Victoria’s competitive edge in the state-versus-state rivalry for tech and startup talent lies in its focus on innovation in regional areas not just its capital city, according to Innovation Minister Philip Dalidakis.
While much has been said about the state’s uncompromising efforts to attract large international tech firms to Melbourne, Victoria’s innovation push to regional Victoria is just as important, Mr Dalidakis said.
“This has been an absolute focus of our government, to try to ensure that regional and rural communities can have the confidence that their ideas can be born, developed and ultimately delivered from right where they hatch,” Mr Dalidakis told InnovationAus.com.
The Minister attended the launch of Runway Geelong in Monday night. The wide-ranging program and co-working space in Geelong received a $1.25 million grant from the Victoria government as part of LaunchVic’s first round of funding.
Runway, led by Tribal Group managing director and Geelong local Nick Stanley, is aiming to create 70 new companies and 500 new jobs in the city within five years.
Mr Dalidakis said the launch is a “massive” moment for Geelong and proves that innovation does not have to be restricted to the country’s capital cities.
“Runway shows other communities around Victoria that innovation and startups no longer have to be the domain of big cities. The whole point of LaunchVic has been to illustrate that innovation can happen anywhere and everywhere, and the Victorian government has always said that we’re not geographically focused on one area at the expense of other,” he said.
“If Runway can be a beacon of light not just for other regional towns in Victoria but right around the country then we’ll all be very proud of what we contributed to the ecosystem.”
The first 13 startups to participate in Runway’s one-week bootcamp program were announced at the launch earlier this week and include a drone subscription service, intelligent baby strollers and an AI fishing app.
The 13 startups were selected from a pool of 40 entrants from Geelong and internationally.
Following the bootcamp program, 10 of these startups will then be selected to pitch to a panel of judges, with five chosen to take part in Runway’s 12-week accelerator program based out of the iconic Federal Woolen Mills Facility in Geelong.
The participants will also be eligible for a further three-month incubation period. They will receive a grant of between $15-30,000 initially and then a further $50-250,000 in equity funding at the conclusion of the program.
Runway received the LaunchVic grant last year to act as a “catalyst for innovation in the region” and to establish Geelong as the “global centre for innovation and entrepreneurship”.
Mr Dalidakis said this focus on technology and innovation is especially important for Geelong, which has been hit hard by the closure of the Ford factory late last year and the loss of 350 local jobs.
“It would be trite to not acknowledge that Geelong has been a part of the significant change with our auto industry leaving Australian shores. To be able to support new innovation, new thinking and new ideas demonstrates that there’s a very, very bright future in Geelong and beyond,” he said.
“The departure of Ford is no longer the death sentence that some people may have thought it was 10 years ago. Geelong has a very bright future and Runway is great proof of that.”
While emphasising regional innovation may set Victoria apart from the pack, he said the added competition can only be a good thing for the wider Australian tech sector.
“Runway offers itself up as a beacon of light to the rest of the country. If we get this right then plenty of other rural and regional communities right around the country can see what Geelong is doing and learn from that and then challenge what they’re doing,” Mr Dalidakis said.
“Competition can lead to some fantastic outcomes and hopefully this is an example of that.”