The idea that the Bega Valley could be a hothouse for diverse, dynamic, and digital smart businesses has been a challenge for some to comprehend.
When funding was first announced for the Bega Valley Innovation Hub the concept was largely unknown and untested in a rural setting like Bega. The fact that the Commonwealth Government, University of Wollongong (UoW) Bega Cheese, Bega Valley Shire Council, and the Bega Chamber of Commerce invested in the idea gave it weight and momentum.
With the ‘graduation’ of the Hub’s first cohort of students comes a better sense of what this is about and a degree of pride and ‘can do’ in the Bega Valley community.
After three months of expert guidance and mentorship as part of UoW’s iAccelerate Innovation Network, seven existing and new businesses have soaked up – marketing, leadership, finance, tax, accounting, customer relationships, networking, and business structure advice.
The end result of this business accelerator program was a ‘Pitch Final’ held in front of an audience of around 200 people at the Bega Civic Centre.
“There was such a narrow gap between top and bottom,” says Omar Khalifa, Chief Executive Officer of iAccelerate and Pitch Final judge.
The other two members of the judging panel where Max Roberts, Director of Bega Cheese, and Bega Valley Mayor, Cr Kristy McBain.
The judges split their award in two announcing a commercial business winner – Saarinen Organics, and a social enterprise winner – Eden Game Development Centre.
Teen Clinic won the audience vote.
Businesses were competing for cash, website development from 2pi Software, and adverting packages from all local media companies – including a $1,500 package from About Regional which was won by Saarinen Organics.
Mr Khalifa says the judges were overwhelmed by the positive influence all seven businesses wanted to have on their local community.
“[These peolpe] are not just trying to make some quick bucks and get out of town,” he says.
Kay and Gregg Saarinen pitched their vision for a local processing plant to take their organic, Wyndham made and grown skincare range to the globe.
Will Sharples of Eden Game Development Centre spoke with conviction about his ambition to roll out game creation and coding education to schools and disengaged youth across Australia.
Jodie Meaker and Meghan Campbell of Teen Clinic pointed to the impact their free youth health drop-in clinics were already having in Bega, Eden, Merimbula, Narooma and Kiama, and their drive to see a Teen Clinic in every country town.
“The Hub has given us the direction and the tools to succeed and access to a network to a stay down here [Bega Valley] and live in this community and make a go of it,” says Gregg Sarrinen.
All seven pitches shone brightly on the night, expanding the traditional vision of the Bega Valley economy beyond agriculture, tourism, and health services.
Brogo’s Jackie Parry, of Sistership Press and Training, presented a proven enterprise geared towards sailing and navigation training and stories from the high seas in books and magazines.
Wallagoot’s Kristi Sproates, of Appy Connections, is already using digital communication platforms to help people with disabilities be heard and participate in their community – she wants to grow and help more people.
Brogo’s Cheryl Nelson, of Natural Chicken Health, produces a unique product called Super Mash, which has 10 ingredients that all perform various functions to keep backyard chickens healthy.
Pambula’s Gemma Ansell, of Silver Service, is keen to offer tech support to seniors and help them get the most out of new technology and not get ripped off in the process.
Bega Valley Mayor, Cr Kristy McBain says, “Backing the Bega Valley Innovation Hub was the right thing [for Council] to do for now and for the future of the Bega Valley.”
“We need to develop more industries and create more jobs, to make sure our kids can stay here.
“Seeing these seven businesses come through is encouraging. This is making people think they can do anything from here. You have proved why we have an innovation hub in the Bega Valley.”
Applications for the second iAccelerate program out of the Bega Valley Innovation Hub are open now. Cohort two will start on August 22 – over 20 applications have already been received.
Two info sessions will be held on July 4 and 11 for interested people and businesses, register via the Innovation Hub’s website.
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