Bega Valley Shire, located an almost equidistant drive from Sydney and Melbourne, and with direct flights from Merimbula Airport, boasts a thriving startup culture that is galvanising the Shire’s 33,500 people to embrace innovation and launch businesses that combine lifestyle with the benefits of being relatively close to the nation’s capital Canberra.
Liam O’Duibhir is one of the central figures in Bega’s start up scene. He’s launched a co-working space that caters for founders and others interested in building an innovative business, and operates his own organisation, 2PiSoftware, which focuses on CRM, web interfaces for corporate data, and integration with Amazon Web Services.
Moving to the Bega Valley Shire a decade ago, Mr O’Duibhir had a faltering startup, but couldn’t find work in his profession as a software engineer.
“I set about creating an opportunity for software engineers in Bega Valley Shire,” he said. “We ran events, and out of the woodwork, software engineers appeared.”
The idea for a co-working space came about when he decided he wanted to send a message to the community that technology was something the region could target.
“The space we had in mind wasn’t like other co-working spaces,” he said. “We wanted something that was much more narrowly focused on technologists such as engineers, architects and system administrators getting together with other technologists.”
Several founders in Bega Valley Shire use the area as a jump-off point for access to Canberra. Mr O’Duibhir said this regional access was one of the attractions of working and founding businesses in Bega Valley Shire.
Marcus Jowsey, co-founder of GovTech firm Surround Australia, agrees. Surround Australia has offices in Canberra, but Mr Jowsey spends his weekends in Pambula, a beachside hamlet that is part of the Shire.
“With cloud technology, location has become far less important,” he said. “And because the cost of living in a regional area is so much lower than in major cities, it enables locations such as Bega to be competitive in pricing services to those places.”
Mr Jowsey noted that staff in regional areas are often more loyal than in major centres, and much of that comes down to the combination of doing work they love, combined with the lifestyle that goes with living in a place like Bega.
“This combination enables people to focus and do a better job because they are happy with where they live, and with the career that they have built,” he said.
Jack Hartican, a co-founder of online roofing company Roofit.Online have also found great attraction to starting up a business in a regional area.
“For Roofit Online and the majority of ‘shallow-tech’ startups however, the biggest leverage points are domain knowledge and access to traditional industry capital,” he said.
“There is plenty of that in the Bega Valley, especially in the dairy business, and I’d wager that a lot of it is still waiting to be unlocked.”
Also present in the Bega Valley is the desirability factor of attracting and retaining talent.
There’s an affordable cost of living, temperate climate, plenty of space to build, great surf beaches, nearby alpine national parks, a UOW satellite campus, and a commercial airport, he noted.
Bega Valley Shire Council is also active in working to attract technology start-ups and innovative businesses to the region.
Its Economic Development Strategy, which was released in 2015, highlights the need to focus on attracting human capital, as well as ensuring that the technology infrastructure, such as the NBN, is connected to people and businesses in the area.
“We have set up an innovation hub in Bega with a focus on start-ups,” said Daniel Murphy, Business Development Manager, Bega Valley Shire Council.
He also noted Council’s efforts have been focused on the AusIndustries Incubation Program as a way of attracting founders and entrepreneurs to the area.
Mr O’Duibhir said that while he has worked with council, he’s also focused on having independence from government. “We want to fund things privately, because in that way we are investing in our own future.”