ONE year, 41 business founders, $837,000 raised and a very conservative 12kg of coffee consumed.
Those were some of the numbers from the UNE SMART Region Incubator as it marks its first birthday across its two sites this month and last.
Business development manager Sue-Ellen Hogan said the incubator had been “creating a great environment for [founders] to grow” during the past 12 months.
The Tamworth and Armidale-based incubator was launched last year in February and March, respectively, as part of the NSW Department of Industry’s Boosting Business Innovation scheme.
Founders have access to office space and resources, expert support, UNE data and expertise, as well as the perks of collaboration with other start-ups.
“Most are at one of our two sites, but we have some affiliates as well who work with our expert-in-residence, use our services and our support but don’t necessarily need the accommodation,” Ms Hogan said.
“We’ve got founders now in all different areas: agtech is obviously a big one; we have two founders who are focused on regional tourism; a number of social enterprises; health services; marketing and digital marketing.
“We’re just hitting the one-year mark and it’s going really well.
“We’re excited, and the word of mouth is really getting around as well from our current founders and creating a great environment for them to grow.”
Birth of opportunity
Ms Hogan highlighted Birth Beat’s Edwina Sharrock, who’d been able to tap into some “great opportunities” such as a Sydney-based coaching program with the opportunity to pitch her business to high-profile investors and partners.
“The UNE Incubator is great; it is a free work space where you can bounce ideas off other people,” Mrs Sharrock said at the time.
“A lady in there told me about [this] a few months ago, and here I am.”
The incubator’s first hackathon-style event, the 12-hour Agmentation, was another success story, Ms Hogan said.
Ms Hogan said the startup health of the region would be that little bit poorer without this facility.
“There’d be lots of people working from home and getting a bit frustrated that they don’t know who to reach out to or who to collaborate with,” she said.
“There’s great support and advice through services across the New England North West and there always has been: AusIndustry; the NSW government’s got some amazing programs.
“We’re one of those programs that can assist and one of those advisory services, but we are trying to create that community and that ecosystem and connect them with the other services around as well.”
No going it alone
Ms Hogan said “peer support” was one of the critical elements of success.
“When you’re a founder and working on your own and you don’t have that team environment you’ve got when working as part of an organisation, it can get a little bit isolating.
“Even having people who are at that same stage as you to bounce ideas off, to have little focus groups when you’ve got a new idea, or want to present something or practise your pitch, someone to blow off steam to – we create that environment, too.”
Ms Hogan said staff could also provide advice if the business wasn’t quite ready for the incubator.
“When someone expresses an interest, we sit down and look at where they’re at and what services they need,” she said.
“Some of them might not be at the point where they’re ready to move into an incubator environment yet, but then – as I said – we’ve got all these great services in the region we’re able to direct them to, and referrals come to us from those groups as well.”
When the incubator was launched in late February last year, it was noted that 95 per cent of new businesses and start-ups conceived outside of incubators failed.
UNE Business School development manager, Dr Lou Conway, said the facility would provide “an environment for small to medium start-up businesses to build a robust, innovative framework before they launch, so they avoid the wasted cost and effort of going into the marketplace with a flawed model”.