According to the Regional Australian Institute there are 8.8 million people living in regional Australia, and more people are making the tree/e/sea change at an increasing rate due to high cost of living and lack of work/life balance in the cities. The pressure is on the regions across Australia to grab the opportunity and build these areas into havens for booming economic growth, quality of life, and job creation.

With the rise of the ‘innovation boom’, more and more start-up ecosystems and new businesses are popping up across regional Australia; we are seeing pockets of success from Bunbury in WA through to McLaren Vale and Mt Gambier in SA, and Wagga Wagga in regional NSW. But which organisations are needed to be engaged to ensure the opportunities are fully realised?

Creator of Techstars and innovation ecosystem building guru, Brad Feld’s book Startup Communities refers to the Leaders and Feeders of communities holding the key seats at the table: Leaders being the entrepreneurs driving change in their communities, and Feeders being the local councils, business chambers, universities and other support agencies.  If there are any key takeaways from American ecosystem builders it is that collaboration is vital to success. So now it is time for the Leaders and Feeder organisations across regional Australia to come together and build the regions of the future.

Katie Van Den Brand has a 360 degree view of business in regional Australia.  Born and bred in rural WA, the former BHP Business Engagement Lead not only co-owns and manages thriving co-working space Maker + Co whilst providing guidance at innovation hub Meshpoints; but also boasts the title of Vice President of the Bunbury Geographe Chamber of Commerce & Industry.

“We knew it could only work if we had good collaboration across local government, industry partners and other support agencies.  We knew that wasn't happening and have worked hard to drive the change, and within the last few months’ local and state government are now saying it is on their KPIs.  It’s like anything-once it’s measured, people are suddenly motivated.”

A strong interest in the future of working does not come without respect for the benefits of old-school ways, and her experience at the Chamber reiterates this. While Van Den Brand recognises they may be “the old guard” she notes they shouldn't be written off, with their vast experience under their belts and access to incredible networks. What Van Den Brand brings to the table are fresh ideas and a new outlook, a vehicle to help merge the two ways of thinking to work in the right direction. And it’s working.

Chambers and councils are now recognising there needs to be a real transition in order to remain relevant and useful to the business community.

Another ecosystem leader Fleur Anderson, founder of the Rural Business Collective is from regional Queensland. She sees both the opportunity but also the challenges that lay ahead for regions. “‘You don't understand it until you have lived it and experienced it. It's hard to imagine I have a lot of friends living in big cities who love the concept of living regionally but think it would be a big step backwards career-wise.”

Of course change does not come without its challenges.  While Anderson believes the barriers to business entry here are in many instances lower than what they are in the city; outback entrepreneurs are still on a path littered with obstacles such as access to reliable connectivity and transport.

Both Katie and Fleur will be front and center in the discussions and networking that will take place in Wagga Wagga later this year. Regional Entrepreneur and founder of national regional programs and events like Australia Post Regional Pitchfest Dianna Somerville is bringing the conversation within the regions to a head with 8point8 launching today. 8point8 - Regional Innovation and Small Business Conference will see Leaders and Feeders from across regional Australia converge in Wagga Wagga on 21 - 23 August this year. The event will see councils, chambers, universities and ecosystem leaders discuss topics such as ‘understanding the startup ecosystem and its opportunities for economic growth’, and ‘the role of councils and chambers in building and sustaining ecosystems’.

The overall theme of the event is The Future Of Work in the Regions. ‘I see gaps in understanding across different organisations right across regional Australia, and it is time to come together to build and accelerate the opportunity in our region.’ Somerville says. ‘I hope that 8point8 can ignite a conversation and provide the key players with practical tools and examples to help them’.

If you are a regional council, business chamber, town committee, university, TAFE, business advisor, start up, small business or innovation leader, this is the opportunity to create a nationwide network of other activators. And as Brendan Yell from Startup Grind says ‘Tech has trumped the tyranny of distance and place no longer matters’. If you are sitting in traffic, working stupid hours to pay off your 1 x 1 unit in the city, maybe it's time to look further a field at the flourishing opportunities in the regions.

If you are one of the 8.8 million people living in regional Australia and want to learn more about 8point8- Regional Innovation and Small Business Conference, to be held at the Civic Theatre, Wagga Wagga, 21-23 August, 2018 visit

Dianna Somerville