Network innovators pump new life into Canberra’s small to medium businesses

Canberra’s heart doesn’t lie in Australia’s public service. It beats within the small and medium-sized business sector.

But many need help and often don’t know where to turn.

Since 2014, the not-for-profit Canberra Innovation Network (CBRIN) has helped local entrepreneurs turn their ideas into reality. The group has now launched a new accelerator program directly targeted at local small and medium enterprises (SME).

“We’ve traditionally been known as the start-up hub,” CBRIN SME director Duncan Amos says. “But we found we were spending a lot of our time having conversations with businesses in small and medium-sized industries, more than we ever imagined.

“They might have gone through a very exciting start-up and launch phase, but they ended up reaching a point where they plateaued or the founders might have become frustrated or fatigued.”

A new program – the SME Accelerator – will address a range of growth pains in the form of a two-day course in effective business innovation.

“A lot of people don’t realise that as you employ more people, your culture needs to evolve,” Duncan says.

“We wanted to help these businesses reinvigorate innovation and understand how they can change the way they view their business and growth opportunities.”

Duncan knows the pain first-hand. He’s founded a number of businesses in the Canberra region over the years, including manufacturing and exporting operation Red Robot.

“What I found during the start-up process was that it was a very lonely road,” he says.

“It was difficult to find someone who you could have an open and honest conversation with about your business challenges.”

He says this need for connection is one of the main reasons for the SME Accelerator.

“It was so we could offer business owners an opportunity to connect with like-minded peers,” Duncan says.

“Rather than CBRIN being the one-on-one mentor, we hope they can grow together as business owners. They will have the chance to talk with each other and successful Canberra entrepreneurs.”

The existing Business Growth Labs, Cyber Business and Griffin accelerators have all passed the pub test with flying colours and Duncan expects similarly good results from this one.

“One business owner described their Growth Lab as like having 80 meetings in three hours,” he says.

“Based on many conversations with SME founders, we know they are very busy. They can’t afford to take weeks off work for a course.”

The SME Accelerator will be held on 6 and 7 June. Made up of four sessions, it will cover market-led innovation-based growth, types of business models that scale faster, building high-performance teams, and pitching and communicating results.

Duncan says a variety of businesses from wineries to space organisations have already shown interest in the 20 available places.

“We are really getting a very good cross-section of very clever people.”

He says the SME Accelerator will likely return next year for those who don’t make it into the initial round.

There are also a number of opportunities to get further support from CBRIN and other organisations.

“It’s the whole process of finding the people who need the help and getting them connected to the right people,” Duncan says.

“That’s why I joined CBRIN.”

Register for the Canberra Innovation Network’s SME Accelerator online.

Article originally published by RiotAct.