What is a business incubator?
A business incubator provides administrative and business support to start-ups with innovative business ideas. It provides a collaborative work space, and expertise in the form of experience or research. The UNE SMART Region Incubator has two physical spaces, in Armidale and Tamworth, and we’re trying to forge tighter connections in the region between UNE staff and students and local government and businesses to help grow the regional economy.
What does the incubator do?
We’re bringing people out of their garages and off their kitchen tables into a space, to be a part of a creative community. We have an expert-in-residence with 20 years’ experience in commercialisation, who meets with the founders once a month to discuss their progress, and we bring together UNE’s cutting-edge business research and mentors, and corporate and community partners. It’s very much about nurturing the business people, helping them to test their ideas, challenge whether they have provided a meaningful solution to a problem and how they can take this to market.
What are the incubator’s aims?
We want to help people gain knowledge, and build relationships and confidence to help them progress through their ideation and validation phase. We do this through a variety of workshops and events. Ultimately, we hope businesses will spin out of the incubator to stand alone and employ others. Many of these start-ups have a distinct advantage in being located in regional Australia and we want to help them to capitalise on that in this regional setting. They have access to the UNE Business School and the Centre for Agribusiness, as well as the Precision Agriculture Group at the UNE SMART Farm.
What kinds of start-ups have been developed?
About half of the businesses that have been developed in the past eight months are agricultural technology businesses, to service agriculture – from sensing equipment, to a traceability platform for wool and an ethically based on-farm abattoir. But we also have consultancies, craft beer brewers, a local produce trail promoter, health advocate and a couple passionate about preserving Indigenous languages.
What ongoing support does the incubator provide to these entrepreneurs?
There is a lot of generosity and goodwill within the incubator, to help people to achieve their goals.
Every fortnight, a founder shares their own personal story. It’s very much around sharing ideas, knowledge and solutions, which help others to leapfrog and get their products and services to market sooner. It’s a great opportunity to be part of a community, and being part of the Sydney School of Entrepreneurship enables us to experience the student entrepreneurial opportunities.
What have been the major achievements of the incubator to date?
It’s early days, and many businesses are still in their early stages of development, but we are currently working with 30 start-ups. We will have succeeded if we have two businesses spin out in a three-year period. We are starting to see things happen already. One business has expanded sufficiently to contract people and is providing valuable employment opportunities for women, who need greater work flexibility. Others are getting their idea to prototype stage. For all our start-ups, there have been benefits in becoming part of a business community. They feel supported and no longer isolated. UNE students are already benefitting by having the opportunity to apply their theoretical skills to real-world challenges.