Geared up for smart start

At the Baw Baw chapter launch of the Innovation Crowd were, from left: entrepreneur Kaitlyn Gledhill, 17-year-old speaker Danyal Diallo, INN Crowd co-ordinator Chris Hall, Casey City's city economy team leader Tamara Ekanayake, and Baw Baw Shire officers Melissa Moseley and Tim Sweeney.

By Andrew Cantwell

A business start-up support program in Melbourne’s South East is practicing what it promotes, attracting hundreds of members, supporting dozens of entrepreneurs and expanding to three council areas in its first full year of operation.

The most recent chapter, or branch, of the INNovation Crowd program kicked off in Baw Baw on Thursday 25 October, at Warragul.

The program has been running in Casey City and Cardinia Shire since July last year, with regular meet-ups, bootcamps, workshops and masterclasses, and a successful hackathon event and a summit – all aimed at giving life to smart ideas that are then tested and developed to have a viable business basis.

The aim of the INNovation Crowd is to have the region buzzing with new businesses in a supportive ‘eco-system’, and ultimately identified as the start-up capital – and the place to be for new businesses – in Melbourne’s South East.

Federation University and Casey Tech are keen backers along with Casey and Cardinia councils, South East businesses and individual expert mentors. The State Government’s innovation arm LaunchVic has provided funding.

The latest chapter launch sees Baw Baw Shire embrace the program and extend its reach into West Gippsland, which already enjoys vibrant food, health and educations sectors. The tech sector is also showing great potential.

The Baw Baw launch comes on the back of an earlier 12-month start-up program. The shire was keen to retain and harness the business talent identified in that program and help them continue creating value for the region.

The launch night at Warragul included some entertaining ice-breakers, to get the crowd mixing and mingling. Mayors of all three councils also gave video presentations.

But perhaps the key activity was what the INN Crowd calls a ‘humble hustle’, where entrepreneurs pitched their ideas – at whatever stage they’re at – to receive the nod as best idea of the night.

And these entrepreneurs were thinking big.

Baw Baw’s first humble hustle winner was Danny Johnson, who aims to shake up the oral hygiene practices of the last 130 years.

The product he’s been developing for the past two years aims to grab a slice of a business worth $150 annually billion worldwide.

Danny didn’t want to give too much away as product development was entering a critical stage – the first test product was to arrive within the next fortnight – but he was confident it would readily find a welcoming place in the hospitality sector, with high potential value in the defence sector and for humanitarian aid.

All with 80 per cent less packaging than its conventional rival.

Casey City’s Chris Hall, who oversees the Inn Crowd program, said on the launch night that the INN Crowd wasn’t a business incubator in the conventional sense.

It aimed, rather, to work beneath and within communities where ideas were generated, making the most of current connections and networks between people and groups aligned with various industries.

The focus was to identify and take on real-world issues generated by people already working within a field and to investigate and develop solutions.

The program provided a supportive environment for talking through ideas and helping get their feet on the ground in terms of viability and feasibility.

The upshot was that people who wanted to work together to further ideas and identified opportunities could do so while receiving mentoring and taking part in worshops and discussions that allowed them to refine and potentially realise those ideas and opportunities.

The program has recently reported back to LaunchVic on its first year of operations.

According to the report, the INN Crowd now involved about 350 engaged participants, 200 active participants and 32 mentored start-ups, who receive weekly support.

The Masterclasses, run with Federation University, started out with a modest dozen attendees – but have grown tenfold over the course of the year as word has gotten out.

In total – with the annual summit and TedX Casey Conference – about 1600 people from the start-up community have wanted to be part of the INN Crowd through various events.

To join the smart starters, visit the website and book in for an event.