While Melbourne and Sydney vie for the crown of Aussie startup capital, and smaller cities start to attract more founders and more funding, it can be easy to overlook those startups springing up a little further away from the bright lights.
But, if we don’t tap into the entrepreneurial talent in rural and regional parts of Australia, we could not only be doing them a disservice, but we could be missing out as an ecosystem.
Last week, Fishburners opened its first regional co-working and innovation hub in Coffs Harbour, in partnership with Coffs Harbour City Council initiative 6 Degrees.
Speaking to StartupSmart, Fishburners chief Nicole O’Brien suggests bringing more regional and rural startups into the ecosystem can improve diversity on multiple levels
First of all, it’s important to have diversity of thought and experience, and “regional communities bring a different set of problems”, she says.
Startups have the potential to help drive employment within regional communities that may desperately need it.
This is particularly true in farming or mining communities, “where there have been some issues around industries in those areas not being able to deliver the jobs and the prosperity that so many regional communities need”, she says.
“Now, it’s more critical than ever that we invest in promoting the opportunities and resourcing startups in those areas.”
The economic landscape has also unearthed another trend in regional startups, O’Brien notes. Overwhelmingly, regional startups are being led by women.
Fishburners hosted one of the early rounds of the Jobs for NSW Regional Pitchfest, she says. Of the 11 startups in the competition, all were founded by women.
Women living in farming or mining communities, with partners who work in those industries, may be feeling they need to supplement their income, she theorises.
Farming, in particular, “is so precarious at the moment, particularly with climate change,” she says.
“We’re finding it’s mainly the women that are really driving the startup ecosystem in regional communities.”
According to last year’s Startup Muster survey, just 22.3% of Aussie startups are founded by women. So, providing additional support for entrepreneurs in regional areas could also give a well-needed boost to the representation of women in the ecosystem.
“That adds another layer to enhancing diversity,” O’Brien says.
With the vast majority of startup activity centred around the cities of Sydney and Melbourne, as well as, to a lesser extent, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth, it’s perhaps no surprise that there is more support for entrepreneurs in those urban hubs. But the imbalance becomes self-perpetuating.
“It comes down to the numbers really,” O’Brien says.
“Of course, the big cities are going to be where people have access to the resources and the media.”
There are also events in the city where urban-dwelling founders can connect, share ideas and talk about their businesses.
In rural and regional areas, however, “there are some fantastic things happening”, O’Brien says.
“Regional communities just don’t have that access, and that level of support,” she adds.
“It’s about singing their successes as well, and really being able to promote what’s going on.”