We’re pleased to introduce Mr Sam Kelly as the Facilitator of UNE’s SMART Region Incubator. Sam grew up in the New England area, studying at UNE firstly on campus for a Bachelor of Economics, and more recently completing an MBA online.
With an interest in leadership and a background as an ICT professional within the banking and finance sector, Sam draws from some great knowledge for his new role. Sam is also a co-founder of start-up company Morelly™ – a business services and digital expertise company that specialises in servicing the professions, health and allied health industries.
What is an incubator?
Like many people know an incubator to be, a business incubator like ours facilitates growth. Our aim is to help both new and existing ideas develop.
The University of New England was granted $1 million through the NSW Department of Industry Boosting Business Innovation Program, which aims to accelerate innovation in NSW by supporting greater collaboration between research organisations and their business communities. The university has established the UNE’s SMART Region Incubator.
This exciting new initiative will support the business communities in Tamworth and Armidale with smart workspace hubs. Each site will offer various workspaces, with shared spaces encouraging businesses/people to collaborate – we see this as a major benefit of what we are creating. We will also offer personal offices for quiet, uninterrupted work.
These sites bring like-minded and entrepreneurially spirited individuals and teams together, often resulting in the positive flow of creative thought and collaborative assistance.
What is the incubator going to bring to Armidale and Tamworth?
Despite their proximity, Armidale and Tamworth are quite different cities. We’re aware that like many regional areas, they are both struggling with the ability to provide sustainable employment for younger generations. As a result, many are forced to seek employment in major cities. I want to change that.
I believe that the SMART Region Incubator has the potential to facilitate job growth in the region through coaching start-ups, as well as existing businesses. We’ll see this all the way from initial stages of development through to change and growth of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in the region. Providing free workspace and industry expertise through local business partnerships and the network at UNE is going to drive some exciting changes!
The long-term goal of the incubator is to create opportunities for those wishing to stay in the region and attract business investment in the region. There is a buzz around Armidale and Tamworth at present. Now more than ever it is evident the people here want this region to prosper. And we want to play a pivotal role in this.
Is the incubator only for start-up companies? How can businesses in the region get involved?
Of course we’re focused on those business ideas in initial stages of development, but I have a passion for growth for any business of any size – we really want to see the incubator building upon success for all our businesses. There are some great opportunities for partnerships here, one being the NSW TechVouchers program. This enables research collaboration between SMEs and universities in NSW, which will not only be great for us at the incubator, but ultimately connects business and research across the state.
The SMART Region Incubator gives us all some great opportunities, whether in establishing a community business think tank or partnerships for well-established businesses who are looking to grow and change in a competitive environment, as well as in strengthening ties within Armidale and Tamworth’s business communities.
What makes this incubator different from others in Australia?
I believe our key difference and our strength is our regional location. The connection to the University of New England is important, not only to the UNE Business School and the Centre for Agribusiness, but also through partnerships with data producers like the Precision Agriculture Group at UNE SMART Farm, who are generating data through remote monitoring and sensors, just for an example!
My belief in the opportunities we have in Armidale and Tamworth comes from seeing potential of our location as an asset – our local communities are different from a capital city, both led by established businesses in town, as well as active business chambers and well-established industry bodies. All great ingredients for a thriving entrepreneurial community!
More broadly, we’re lucky to have NBN coverage rolled out in the area, which is an undeniable asset for those developing business ideas. This level of connectivity is with other regional centres, as well as capital cities and beyond.
What type of businesses do you think you’re going to see in the space?
A lot of different types! We’ve been talking about some great potential in the ag tech space and foresee a definite agribusiness flavour to some of our start-ups, making use of some of the formalised sharing of data on offer, but there are really no limits to what’s possible.
We’re expecting to meet a lot of entrepreneurs with business ideas in their initial stages, and probably also some ideas that have had a little development and are looking to move into the next stage of building their business. We’ll be working on everything from strategy, to venture capital, to potential markets and intellectual property – a great mix.
As we get started, we expect to get to know the motivated, entrepreneurially-minded people in our region. We can’t wait to hear what business ideas pop up!
How will the university be working with entrepreneurs in the incubator space?
Not only are our start-ups and entrepreneurs going to have the expertise of industry leaders, the community of researchers who are bringing their data to the table will reveal just how research can translate to business growth. More than that, it gives university staff an opportunity to build on-the-ground impact in the business community and further, and I’m sure we’ll see experiences from our entrepreneurial incubator members begin to inform and shape the work of research in this area – it’s going to be of benefit to everyone.
Students at the university are also going to benefit – the real-world nature of start-ups will be a great opportunity to put the theoretical skills they’re learning from lectures and tutorials to the test. There’s so much potential in understanding how data from the page can become the detail needed to build an app or determine a gap in the market for product. Incubators are an opportunity to try something new, where even what we might call a “failure” is really just more information to work with while developing the next idea.
How should interested people get in touch?
I’d love to chat! Give me a call on 0481 274 797 or email – firstname.lastname@example.org
The launch of the incubator spaces in Armidale and Tamworth is currently on track for early March – watch this space or join our mailing list for more information via www.une.edu.au/SMARTincubator