to grow.

 

Six businesses have successfully applied for the grant since May 2011, including several bars and a Japanese tea house.

 

“It’s about what people are used to doing, and it takes a generation for habits to change,” Roberts says.

 

“If you look at bars, Sydney has really developed its own culture, and an award-winning one for a lot of the bars around Sydney. That will encourage more businesses and customers to try something different and give something a go.”

 

The nature of the program means business owners can’t rely on large volumes of passing traffic to generate interest and leads.

 

“There is a risk involved undoubtedly, but there is a risk in any business. But the grant is partly to offset that, the very nature of this is a bit of risk,” Roberts says.

 

He says the key to achieving funding and thriving in the program is being a destination store, bar or café.

 

“Small scale and unique is critical, especially if you’re applying for an underutilised space rather than a council-designated laneway,” Roberts says. “If you’re in a laneway in the city, that’s still the dominant criteria, but you can be any type of business.”

 

Underutilised spaces are ground floor, first floor or basement spaces that haven’t been used for at least six months, or haven’t been used as you want to, for example, using a warehouse space for a bar.

 

“Sydney people now are getting used to trying to find things. You do need to build a local profile certainly, but that can be done very easily via social media and word of mouth.”

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