New initiative to support innovation in regional Australia launches

Accounting firm Crowe Horwath is putting its extensive regional network to good use, launching FoundX in Geelong on Thursday.

A new initiative aimed at fostering business innovation in regional Australia will be launched in Geelong this week by Crowe Horwath, which is part of Australia’s largest privately-owned accounting and financial advisory firm Findex.

Operating as a local meetup for entrepreneurs as well as a business mentoring programme, FoundX was launched at a grassroots level for regional businesses. Many meetups and entrepreneurship programs already exist but primarily in capital cities. FoundX capitalises on Crowe Horwath’s network of 80+ offices throughout the country to bring the benefits of these programs to regional businesses.

thomas paule

Thomas Paule, Findex

The problem

Head of marketing and digital at Findex Thomas Paule discovered the lack of regional business programs when working with SproutX, Australia’s first agtech accelerator program, of which Findex is the majority shareholder.

“Rural entrepreneurs have to travel sometimes two to three hours just to come for our meetup. And we thought, ‘This is a real shame, and we can do something about it.'”

Meetups and programs running in major cities such as Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane can be funded through government initiatives such as StartupVic and Startup Melbourne. Paule recognises the success of these programs and the necessity of expanding them beyond the city.

“When you talk about Startup Vic and Startup Melbourne, all the activities, all the meetups, they’re all tied to these city centres. They are state-based governments and it’s providing funding for these programs for the whole of the state, not just Melbourne city,” he said.

“What any small business or startup is trying to achieve is growth, one way or another. And that often comes with access to customers and markets.”

The infrastructure solution

Relying on Crowe Horwath’s network of some 80+ offices dotted throughout Australia, FoundX was launched with the aim of creating business meetups and fostering rural entrepreneurship without the need for business owners to travel to city locations.

“We have infrastructure across Australia and New Zealand in rural locations. From Koorawatha to Toowoomba, to all these kind of really great little rural hubs and city hubs, we’ve got office infrastructure there, we’ve got people, we know the community of entrepreneurs across those offices.”

Paule blames infrastructure for why regional Australian businesses have been very much left to their own devices when it comes to entrepreneurship and business networking, something that is now awash in Sydney and Melbourne.

“How does the government or anyone else trying to support this market and get their head around setting up everywhere? And all of regional centres where there’s a population of a couple of hundred thousand or less. So, instead, they go for the approach of capital cities and larger cities, and try and hop it there.”

“The problem is, you’re naturally dragging the regional entrepreneur out of their living environment to have to travel here or to move. I think that’s a real shame.”

Who is responsible?

While Crow Horwath saw an opportunity to provide a solution to this issue for regional businesses, Paule things both government and the private sector need to become involved to make a difference.

“The private sector can’t do it alone,” he says. Paule believes some policies need to change in order to better support startups across the state for the long-term.

“Instead of really investing in growing it from the ground up, a lot of the policy is around bringing large international tech companies here to cities and giving them tax incentives. And they set up offices, and the minute the incentive runs out they pack up operations and ship off again.

“My view is it’s got to be a collaborative effort between government, the corporate sector, and then venture partners or people that have access to capital. If you can get those three playing nicely, I think you kind of get some real benefits of small business and entrepreneur.

Where to next?

The inaugural FoundX meetup will be held this Thursday in Geelong with plans for the next location to be Dubbo. Following that, Paule says his expansion plans are perhaps “romantic”.

“The next couple of steps are to grow from 1 to 4 or 5, to grow from 4 or 5 to 10, then ultimately to get into the 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s of locations meeting. Then the idea is they could all meet on the same night or the same day, and in the locations, discuss the same topic across 40 sites in our network, at least.”

“Talking about some challenges facing small businesses and entrepreneurship. And you’d really get this kind of hard data for all Australia and what they really think about what the challenges are, and what could be improved.”

“That’s the vision for where I’d like to grow over time.”

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