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Is regional area entrepreneurship the best kept secret in Australia? Why startups and scaleups thrive in the Wollongong region

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Say the words “startup” and “regional area” together in a sentence, and some people will give you a questioning look. How can a regional city offer businesses in the startup and scaleup phase all they need to grow, prosper and ultimately remain sustainable?

My answer is easy and despite my bias, it’s completely based on facts.

Wollongong offers businesses in the startup and scaleup phase all they need to grow, prosper and achieve success. By locating in Wollongong, you will quickly become part of an existing ecosystem, where startups and scaleups enjoy more affordable operating costs, a lower turnover of employees and the ability to recruit the high-quality staff needed to make their business a success. This is all underpinned by a coastal lifestyle many covet but rarely experience.

Let’s start with the numbers. Our thriving city offers a cost-effective salary, operational and real estate cost structure for businesses in areas such as finance, accounting, HR, administration, and IT – when compared to Parramatta (28%), Sydney CBD (33%) and Melbourne CBD (29%). In addition, independent research tells us that Wollongong outperforms competitor commercial hubs in not only operational costs, but also in terms of growth and staff turnover.

Invest Wollongong’s latest figures suggest the outlook for the city is extremely positive. Wollongong’s CBD is currently home to over 26,000 jobs. It has seen $1.5 billion in investment since 2012, and currently boasts 16 cranes in the CBD skyline, including over 40,000 square metres of new commercial space under construction.

There is also the vibrant coastal cosmopolitan lifestyle Wollongong offers to consider. In fact, we have seen over 110 new cafes and small bars establish in the CBD since 2012. We live in a world that increasingly seeks that elusive work-life balance but this is often not achievable in big cities. For startups in Wollongong, work life balance is real and the rule, not the exception.

But don’t take my word for it.

Real startup stories behind the numbers

Wollongong-based scaleup Easy Agile provides software development services to its global client base and is proof the city is a smart choice to start and scale a business successfully. With 13 staff and a client base including Twitter and Dell, the business has doubled in size in 2019. Co-founders Nick Muldoon and Dave Elkan say most of their team members commute to and from the office in 15 minutes or less giving them time to focus on their families and their community without being tired. This, in turn, means they bring their entire effort and energy to helping Easy Agile customers. It’s a win, win.

Finding and keeping the right people for a startup is critical to success. A common misconception about launching a startup or scaleup in a regional area like Wollongong is that the talent pool is smaller in terms of both quality and quantity. Not only do startups here have access to a constant supply of world class University of Wollongong (UOW) graduates, they are also able to tap into the 23,000 highly talented and educated commuter pool. Furthermore, a lower staff turnover rate of 8% – just under half that of the national average (19%) – means Wollongong is a smart choice in terms of both operational costs and talent.

Wollongong-based engineering startup, Me3D attributes its national success and reason for staying in Wollongong to the local labour force. Co-founder Leanne Connelly says the access to talent out of our world-class university has enabled the startup to attract highly-skilled graduates that appreciate the lower cost of living and coastal lifestyle.

We also know startups that have chosen Wollongong find it easy to do business nationally, or internationally. Wollongong is just one-hour south of Sydney International Airport, with direct flights to Brisbane and Melbourne locally from our regional airport, just 20 minutes south of the Wollongong CBD.  We truly have the best of both worlds.

Wollongong-based Australian tech startup Devika proves my point – they’re kicking huge goals from a regional base and this is just the beginning. Founder Ken Kencevski says they’ve been forced to think global from the beginning as opportunities aren’t on the doorstep. With 14 full-time employees, Devika has just been announced as an official partner and approved software vendor (ISV) for Virtual Reality content creator, HP Australia. Devika is just one of many startups here demonstrating it’s entirely possible to build a successful company outside of capital cities, and to love where you live at the same time.

Invest Wollongong is focused on implementing practical programs that tangibly support startups and scaleups considering the thriving region as a place to call home. We also have diverse co-working options available throughout our city including iAccelerate, UOW’s business incubator and accelerator, which provides a range of programs for startups and scaleups.

For more information about a move to the region or to book a family tour, visit www.investwollongong.com.au or send an email to the team at [email protected].

Mark Grimson is the spokesperson for Invest Wollongong and the Wollongong City Council Economy Development manager.

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