Early bird Tickets for 8point8, Regional Innovation and Small Business Conference are now on sale!  Get your tickets here.


If we build it, they will come: the start-up ecosystem chat regional innovators say we have to have.

According to the Regional Australia Institute, there are 8.8 million people living in regional Australia and the increasing exodus from overstretched cities means the opportunities for job creation and economic growth are creating local ecosystems ripe for possibility.

Enter regional entrepreneurs like Wagga-based Di Somerville who are emerging as key drivers in the nurturing and creation of rural and regional startups and innovation ecosystems.

Inspired by a recent business trip to Silicon Valley, the former naval officer turned innovator is determined to connect and support startup communities and ensure regions are proactive in providing opportunities for growth. Having helmed a range of programs that assist startups in regional areas, including the acclaimed 2017 Australia Post Regional Pitchfest, Di is acutely aware of the disconnect between the ‘old guard,’ i.e., local councils, chambers, and universities and those new business models and entrepreneurs eager to disrupt existing models.

On August 22-23 Ms. Somerville is bringing the conversation to a head, hosting the inaugural national 8point8 Regional Innovation and Small Business Conference and bringing to Wagga a trailblazing panel of national speakers to discuss and debate The Future of Work in the Regions.

One such keynote speaker is Katie van den Brand an ex-BHP Billiton executive turned entrepreneur who has repurposed her big business knowledge and skills to support regional innovators in Western Australia. The industry leader is paving the way for local policy decision makers to collaborate with ambitious startups and is well equipped to do so having worked on both sides as Vice President of Bunbury Geographe Chamber of Commerce and as a regional innovation consultant for Maker + Co and Meshpoints. “These programs could not have evolved without collaboration from local government, industry partners, and other support agencies. We knew that wasn’t happening and have worked hard to drive that change,” says Katie.

Di believes providing case studies will underscore the importance of partnerships within regional communities. “Similar hubs are rapidly popping up around the nation, and we know Councils and local governments want to embrace diversity, but there are no models or systems in place for them to navigate. Where are the road-maps, the mentors, the investors? Where are the clear paths that will develop a sustainable model? Without these networks and pre-established infrastructures to tap into, regional centres are at the mercy of brain drain where scaleable start-ups look elsewhere to invest. It is critical we empower people in regional Australia to be able to turn their big ideas into successful businesses and accelerate the opportunities in their regions.”

“8point8 will ignite these conversations and discuss how regions can come up with forward-thinking solutions to create greater economic development across regional Australia. What we want to bring to the table are fresh ideas, a new outlook and together we can create a road map that will merge the two ways of thinking.

Early bird tickets for 8point8 Regional Innovation and Small Business Conference to be held at the Civic Theatre, Wagga Wagga from 22-23 August are now on sale. For a full list of speakers, please head to 8point8.com.au.

Dianna Somerville