Thriving innovation ecosystem discovered in regional Australia | Opinion

Thriving innovation ecosystem discovered in regional Australia | Opinion

RIRDC Managing Director John Harvey.

RIRDC Managing Director John Harvey.


RIRDC Managing Director John Harvey talks about life after Canberra in Wagga Wagga with a thriving innovation culture benefiting regional Australia.


I CAN attest that it’s not just our inner city suburbs that are crawling with budding entrepreneurs and the new tech wunderkind.

Who knew?

I certainly didn’t, but making the move to Wagga Wagga I have seen first-hand that genuine innovation is alive and thriving in our regions.

As one of the newest members of Wagga Wagga’s business community, it is easy to see the drive for innovation and creating solutions through technology that will overcome challenges and create opportunities.

Wagga’s innovation culture understandably has its focus on solutions that will benefit regional Australia and not just the agriculture sector.

The passion for our regions, unlocking its untapped talent and potential is demonstrated nowhere better than in the examples set by leaders of the local innovation pack, Simone Eyles and Dianna Somerville.

We invited Simone and Dianna to the RIRDC Regional Innovation Conversation event in February and they were proof that the future of the agriculture industry is not about farmers alone.

Rural industries will thrive and grow not just on the back of primary producers but with support from the innovators, problem solvers and new businesses that will step up and provide value.

Serial entrepreneur, Simone Eyles is Wagga’s answer to Silicon Valley.

Her passion is using new technology to solve old problems and proving that you can be an entrepreneur from anywhere.

She moved to Wagga from Sydney and has started at least five businesses to date.

The first was the smart ordering app and platform for businesses 365cups.

Now there’s the co-working venue Working Spaces HQ; Shrimpa coming soon which will take this concept across Australia; Wagga in a Box; and Incubate@35degrees.

The latter she started with Dianna Somerville to provide practical support to regional small business.

Their mission is to get 100 new startups in Wagga by 2020.

Then there’s the Australia Post Regional Pitchfest for which Dianna travels the country working with a panel of expert judges to select the best ideas from regional Australia’s budding entrepreneurs.

Both women were also instrumental in the establishment of Silicon Paddock, which is the regional ‘sister site’ to Startup Daily and a unique online community for regional startups that launched in Wagga in 2016.

Then, outside the technology and startup space, there’s Young Professionals in Agriculture Wagga - a networking group that hosts events and brings together young people from across the industry.

Their latest event was all about how to turn an innovative idea to a commercial reality.

Wagga is also set to become a dairy industry innovation hotspot following an announcement by the Prime Minister that a new commercial dairy would be established in the region.

The initiative will allow Australian farmers to benefit from world-leading Israeli agricultural technology.

Alongside the farm, the investment group responsible plans to have an education centre and an agriculture and food technology hub that will allow for the testing and commercialisation of ideas from researchers and entrepreneurs. 

As the Research and Development Corporation responsible for national rural issues, the RIRDC is always looking for new perspectives on old challenges and it’s been wonderful to see first-hand the absolute growth and energy happening in the agricultural service sector.

That is what is driving innovation for our industry, not just how to improve production efficiency, but how to deliver solutions and services that meet the growing needs of the industry and help it to grow and be profitable.

Active Farmers is one such initiative.

Started by Ginny Stevens from her farm in Mangoplah (30 minutes from Wagga) in response to concern about the level of depression in rural communities, it’s grown from a small local project to a program backed by Delta Agribusiness that can be coordinated to meet the needs of farmers and their communities across Australia.

AgriHack (another initiative of Dianna Somerville) is proof again of how Wagga itself is at the heart of gearing the agriculture industry for the future, using innovation to problem solve and engage the next generation.

Now an annual event, AgriHack brings together people from all sectors and demographics of agriculture - from high school students to technology developers, agriculture researchers and farmers - to try and solve some of the industry’s greatest challenges.

Moving to Wagga has driven home to me that regional Australia is much more than just agriculture and farming.

There is a vibrant and diverse innovation ecosystem; thriving food and coffee scene; where country hospitality shines and big ideas happen… and (of course) the friendly nods and hellos on Baylis Street are quintessentially regional Australia.

  • John Harvey is the managing director of RIRDC.

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