MARGARET LIM
September 7, 2016

Wagga is like NYC, but different

Bush Telegraph

Wagga is like NYC, but different

Simone Eyles: A hero doing amazing things in regional Australia

If you think that you have to be in Sydney or Melbourne to successfully launch that business idea of yours, you can’t be further away from the truth.

What’s more important than location, says Simone Eyles, is a great business idea and dogged determination to make it happen.

Ms Eyles is the co-founder of food ordering app 365cups that she set up in 2011 with her long-time friend Mariusz Stankiewicz. She chose to build her app empire in Wagga Wagga, the agricultural, military and transport hub in southern New South Wales’ beautiful Riverina district.

“I had originally wanted to start a café so I asked a friend [Mariusz] – who was a computer engineer – to help me develop a good ordering system for the café. At the same time, we were also thinking how cool it would be if we could order a coffee on our phone skipping the queues,” Ms Elyes said.

“So he said to ditch the café idea and we ended up making an app! It took us a year to develop and set up the business. Soon after, a local café saw it and wanted it for their café too, and the rest is history. Along the way we met challenges and faced stiff competition, but we simply ploughed ahead. I believe we have a great product and serious demand for it.”

Her great idea became a lucrative business. They just surpassed one million orders and generated almost $7 million in revenue this year. This is all done from the regional city of Wagga.

Today, 365cups provides customers with the infrastructure, service, technology and support to incorporate smart ordering into their businesses and meet the needs of their tech-savvy customers. Their customers are spread across Australia and New Zealand.

“Great ideas can start anywhere. My take is, you don’t have to give up your life in a regional centre just to have that great career or kickstart that business idea. I believe you can work and come home to be with your family wherever you are. Technology plays a big part, and providing the necessary support is crucial if you want to encourage innovation.”

Ms Elyes talks the talk and walks the walk. She grew up in Sydney and later moved to Wagga to attend university. But eventually settled there because she fell in love with the place and lifestyle.

“There’s a stereotype of regional centres being an economic backwater due mainly to ignorance. I want to change that perception,” she said.

To that end, she has launched incubate@35 degrees, a program presented by Working Spaces HQ, a co-working space she founded with another long-time friend and business partner for creative people to connect or collaborate with other individuals, and engage through networking and events.

Its new incubator program aims to nurture and support people with ideas or problems and create entrepreneurs, innovators and start-ups in regional Australia.

The cohort meets on Monday nights at Working Spaces HQ and takes part in weekly learning activities online. The 10-week program will finish with a pitch night on October 31. Since its launch, it has unearthed some incredible start-ups, from food tech, ag tech, health and fitness, photographers, social enterprise, and even an egg farmer.

“We knew the region had an appetite for such a program, but our ecosystem is so immature. However, that is our opportunity—we want to grow an ecosystem and encourage entrepreneurship and innovation, create local jobs and diversify our local economy,” said Ms. Elyes.

Through the program, she hopes to drill home the message that entrepreneurship and innovation can be commonplace in a diverse, collaborative and disruptive regional Australia.

“Incubator programs are becoming more and more critical to regional Australia given the decline in traditional industries such as manufacturing,” said Richie Robinson, Manager Economic Development and Visitor Economy for Wagga city council.

“Regional cities such as Wagga Wagga need to embrace and immerse themselves in new, innovative industry and seek to create work rather than rely on others to provide it.”

The city offers many opportunities for innovators to build their dream in the heart of rural and regional Australia, with great flexibility and untapped local resources. Facilities like Working Spaces HQ, and government-led initiatives make tangible the great advantages for start-up businesses in the bush.

One such initiative was the Digital Enterprise Program (DEP) launched in 2014 and 2015. Backed by funding from the Federal Government during the very early stages of the NBN roll-out, Wagga partnered with TAFE to deliver the DEP to help small and mid-sized businesses make greater use of online opportunities to conduct business and better achieve their organisational goals.

The program was hugely successful and towards the end, classes were at capacity with a waiting list of about 60 businesses unable to participate.

Similarly, there is already a waitlist for the second cohort of the incubator program—a sure-sign that there is a bubbling entrepreneurial scene in Wagga.

Not only does Ms Elyes plan to create 100 start-ups by 2020, she intends to scale the program across regional Australia. Albury, Cooma, Dubbo, Griffith and Lightning Ridge are some of the regional centres that she has set her sights on.

While she is currently building a framework and a train-the-trainer program, she feels it’s paramount that the program runs out of a co-working space if it’s going to gain traction and success in the regional centres.

“If I can do it with 365cups, you can do it too. I’ve come full circle with my business. If I can fast track the process and guide people to avoid common mistakes, connect them and help them, that’s what being an entrepreneur is all about.”

That is indeed another great idea.

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