Applications have gone live for the Bega Valley’s innovators and entrepreneurs to be part of the first intake for a unique business program developed by the University of Wollongong.
Offered through the Bega Valley Innovation Hub, which was launched in October after receiving a two-year funding arrangement from the Federal Government, the 12-week iAccelerate Educate Program is designed to better prepare start-ups, scale-ups and existing businesses for engagement with customers and investors, and for sustainable long-term growth.
Other investors in the Hub include the University of Wollongong, Bega Valley Shire Council, Bega Cheese and the Bega Valley Chamber of Commerce. The iAccelerate program will begin in March 2019, the first time it will be offered to a region.
While the Innovation Hub is based at the Bega campus of University of Wollongong, the program will be held at the modern and central Bega Valley Commemorative Civic Centre, which offers a professional and integrated workspace.
The Manager of the Bega Valley Innovation Hub, Mia Maze, said March’s cohort would be the first of three over the next two years, and kept to a manageable size of about 10 to 15 members in what will be a very hands-on, collaborative learning environment.
She said the University of Wollongong program was a proven system of business building with a successful track record in the Illawarra region of growing jobs and developing its local economy.
New data shows that since 2012, iAccelerate has been responsible for delivering 386 new jobs in the Illawarra region, with 152 of those created in 2017, a jump of 67 per cent from 2016. More than 44 per cent of its founders and co-founders are female – in contrast to national averages. Program graduates reported a five-fold year-on-year revenue increase in 2017, and iAccelerate companies launched 54 new products and submitted 33 IP protection applications in 2017 alone.
Ms Maze said the program would take participants through all parts of the business, give them the right tools to achieve their business dream faster, and bring together a team of innovators who could share that journey with like-minded people.
There had been a strong response to the extension of the iAccelerate program to the Bega Valley with four lead-up events attracting more than 200 registrations.
“There has been very high interest. It’s the first time anything like this has come to regional Australia so we’re very excited to be the first cab off the rank for the iAccelerate network,” Ms Maze said.
She said that a program such as this was important in developing home-grown businesses, creating sustainable jobs and retaining skills and talent in the area.
“We have high goals and we’d love for the Bega Valley to become the Innovation Valley or the Sapphire Coast to became the Innovation Coast,” Ms Maze said.
Wollongong had become the City of Innovation, and the city council had put several teams through the innovation campus at University of Wollongong.
Ms Maze said the Bega Valley Innovation Hub wanted to build an innovation ecosystem and the hope was that this program would become sustainable in its own right and that the foundations of that ecosystem would be developed over the next two years.
The Hub valued its relationship with the University of Wollongong, which had given it a home and invested in it, along with the other stakeholders.
“They reached out when nobody else did, and said we can’t have this in the Bega Valley without us being a part of it,” she said.
Applications for the iAccelerate program close on 20 January.