UNE launches its regional business booster

Published 24 February 2017

(Above: UNE Business School research fellow Matthew Wysel talks over UNE SMART Farm sensors with Catherine Eibner, GM of Startups with BlueChilli Technologies. Catherine was a special guest of UNE for the launch of the Business School’s SMART Region Incubator.)


Startups might be “the new black”, in the words of BlueChilli Technologies’ General Manager of Startups, Catherine Eibner, but that doesn’t mean they are an automatic path to riches.

Ms Eibner, who launched the University of New England’s new SMART Region Incubator in Tamworth last night, says that 95 per cent of startups and new businesses conceived outside business incubators and accelerators fail.

The news is far better for businesses built within a structured program like an incubator: about a third succeed.

And the chance of success is greatest if the incubator environment is tied to a university, which introduces multiple disciplines and the latest research to business planning.

Professor Alison Sheridan, head of UNE' Business School; Catherine Eibner, GM of Startups with Blue Chilli Technologies; and UNE VC, Professor Annabelle Duncan, at the launch of the UNE SMART Region Incubator.

Professor Alison Sheridan, head of UNE’ Business School; Catherine Eibner, GM of Startups with Blue Chilli Technologies; and UNE VC, Professor Annabelle Duncan, at the launch of the UNE SMART Region Incubator.

This is an objective of the UNE SMART Region Incubator, a project developed with funding support from the NSW Government’s $12 million Building Business Innovation Program.

“As a regional university, one of our objectives is to help build prosperous, resilient regional communities,” said UNE Business School senior lecturer Dr Lou Conway.

“The SMART Incubator is one of the building blocks of that mission. It provides an environment for small to medium startup businesses to build a robust, innovative framework before they launch, so they avoid the wasted cost and effort of going into the marketplace with a flawed model.”

“UNE has a particularly strong background in agriculture and agricultural technologies. We are offering access to data from research clusters like the UNE SMART Farm and Centre for Agribusiness to help startups focused on ag-tech develop robust data-based products.”

Ms Eibner, who has been regularly voted one of Australia’s “top women in tech” over the past few years, suggests that the UNE Region Incubator has other advantages for regionally-focused businesses.

“You are close to customers for testing the tools you’ve developed, and Armidale is hooked up to the NBN, which makes it a great hub for development before you roll it out to other markets.”

Her experience suggests that a good business idea is not enough: it has to be a great business idea.

“If you’re developing a new business, you’re essentially solving a problem for someone. But it’s no use just being slightly better than other solutions: the research tells us that you need to be at least ten times better than whatever people are using now. That’s ten times easier, faster, more intuitive, or whatever it is you customers have told you is the pain point you need to be addressing.”

This is where the incubator environment helps fledgling businesses to excel, Ms Eibner said.

“You’re in a diverse, creative environment, where ideas are constantly being exchanged and new ideas about your business are regularly being thrown together.”

“And you’re constantly being challenged on what you think you have. An incubator gives you robust feedback in an environment where you have a chance to change your product rapidly, ensuring that you are constantly incorporating customer validation rather than blindly building a product only to go out into the market and have the customer tell you that the product is wrong.”

Access to UNE’s SMART Region Incubator is being made available through the UNE Tamworth Centre at 24 Fitzroy Street.

For more information on the SMART Region Incubator, or to join the March 2 Armidale launch, visit the incubator web page.

Further information on the Boosting Business Innovation Program here.