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Toowoomba hosting its first Startup Weekend: The challenges of building an ecosystem in regional Australia

Friday, 17 October 2014 | By Andrew Sadauskas

The regional city of Toowoomba, in Queensland’s Darling Downs region, is set to host its first Startup Weekend event as its local startup ecosystem gathers momentum.


The event is set to take place at The GRID hybrid arts collective at Level 1, 488 Ruthven St Toowoomba on November 14 to 16. It is one of 230 events set to take place worldwide between as part of Global Entrepreneurship Week, between November 17 and 23.


It follows the formation of the Toowoomba Startup Group earlier this year, which was cofounded by local entrepreneurs Leanne Griffin and David Masefield. Aside from fostering innovative tech startups, the group also aims to foster social entrepreneurs who are working towards environmental, social and cultural outcomes.


Masefield told Private Media the Toowoomba Startup Group is still in its baby stages, but has already attracted a strong response from the local community.


“Startup Toowoomba came about through my own transition of an offline business to online. I looked online and noticed in the capital cities there were all these tech scenes and events for startups… I realised all these events were taking place where I wasn’t,” he says.


“I noticed a lot of these tended to be focused around a coworking space. I recognised the one thing Toowoomba lacked was a coworking space and an easily recognisable ecosystem.”


Masefield says he went along to GovHack and Startup Machine in Brisbane earlier this year, and organised to attend a few Startup Weekends. It prompted him to organise a few town hall-style meetings at the Toowoomba Chamber of Commerce for local businesses, entrepreneurs, councillors, and anyone else who was interested in fostering local startups.


“I spoke to the chamber of commerce and they said they had a meeting space, so I made a date. Then I met people in the mentor space around town, explained what I wanted to do and invited to a meeting and set the meetings two weeks apart.


“We also concede not everyone understands the startup world. The big innovations over the past decade mean people can start a company for a few hundred or thousand dollars that can become a global brand, and we want that to rub off on people.”


The group now holds regular meetings with guest speakers on the last Wednesday of each month at 5.30pm at the Toowoomba Chamber of Commerce meeting room. It also hosts less formal get togethers at the Engine Room Cafe on every second Tuesday at 7.45am.


According to Masefield, there is a lot of innovative work going on in areas such as agriculture and remote sensing in the local startup community. Looking to the future, he hopes to establish a coworking space in 2015.


It comes as the district’s economy is set to boom as a result of major infrastructure projects such as the new Range Crossing, a planned high speed rail link, a new airport and a large new business park.


“Toowoomba is set to explode – there’s over $11 billion of infrastructure projects planned for the district. That’s including a new private airport, which will be the first new greenfields airport in 50 years. It’s the first one since Tullamarine.”


“We see it’s vitally important to focus on new technology and innovation in parallel to those projects. After construction finishes on major projects it can lead to a downturn. We want to have a plan in place for what we do afterwards,” he says.


Masefield’s advice for those in other regional communities looking to get a startup group off the ground is “to just go out and do it”.


“Do what you say you’re going to do, when you say you’re going to do it. If you promise three meetings, hold those three meetings… Those meetings will introduce you to likeminded people, who in turn can introduce you to other people who are interested.”


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