Sunshine Coast entrepreneurs remain innovative, agile and adaptable, according to new USC research

If there is one thing that defines the Sunshine Coast, it would be our entrepreneurial spirit. From start-ups to established businesses who have grown and flourished on the Sunshine Coast, they all understand the importance of connection, collaboration and being agile enough to adapt in order to not just survive but thrive.

And when COVID-19 reached our shores earlier this year, researchers from the University of the Sunshine Coast, who were midway through Year Two of a three-year study measuring innovation across the Sunshine Coast, knew the results would be very telling indeed.

Lead researcher of the Regional Innovation Benchmark Research Dr de Villiers Scheepers, Senior Lecturer in Entrepreneurship and Innovation at USC said, “what came through very clearly was that businesses in the region were agile enough to be able to adapt quickly when COVID-19 hit.

“For many companies, their approach to innovation changed as a result of COVID-19. Rather than simply focussing on new ideas and innovations, many of the businesses surveyed focussed on making changes that added value to their customer base,” she said.

Value Innovation and “New-to-the-firm” practices

Value innovations are not necessarily new – but when a business has opted to use a particular method for the first time, it is referred to as “new-to-the-firm” innovation.

Dr Retha de Villiers Scheepers said, “The benefit of “new-to-the-firm” innovations is that in a challenging economic climate, they are generally less risky, more affordable and are likely to generate a return sooner.

 “As an example, when COVID-19 initially closed everything down, Wildlings Forest School was unable to run their programs where children could enjoy the outdoors doing supervised activities that allowed them to explore the forest, build rafts and climb trees.

“However, because so many parents had expressed an interest in learning more about the importance of children getting outside and off electronic equipment, Wildings started their own podcast. The podcast focussed on parenting and alternative learning through outdoor exploration and activities – and it proved to be an enormous hit,” she said.

Of the firms surveyed, 52% reported implementing innovations that were new-to-the-firm, up from 48% on the previous year.

Not surprisingly, 100% of the innovative businesses surveyed adopted a range of digital business practices to help them reach broader markets and deliver their product or services in a more streamlined manner and many of these businesses also reported a significant increase in sales from these innovations when compared to the rest of the country.

An entrepreneurial and innovative region

The Sunshine Coast business community is regarded as entrepreneurial and creative with a culture of collaboration. The Sunshine Coast Regional Innovation Project Team (SCRIPT) is a collaboration of local entrepreneurs, businesses, government stakeholders and community members dedicated to growing innovation and business capacity within the Sunshine Coast region.

This culture has been encouraged and supported by Sunshine Coast Council, Noosa Council and Regional Development Australia Sunshine Coast along with their project partners (collectively known as SCRIPT) who together have laid the groundwork, through a myriad of platforms, courses and programs, over many years to ensure local businesses had the tools to grow and scale up.

SCRIPT received $0.5M through Advance Queensland’s Advancing Regional Innovation Program. The funding was collectively matched by over 30 Sunshine Coast organisations – providing over $1 million over three years to develop innovation and entrepreneurial activities across the region.

Chair of SCRIPT Myles McNamara said that to attract digital skills and talent to the region it was essential we recognise and support innovative businesses and ensure there is a community around them to help them to identify and take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves.

“Our region contributes $20.37 billion to the Queensland Economy and that is set to grow to around $33 billion by 2033,” Mr McNamara said.

“Over the past three years SCRIPT has built up a network of collaborators who have stimulated serious innovation among start-ups and local businesses and it’s shaping the Sunshine Coast to be the choice of home for smart, entrepreneurial businesses from all over the world.

“The report confirms our approach is working. The Sunshine Coast is leading Australia in terms of collaboration which is up from 29.8% in 2019 to 34.5% in 2020,” he said.

Case Studies

Demonstrating the diversity in collaborative innovation from across the Sunshine Coast, five local success stories were put under the microscope looking at the innovative practices contributing to their success.

All case studies of collaboration shared common traits, including shared goals, clear communication on expectations, high levels of mutual trust, the ability to remain flexible and the willingness to experiment and learn.

Two of the companies profiled in the case studies were Fireball and Helitak. Fireball offers an early wildfire detection, assessment and mapping system that can notify the Fire Brigade within three minutes of a fire igniting and Helitak specialise in the design and manufacturing of aerial fire-fighting equipment.

Together the two companies worked to combine their systems with the resulting integration ensuring that pilots no longer have to rely on sight to accurately and expediently attack and extinguish a fire.

Another two businesses proving that being innovative, resilient and agile is key to their success were Brouhaha Brewery who are a ‘pub with a sit down vibe’ and Creative Tours who offers bespoke tours and authentic experiences where guests enjoy the produce on offer by the Hinterland’s local coffee makers, brewers, farmers and restaurants.

When COVID-19 interrupted their existing business models, the two businesses worked out a solution that would benefit them both. The result was the “Meet the Makers at Home segment with Brouhaha”.

This online, interactive experience saw Brouhaha create a Brewers Bento Box masterclass which consisted of a three-course tasting of food and beer pairings. Creative Tours delivered the boxes to the doors of customers who were provided Zoom login details where they tuned in to hear about the local produce featured in the box and to learn about different beer styles and flavours.

Other collaborations detailed in the report highlight that innovation can be successfully found across all industries on the Sunshine Coast and that the region is home to many creative, resilient and innovative entrepreneurs and this is expected to grow significantly over the coming years.