Co-worker hubs inspire more start-ups in regional Australia

Co-working spaces have been springing up in country towns around Australia, providing a welcome boost to Australia’s regional economy.

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A spot in a co-working space can be the perfect halfway house for the budding small business person who’s tired of working in the spare bedroom, but is not in the position to shell out big bucks for a lease on their own premises.

Commonplace in capital cities, co-working spaces have begun springing up in country centres around Australia, as locals twig to the economic benefits of encouraging entrepreneurs to set up shop – and stay – in town, rather than decamping to the big smoke.

Wagga Wagga’s start-up hub

Wagga Wagga, in regional NSW, saw its first such facility open last year, courtesy of resident entrepreneur and long-time NAB business customer Simone Eyles, whose coffee ordering app 365cups has gone gangbusters since its launch in 2011.

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Used by coffee drinkers to bypass the barista bottleneck, 365cups has morphed into a successful small business that now employs six staff.

Eyles clocked her hometown’s need of a space for start-ups after she shifted her venture out of a granny flat and into a small office in central Wagga in 2014.

“What started happening, people started coming in and asking if they could have meetings there and do some work there,” Eyles says.

“When I went to Silicon Valley with my business, I used lots of co-working spaces myself. I’ve seen how well they work, so the idea was always there in my mind.”

With the aid of an Entrepreneurs Grant, Eyles set about turning the concept into reality. Working Spaces HQ, her hub in Wagga’s town centre, opened in July 2015 and moved to larger premises in January this year.

Working Spaces comprises permanent office accommodation for 365cups and half a dozen short-term tenants, a meeting room and eight hot desks for casual members.

The facility is within easy reach of NAB’s Regional Business Banking Centre, which provides advice and support to many small businesses in the Wagga and Riverina districts, including 365cups.

It’s a full house already, according to Eyles, who hopes her inaugural tenants will move upwards – and out – within a year and make space for other fledgling enterprises.

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“We’ve set a target to see 100 start-ups in Wagga by 2020,” she says. “We need that to happen here because we need new jobs. We need people to create new businesses on the back of the federal government’s Innovation Statement because we can’t continue to rely on mining or manufacturing to keep regional communities alive.

“It’s so easy now to start a business and when you have a hub of people who are starting out too they can help you and connect with you and support you. It increases the likelihood of success.

“We want to encourage that economic development because the reality is you don’t need to be in Sydney or Melbourne to run a start-up. We’ve got the people and the resources and the networks to make it happen here.”

Portland’s start-up hub

It’s the same down our way, says Committee of Portland Executive Officer Anita Rank, who’s the driving force behind The Hub, a newly opened co-working space in the heart of the Victorian harbour town.

Situated 362 kilometres west of Melbourne, Portland is home to around 10,000 people. Traditionally, the manufacturing and maritime sectors have been the area’s major employers but local officials are keen to encourage new industries – and the job opportunities they bring with them – to the region.

Portland’s Hub is modeled on a co-working space of the same name in Melbourne’s Docklands. It’s sponsored by NAB, which supplied funding to lease premises in a refurbished heritage building, as well as furniture and office equipment.

The project came about as a result of the close relationship between the Committee and Janeece Schack at NAB’s Business Banking Centre in Portland, according to Rank.

Start-ups pay $125 a week for a secured space at the Portland Hub, $60 a week for a desk and $100 for six months’ casual membership.

Within weeks of its December 2015 opening, the premises had attracted six anchor tenants, including a social media firm, a film producer and an artisan baker. Together they form a buzzing micro-community of country folk who are supporting each other to turn their dreams of running their own shows into reality.

The Portland Hub also hosts Think Tank Thursday, a regular meet-up for emerging entrepreneurs, and a networking group for young professionals from the town and surrounding district.

“These groups allow people to form valuable business connections and give them somewhere to go to develop their ideas,” Rank says.

“Our goal with the Hub was to provide desk space and a place where individuals could meet and talk to other like-minded people about projects and opportunities.

“It’s all about encouraging interest among people in starting their own businesses … it’s early days for us but it seems like the Hub’s already becoming a one-stop shop.”

Every local who stays puts and founds a successful enterprise provides a welcome boost to Australia’s regional economy, Rank says.

“The more we foster these opportunities, the more we’ll see businesses develop and create more jobs which are independent of our traditional industries.”

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