Developing Ecosystems

What would you say is a checklist for developing rural and regional entrepreneur ecosystems? You might get some inspiration from a conversation with leaders and entrepreneurs in Central Victoria, Australia as we capture in conversation challenges and opportunities heading into the 2023 Global Entrepreneurship Congress.

You can watch the full conversation here and read excerpts below covering challenges and ideas relating to:
* access to talent and resources,
* solving problems from personal experience,
* collaboration, connections, and networks,
* developing boundary spanners,
* allocating capital to fund founders and ecosystem support,
* focusing on stories and metrics to inspire and influence policy,
* ensuring policies go from startup to scaleup, and
* the role of government and community-led support.

The discussion was part of a series of “Road to GEC” virtual events leading up to the Global Entrepreneurship Congress to understand the complex challenges and identify shared opportunities for entrepreneur ecosystems around the world.

Panel reflections
The leaders on the panel spoke from a shared experience in central Victoria from diverse perspectives of ecosystem leaders, banking, entrepreneurs, and corporate engagement. :
* Kerry Anderson OAM: Program Manager, Startup Central Victoria
* Collin Brady: Community Bank Adviser, Bendigo Adelaide Bank
* Craig Hunter: Director of Government Engagement, Clear Dynamics
* Alex Sinickas: Founder, Milkdrop

Access to talent and resources, and an entrepreneur’s journey
Rural and regional communities experience lower availability of technical skills compared to metro cities. This discrepancy is accentuated by technology being embedded across all aspects of business and increasingly specialised and diverse.

The talent challenge was highlighted by Kerry who shared the results of a recent survey in her region:

“We did a survey last year through Startup Central Victoria and the city of Greater Bendigo. One thing that struck me was the lack of talent in the region in terms of digital tech. The university programs offered to the regions are a problem in that they are directed back to the city. Entrepreneurs need talent to grow their companies. If we are not getting that digital tech input, that is a big thing.” – Kerry Anderson

The need for technical skills should not be interpreted as a lack of innovation and entrepreneurial capability. Quite the opposite, as necessity drives entrepreneurs to seek out solutions for challenges in new ways. Alex shared her story about starting her company Milkdrop with a sentiment common to regional entrepreneurs of solving problems from lived experience.

“I am an engineer and founder of a company called Milkdrop which is working on making breast pumps more comfortable for women. For every ten women who use a breast pump, six have nipple pain and seven say they ‘feel like a cow’. It is a problem I experienced when I became a mom for the first time four years ago and ever since I’ve been using my skills to improve that, which is where the engineering comes in.” – Alex Sinickas

Alex shared about the need to wear many hats as an entrepreneur starting out, particularly growing from a starting engineering position and expanding into business and networking roles.

“One of the big, crushing things I had to learn was that designing the solution was like 1/100th of the effort of building the business. I have had to transition from being a designer and an engineer to learning how to run, build, and scale a business. I’d say that that’s been the biggest challenge.” – Alex Sinickas

Alex continued to share about the inventiveness of entrepreneurs in rural communities.
“I’ve been absolutely blown away by how inventive, clever, and innovative people are in the regions. There is this tendency to have an old view or maybe just the wrong view that everything is agriculture, horses, and big wide plains. That is absolutely not what it is about in the country. Rural communities may not be as dense but there are lots of very interesting people doing very interesting and some of them quite high-tech things.” – Alex Sinickas

The term ‘ecosystem’ is often used to describe the support network involved in the entrepreneur’s journey. This ecosystem is particularly important in rural communities where the network proves critical to enabling a business founder to access resources and capabilities outside their immediate region and network. Alex shared the contacts that are important in her own journey.

“The first was through university. We had some of my founders are from Swinburne University. We went through their accelerator and then managed to get into the StartMate accelerator, which is remarkable because they do not care where you are from. It is done virtually. If you can get to Sydney or Melbourne once every couple of weeks, that’s great, but they don’t really mind where you are. Those two programs gave us access to investors. I also applied for federal and state grants and we were beneficiaries of some of those. That’s how we got going and now we also have revenue.”

“Through Swinburn, they had an Innovation Precinct. They were the first people to coach us into who we should be speaking. I had a background in finance before I went into engineering, so I understood how investment worked and how to make your case. That helped. If I didn’t have that background, it would have been more difficult. We are asking people to invest in us and we were not proven and high risk. I think the funding we got was right for the time. It was not the obscene numbers you see thrown around for some groups but I think we have been treated well and I do not have any complaints.” – Alex Sinickas

The entrepreneur ecosystem can be a challenge to navigate for entrepreneurs starting out or who are rapidly growing and scaling to the next stage in developing their product and accessing new markets. This can be particularly true in rural communities where services may not be as known and there are less frequent events to share information and network. Dedicated ecosystem organisations can provide access to connections and resources.

Even with these organisations, entrepreneurs still require two main things as explained by Alex:
“We have amazing support, for example in Central Victoria with Startup Shakeup, Startup Victoria, and from the government. But there are two key things that would help me scale at this stage at only a couple of years.
One is funding. Fund us and invest in us. If we have proven traction, give us more because it just costs so much to build businesses especially in my world in e-commerce.

The second is to become our customers. If you can’t fund us, then how can we access a big group of people as customers to get us started?

Those two things are really hard to do and they always seem to be put in the ‘too-hard basket’. So we talk about improving more support for founders, running more education, and all these things which are good. But in the end, when it comes down to it, we need cash and customers.” – Alex Sinickas
Collaboration, connections, and networks

The lower population density of rural communities places an emphasis on the need for collaboration, connections, and networks. The panel commented on aspects of the rural context where connections were both inhibited and enabled.

“A big difference I’ve noticed between entrepreneurs in a rural context in Australia and overseas is that we are not as collaborative. Entrepreneurs have a great idea, passion, they have done research, and have a calculated, risk-taking appetite. But they hold it close, and that is where they hit a lot of problems in scaling up.” – Kerry Anderson

Kerry continued to share the value of central collaborative bodies such as Startup Central Victoria to encourage collaboration and ‘join the dots’.

“Perhaps that is part of having not as dense a population. I see our role as programs to join the dots, bring the people together, and match them with resources that can help take them further into the next stage.” – Kerry Anderson

A benefit of rural communities is greater access to decision-makers who are willing to trial and support local providers. Craig provided insights from his experience growing global software-focused Clear Dynamics in a regional setting.

“There is a great opportunity through networking to develop strong relationships with C-Suite that you run into in regional networking events. We prototyped this nearly 10 years ago in our business. It enabled us to develop strong relationships with organizations like the Bendigo Bank, the Bendigo Healthcare Organisation, the Bendigo telco, and a broader range of enterprise organisations that enable you as a startup to move to scale-up mode and understand what’s required as a startup to transition to up. The opportunity you have in regions is the ability to build a relationship with enterprises and find out what you do not know quickly. It is one thing to have worked in an enterprise and it is another to work for and deliver to enterprises. – Craig Hunter

In addition to access and customers, rural entrepreneurs require other roles in the ecosystem including service providers, funding, and the previously mentioned talent. Craig commented about challenges for entrepreneurs in rural communities needing to both build their business as well as build the local ecosystem. This requires a ‘superpower’ of being a networker.

“One of the difficulties in regions is not having an ecosystem and in some cases needing to build up the ecosystem of your industry around you. You need to attract talent and it becomes a bit of a “chicken and the egg” situation. Getting the superpower of being a networker enables you to not just build the relationships to get an introduction into enterprise organisations to help your organisation go from startup to scale up but the networking also helps you be proactive in building the ecosystem. And of course, this is all happening while you are trying to run a business. One of the other great challenges is that you have to wear so many hats.” – Craig Hunter

Entrepreneur ecosystems have developed in many rural communities across Australia thanks in part to the efforts of early entrepreneurs leading the way. However, there remain communities where the entrepreneur ecosystem is not available or is otherwise dormant. Alex shared her challenges as a founder as well as the benefit that is unique to a rural entrepreneur ecosystem.

“What you lack coming to rural areas from the city, having lived in both, is that there is no ecosystem. It is hard to get people with the exact skill that you need as the founder. It is not a particularly dense ecosystem. What it makes up for is these really broad, super-integrated communities where everybody knows each other and can help in a certain way.

As a founder, that’s really good to draw from. You are not only drawing advice from people in the startup community, you are drawing advice from general business owners, people who run the council, and people who have big farms. Everybody has something to contribute to building businesses. It is less funneled into this startup vibe/startup culture which I really appreciate. Access to business, access to councils, and access to people to try your ideas out and get feedback has been really good.” – Alex Sinickas

Alex continued by emphasising the need for access to specialist focus areas based on technology, industry, and demographics. The COVID-19 pandemic acted as an equaliser with capital cities in terms of access to external networks and resources, but the impact was brief. Still, the local connectivity in rural communities remains a strong point.

“It is not that we don’t have support in the regions. There’s plenty of it. There are the incidental things you don’t get as much. All of those events that get run like women in startups, women in STEM, and those kinds of things. You don’t have access to those more specialised areas that are held in the cities. When Covid was happening, it was awesome because you could access anything anywhere, but that has died down.
Your ability to fundraise and network in niche areas is harder. But your ability to network and access in your own town is just phenomenal. People take you seriously the minute they meet you. There are not five layers of management to get through to approve a tiny pilot project. You can talk to whomever you need.” – Alex Sinickas

The role of boundary spanners
Collaborative groups like Startup Central Victoria act as what is known as a ‘boundary-spanner’ – an individual or organisation bridging boundaries that exist across geographies, industries, customer markets, and technology communities. Kerry described her role as an ecosystem builder and examples of groups in rural Victoria filling this function.

“Gatekeepers are so important – those champions in our communities. I am a big fan of the organic ecosystem. Every community has those people who instinctively want to help you, nurture you, and introduce you to the right people. Programs like Startup Shakeup, Startup Gippsland, and Startup Central Victoria can scale that process to get you in touch with the right people Instead of just having one champion per rural town. We can connect a whole region and the whole state in regional areas to help put you in touch with the right people.” – Kerry Anderson

Collin reinforced the role of boundary spanners as people who can ‘work in the margins’ and ‘between the lines’, speaking to the entrepreneurial journey on a road less traveled.

We need more boundary spanners as well, people who can work in the margins. The process of community development occurs because we have people who are prepared to work between the lines.” – Collin Brady
Other types of organisations can fill these boundary-spanning roles as well, including government agencies, corporations, and universities. Alex shared her own experience leveraging the value of universities along with a call for a greater contribution from university regional campuses.

“A quick win that could be helpful is partnering with universities. Being in regions and away from it all can be a great thing for a number of reasons. One, rent is cheap. Two, you have space to think about what you’re actually gonna do and don’t get swept up in things. That’s a really great thing. But I found in building my business that one of the most useful connections was with the universities.”

“I have access to prototyping labs and access to experts in areas from product design to commercialisation and IP. Universities have these networks. That could be something that’s possibly missing. There are university campuses in the bigger regional cities but I haven’t seen involvement in the smaller areas. That could be something worth looking at.” – Alex Sinickas

Drivers for entrepreneur ecosystems
Rural and regional communities build their entrepreneur ecosystem based on economic development opportunities and support for local entrepreneurs. Collin highlighted that there are additional drivers including changes in energy markets, shifts towards remote working, and federal and state government policy.

“One of the great transformations happening around Australian regional and rural communities is the transformation from fossil fuels to renewable energy. It is something that each community will need to get a handle on and provides opportunities to see how communities collectively get involved. You can overlay that with a digital transformation that’s occurring and has been accelerated through the pandemic which created opportunities for people in rural and regional areas to work where they live rather than live where they work.” – Collin Brady

These trends highlight that the challenges and opportunities require involvement by more than any one organisation. Entrepreneur ecosystems are increasingly becoming the focus of collaborative efforts by not only governments but also philanthropy and industry.

“There is an opportunity in Australia. You look at the words coming from the current treasurer a number of months ago. He talks about the great shift, clean energy future, and redesigning and re-imagining markets. You look also at the recent budget that talks about place-based collaboration and how we bring philanthropy and community together in a much more coordinated way. The policy is pointing in that direction.”

“The question is, how do we pick up on that and get on the front foot? We put this on the agenda amongst those broader engagement opportunities which will be complemented by another round of regional planning. What it is trying to do is formalise collaboration. It is calling out the importance of place. There is an opportunity to put this on the agenda.” – Collin Brady

Investing in founders – Funding and local capital
Collin shared the history of Bendigo Bank as an entrepreneurial activity and how that contributes towards the reinvestment into local enterprise development. Entrepreneur ecosystems require capital, both in support direct to entrepreneurs as well as funding the ecosystem itself.

“I work for the Bendigo and Adelaide Bank, which is located in Bendigo in central Victoria. It was started by the citizens of Bendigo who were looking to get out of tents and into houses. There has been a long and proud history of feeding into the prosperity of communities. About 20 years ago the bank developed a new model called community banking which is essentially a community enterprise.”

“This allows communities to have their own bank but also derive the benefits of the revenues that come from the profits of that bank and invest those revenues back into things that the community cares about. It is a community enterprise with a purpose of investing back into the community. It gives communities the opportunity to invest in the ecosystem and identify, nurture, and support local entrepreneurs. The challenge for rural and regional communities is how to provide an environment where human capital can rise to the surface, be nurtured and supported, and be part of the next generation of building both community and business.” – Collin Brady

The collaborative approaches unlock funding critical in the ecosystem. As Craig highlights, collaboration, connection, and networking require skill and time that may be overlooked by the individual entrepreneur. This is where the entrepreneur ecosystem support organisations, as well as boards, advisors, and other team members, can help.

“Funding comes up a lot in regions. It’s called the Valley of Death in central regional Victoria where you are trying to raise anything over a couple hundred thousand to a million. You can get up to about a million dollars within regional Victoria, which is quite rare. Anything a million up to AU$50 million is the valley of death. Clear Dynamics was very fortunate to cross that and successfully raise AU$40 million, but it is unheard of. Unless you are an enterprise within the region, it doesn’t occur.”

“It comes back to networking. If you trace the way that we did what no other business has done within our region, it is networking. The downside of that is that many people don’t have engineering and networking skills. Most entrepreneurs are either good at one thing or the other. Often entrepreneurs are technical people, hands-on, and may not have developed or value networking skills. One of the key things is the executive group you bring around you. It’s having believers who are highly networked and already have their own network around them.”

“It’s often a second, third, or fourth network down that line that winds up being the person or people that invest or become that investor group. You see some entrepreneurs that all they’re doing is fundraising. What that means is that innovation and technology suffer. Or you have a highly technical founder, once-in-a-generation gifted, but hates networking. Bringing around people that are super networkers is the key.” – Craig Hunter

Investing in the ecosystem – more than programs
Early investment into entrepreneur ecosystems can often come in the form of support for programs and one-off events. These can be good as high-profile activities but additional investment is required in the underlying system. Examples of these activities include establishing and funding networks and collaborative bodies, creating frameworks and pathways for local entrepreneurs, and developing and maintaining research and mapping of local assets. Colin shared this realisation from his experience over the years investing in community through his role at Bendigo Bank.

“We spend a lot of time investing from our community bank network into programs and projects. These are community resources being applied to things like education and support. But where our mind is going now is how we create a more functioning ecosystem. That may well be from entrepreneurs, but it is also a more functioning economic ecosystem in some of these smaller communities.”

“Whilst we’ve been able to enable communities to do business with others such as government, et cetera, I don’t know that we have done enough work to deliberately describe what the ecosystem looks like. Who are our anchor institutions? What are our clear priorities to nurture young talent on all levels? And how do we create a more functioning ecosystem where that starts to happen more naturally for communities and for participants?”

“If you want to get funding from anywhere, it’s a tactical exercise and a bit of a needle in a haystack. There’s a real art to doing it. Imagine if you could actually package that up and be deliberate as a community to say one of the key pillars we are going to invest in is providing opportunities for young talent to come forward with their entrepreneurial skills.”

“We don’t think there is a shortage of talent in rural and regional areas. But how do you create a more functioning ecosystem that might be more formalised? How do you use technology and how do you place the participant at the start of that journey? We think that we play in the system, but we haven’t improved the system to a certain extent.” – Collin Brady

One example of ecosystem investment is the establishment of local shared spaces including coworking spaces and innovation hubs. These incubators act as what is known as a ‘third space’ where entrepreneurs come together for support and to develop their ideas. Alex shared a case study of the coworking space in Bright that she is a part of that was supported by Bendigo Bank.

“Bendigo Bank contributes to our co-working space here at StartupShakeup. This co-working space that I am in right now has around 30 members. You asked about how we access accountants, well I sit right next door to one. She’s working on her business, I’m working on mine, and I ask her questions all day. The co-working spaces are great, connecting people across many different areas. They are natural hubs where people can get solidarity and business advice, and build those networks within that community.” – Alex Sinickas

Colin reiterated the value seen in the space as
“Essentially what you’re doing is bringing talent together and putting it in one spot to enable that interaction to occur.” – Collin Brady

A healthy entrepreneur ecosystem also needs to support entrepreneurs across the lifecycle from idea through to establishment, customer engagement, and scaling into new markets. There can often be a cliff where support stops or starts that is created by policy measures, availability of risk capital, and access to local talent and entrepreneur support. Craig highlighted this gap as the ‘Valley of Death’.

“One of the things that we don’t do well irrespective of what region you’re in is in policy – whether it’s policy from a business networking perspective, collaborating with government state, local, or federal government – being more explicit about the pathway that a startup takes to scale up. We provide a lot of support for startups through mentoring sessions, but we are also talking about what is involved to go from that startup to scale-up stage. It is not in policy or government programs.”

“There are ‘101’ principles that are tried, true, and tested that unless you happen to read the right book or come across someone that’s done it before, you don’t know till you’ve tried and failed yourself. There’s an opportunity to prevent the rate of failure that’s experienced with startups, particularly in the regions, and ensure that they have shock absorbers, they are prepared, and we’ve given them a more explicit pathway they can travel to the scale-up stage.” – Craig Hunter

Stories and metrics to inspire and influence policy
The leaders on the panel understood the value of entrepreneur ecosystems but also acknowledged the challenge of conveying this value to those not involved in entrepreneurial activity. There are many demands on local rural investment, be it from government funds, industry engagement, or private capital. Two opportunities were raised in the conversation to attract new entrepreneurs and additional investment. These include sharing stories of other entrepreneurs and metrics to inform policy and financial decision-making.

“We want to inspire entrepreneurs. They find a gap in the market or a problem to solve, so you know that they are self-generating. But then how do we help them find their tribe and understand how other entrepreneurs have overcome those barriers and taken up opportunities?”

“It is sharing the stories of the entrepreneurs to demonstrate that it does happen. There are incredible people and groups in regions that have done very well on the global stage. They are not good at sharing that story. They just do what they do. I think that is part of our opportunity to share those stories more widely. That means asking people like Alex to come out and talk, but that’s part of giving back to the system and opening up more channels for yourselves.”

“It is also finding your tribe. Sometimes that tribe might be at either end of the country but connected by our digital connectivity where we are.” – Kerry Anderson

Sharing stories can influence the local culture, but can also be counter-culture to other emerging or prominent perceptions of entrepreneurship and success. Kerry reinforced this point by referencing a narrative about how high profits contribute to the recent spike in inflation.

“In Australia, we tend to not celebrate our entrepreneurs as much as we should. Profit is a dirty word. That is something we need to manage and explain a little bit more. Success is really important for our future. If a company does well, we need to celebrate that because we know it is creating employment and profits that come back and support our ecosystem. We are not celebrating our entrepreneurs as well as we could. That is a widespread issue and something we need to work on.” – Kerry Anderson

Metrics play an important role in supporting entrepreneur ecosystems stories. These metrics need to measure what Craig called the ‘blast radius’ impact across the triple bottom line of value to people, profit, and planet. Craig referenced data showing a $250k investment resulted in $5 million community value, a result governments around the world look to measure and replicate.

“The previous CEO of Bendigo Bank Rob Hunt would often talk about the triple bottom line. That’s the blast radius across a region as a result of investing back into the community the profits and capital that successful entrepreneurs and businesses are able to achieve. Something Bendigo Community Bank has done extremely well is invest in that community.”

“What is critical and what we don’t do well is put the metrics around that and communicate back to the ecosystem and broader across Australia. When we look at those metrics and lift the hood on what it is doing to a community’s health, it is economic health, social welfare, and people being able to not just contribute back into their community directly but also provide guidance for other nearby communities to flourish.
The blast radius is quite extensive. For a program that brings in a quarter million dollars and is investing in training entrepreneurs, the blast radius back into the community is AU$5 million plus for a quarter of a million investment. That is not just in those businesses growing and employing people but also in new people who get drawn to the community, that are employed in the community because of that new startup, send their kids to the local schools, go to the local restaurants, go to the local theater, and the blast radius across the community becomes exponential.”

“The problem is because we don’t communicate that message and those metrics are not in front of the bean counters who are behind the angel investors, it is not obvious as to what they are investing in and what those benefits are. There is more work to be done in telling the story of not just the successful entrepreneur and business, but the blast radius across the whole community and ecosystem and how that is helping federal and state government achieve their decentralisation objectives.”

“Every government globally is trying to achieve decentralisation where we have overpopulation on our coast and we need to decentralise the population for reasons of climate change and ecosystem effects. There is a story we can all get behind and contribute to.” – Collin Brady

Funding – government versus angel investors
The metrics are particularly important for those funding the entrepreneur ecosystem to assess their return on investment. Ensuring there is not reliance on a single funding source distributes the value and reduces the risk of losing funding as well as having the activities of the ecosystem dictated by a single organisation.

“If it’s important enough, everyone should put in. I don’t think it should come from any one source. If we rely on government to fund everything, then we are in strife. We know that all the innovative great ideas originate from communities. That’s how our towns and cities were built in the first place. As Colin said, Bendigo Bank started by the community.”

“A lot of our resources have started that way. It does worry me that we get too dependent on government funding. It should be a mixed bag. We need to be able to demonstrate outcomes. It is not enough to just offer these programs. We need to measure the impact. It is not a quick fix. In government funding, there is an expectation that after 12 months of funding, where are the results? It is not that easy. We know that some businesses are a slow burn to get startup and it could be five years before they get momentum to drive up to a global market. We are not going to see the results straight away.” – Kerry Anderson

A challenge, and opportunity, are in the development of the alternative streams. If there is initial funding from a government or corporate, a portion of those funds could go towards attracting or encouraging funding from other sources. An example Kerry continued to explain could be in the development of the local angel investor network.

“The business community gets that. I’ve seen a lot of goodwill over the years from the business community to give their time and money to those who they believe in. That’s one big advantage of belonging to a rural community. If you are part of that community, they will support you as customers and investors. There is certainly great wealth in the rural areas.”

“The problem is we don’t have a network of angel investors in the region that I am aware of. They tend to do it more discreetly like the entrepreneurs who often like to go it alone. So do the investors who will quietly listen to what’s happening and then tap entrepreneurs on the shoulder and say, “I’d like in”. How do we make sure that everyone has that opportunity? That is part of the ecosystem building. We need to draw those investors to connect them and showcase startups looking for investment.” – Kerry Anderson

Policy to address stacked challenges – regional tech women entrepreneurs
Another important point to note is that even as entrepreneur ecosystems are designed to provide opportunities for everyone, there can be groups of people who are overlooked. Further, it is not just seeing a group of people as a single demographic attribute, but considering the whole person and the collective impacts. Alex raised this point from a personal perspective.

“Something to consider with funding as well is that it is not just regional versus city funding. There are a lot of lenses to look at with funding. When we look at the state of funding startups in Australia, 85% of funding goes to all-male teams, 14% goes to all-male teams with one woman, and 0.7% goes to only women-run businesses. When you start stacking these up if you are regional, you are a woman, and heaven forbid you make devices that help only women, these lenses are useful to think about. Not that you can necessarily do anything about it, but it is a very complicated area.”

“And we haven’t even covered ethnic diversity. It is worth considering that it is complicated and that accessing money is a really hard thing. There are big policy things that need to shift. You see higher grant payouts for regional businesses and having clauses in grant programs can be really beneficial. For example, the Boosting Female Founders grant could access 70% rather than 50% of the project. Things like that make a huge difference.” – Alex Sinickas

Community driven
In rural communities, the panel highlighted the need for efforts to build entrepreneur ecosystems to be community-driven rather than top-down. They also need have long-term support which can be a challenge with government support tied to one or three-year funding cycles. This may require developing new structures in regions and new support organisations, such as local community foundations or larger philanthropic organisations.

“We must look to ourselves if we want to create a longer-term solution. Part of the problem as a society and as communities is that we think in one or three-year funding cycles. That’s no way to build community. You need a longer-term vision and narrative. You need a sustained effort at the things that are important in those communities.”

“How do we develop that capability? Imagine regional foundations, for example, that have a specific focus on key opportunities that are interrelated and create an opportunity for others to invest. If you think affordable housing is an issue in Australia. What is a longer-term approach? The issue of rural mental health is one we have been speaking about for a long time. Indigenous disadvantage is another area that requires a longer-term approach. The answer lies within communities being well organised, coordinated, knowledgeable, and resourced.”

“A lot of that will come from within. The challenge is how we collect ourselves around the things that are important and then how we make ourselves investible. In the area of community development, I’m not sure there is a shortage of money. There is a shortage of coordination of the money. Perhaps the ideal for us is to have this clearly on the agenda at a regional and sub-regional level and provide an opportunity for community businesses and others to invest in the longer-term approach.” – Collin Brady

What we can expect at the GEC
The challenges, opportunities, and ideas that come from these Road to GEC sessions inform the Global Entrepreneurship Congress in Melbourne this September 12 to 22. You can register to attend as well as contribute your ideas to the challenge app that will be used to focus on practical solutions before, during, and after the Congress.

In closing the conversation, we asked the panel to highlight what they were looking forward to and expecting at the GEC. Kerry started by looking forward to hearing more about storytelling, metrics, and advocating to policy makers. Kerry also extended an invitation to take the two-hour drive from Melbourne to Bendigo to see their ecosystem first-hand.

“Tell the stories and the metrics – how we can measure and convince the policymakers of where funding is best spent.”

“It is also important to see things on the ground. I issue a very warm invitation to anyone coming to the GEC if you have got a few days afterward, we would love to see you up in Central Victoria. We are putting on a tour and collaborating with Startup Shakeup and other compatriots to bring speakers on thriving rural towns on regional enterprises and see firsthand the stories of Clear Dynamics, Bendigo Bank, and lots of other innovative products and services that have come out of the regions. There’s is nothing like seeing it firsthand.” – Kerry Anderson

Craig reinforced the need for metrics and benefits and ensuring policy and investment cover the full entrepreneur lifecycle.

“We have to fully articulate the metrics and benefits for state and country government policymakers and investors for them to see the outcomes, social goodwill, and economic benefits they can realise. Then let’s join pieces of the pathway to support entrepreneurs as an end-to-end delivery mechanism from a policy and guidance perspective. Rather than it be this patched approach where people get a bit of support, then a chasm, and then a little bit more support, we can map out the whole support lifecycle to be an insurance blanket to foster entrepreneurs to take that risk. We know the benefit that it brings to regions, to a state, to a government’s economy, to its triple bottom line to GDP as a whole.” – Craig Hunter

Colin focused on the value to be gained from having 4,000 like-minded leaders from around the world in the same room focused on practical solutions to complex challenges.

“If there are going to be 4,000 participants at the GEC, that speaks of the energy, talent, and collective intellect in one place. There is something invigorating about that. The question is how you turn this into a movement to deliver on the opportunity and impact. Is it on the agenda? And if not, why not? Potentially because people are not aware that this is something worth investing in.”

“We spend a lot of time on community infrastructure. The best thing we can do is invest in our talent. It is an opportunity to raise the movement in terms of its impact and the opportunity that it presents, particularly to regional communities.” – Collin Brady

From an entrepreneur’s perspective, Alex highlighted the value of engaging with customers and investors in her industry as well as learning from other entrepreneurs.

“I would love to be connected with the health tech network. If there are 4,000 people, I’d love to meet them and especially other regional people in those areas. That’s really exciting.”

“The other side would be to see good case studies at different stages of building a business for regional areas, who they have tapped into, where, how they did it, and highlight the journey. We would see recurring patterns. The goal is to influence policy and investment in research development and commercialisation. In Australia, we have low research and development investment as a proportion of GDP. I’d love to see that increase and demonstrate that that is a worthwhile investment.” – Alex Sinickas

All of these opportunities and more will be available to delegates at the GEC. If you are interested in joining others in similar conversations, we look forward to seeing you in Melbourne this September as we work together to Transform your World!

Published by Chad Renando
Supporting Australian entrepreneurship and innovation, Research Fellow QUT, USQ, CEO Startup Status, MD – GEN Australia