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Exclusive networking group aims to boost Victorian SMEs
By Rachel Baxendale
NetWorking Australia, a new, invite-only business networking enterprise created by Victoria-based enterprise hub Workspace Australia, is set to launch next week.
The initiative will kick off with a members-only launch and inaugural meeting on Friday, July 13, before launching publicly and taking on new members from August 17.
Workspaces Australia has eight co-working centres across central Victoria, offering more than 120 spaces for small businesses.
The hubs provide mentoring to members on topics such as financial planning and marketing. The group is part of the national Business Enterprise Centre network.
Workspace Australia business mentor Frank Cinquegrana says NetWorking Australia will differ from other business networking groups because it won’t just be a social enterprise.
“We intend to meet regularly so businesses can talk business,” he says.
“We also want to provide a chain of trade and professional leads for members, and to educate and develop business operators by providing seminars and workshops to help increase their business acumen.”
Membership will be granted to businesses only after they have been nominated by existing members, and approved by a membership committee.
But eligible businesses do not have to be Workspace Australia businesses, and Cinquegrana envisages Workspace Australia businesses will ultimately comprise a minority with the network.
“We want to showcase all local businesses at every opportunity, as long as they’re elite businesses with good trade references,” he says.
“If they’re not a business you’d recommend to your mother, we don’t want them.”
The initiative will launch with around 20 inaugural members, and Cinquegrana hopes to have a branch of 40-50 members by the end of the year.
No two businesses of the same type will be allowed to be members of the same branch, so that members will never be direct competitors.
Once a branch reaches 40-50 members, it will split into two smaller branches for reasons of practicality.
One of those branches is likely to have a significant number of members from the central Victorian town of Castlemaine, where business-startups are surging ahead, and Cinquegrana sees a huge capacity for growth, both there and elsewhere.
“Just to give you an idea, there are five rotary clubs in Bendigo. I think there’s room for at least four business networking groups in Bendigo alone.”
Cinquegrana points to a recent City of Greater Bendigo study which showed that local businesses were losing more than $412 million a year to businesses operating in Melbourne and further afield.
“This was because of real or perceived benefits associated with dealing with businesses in bigger cities,” Cinquegrana says.
“NetWorking Australia is about changing that perception and attacking that $412 million dollar bleed directly.”
The initiative has attracted sponsorship from personnel company Drake International and web designers Design Experts, both of which do business nationally and internationally out of offices in Bendigo.
“Both of those businesses have got a big stake in business in Bendigo, and they’re wanting to follow us wherever we go,” Cinquegrana says.
Cinquegrana is especially keen to see the new networking initiative take hold in Kinglake, where Workspaces Australia launched its newest branch on July 1.
“Immediately after the Black Saturday bushfires hit Kinglake, I think people were really concentrating on rebuilding their private lives and family units and houses,” he says.
“Now they’re ready to pick up the pieces of their businesses, and we’re really keen to offer them the tools so they can help themselves – they’re not interested in handouts,” Cinquegrana says.
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