The federal government has dished out more than $6 million to technology start-ups in regional Australia, allowing towns such as Bli Bli, Burringbar, and Kurrajong to start to enjoy the entrepreneurial dividend so far monopolised by the major cities.
Commercialisation Australia, a funding body within the Department of Industry, has issued $6.2 million in grants to 25 computer systems, software and web design companies.
Half the funded companies are based in Queensland, including four in Townsville and three in Maroochydore. NSW and Victoria contributed about five businesses each, while the Northern Territory (Alice Springs) and South Australia (Stirling) boast one recipient each.
The recipients include Wagga Wagga coffee start-up 365cups, which has found a home in many big city cafes and is now expanding overseas.
The biggest grant was awarded this month to Townsville's SafetyCulture, which secured $1.8 million to develop its workplace safety app. Venture capitalist Blackbird Ventures also invested $1.2 million in the start-up.
Chief executive Luke Anear believes SafetyCulture - which plans to hire 40 engineers in the next three months - satisfies the key criterion of generating benefits to the community by creating jobs; specifically via a partnership with the local James Cook University.
"Townsville is not known as a tech space, but we give university students the opportunity to do great work here without moving to Sydney or Melbourne," Mr Anear said.
The company has hired former Google and Atlassian human resources executive Deepa Dhupelia to help lure engineers north. It is already connected to the national broadband fibre network and boasts employee-friendly premises including such perks as a basketball court and 70-seat cinema.
JCU eResearch Centre director Ian Atkinson strongly endorsed SafetyCulture's CA grant application.
"The firm has generated a big-city 'buzz' among the technology and student communities in Townsville. A position at SafetyCulture is locally regarded as prestigious," Professor Atkinson wrote.
The other top regional CA beneficiaries include: Health-e Workforce Solutions, $545,800 (Ballarat); JobFit Systems International, $450,000 (Mackay); MandraIT, $415,040 (Warana); CatchLog Trading, $372,599 (Cairns); and Precision Pastoral, $350,000 (Alice Springs).
Precision Pastoral is using the CA grant to conduct trials of its remote livestock management system, which remotely and automatically identifies, weighs, and drafts individual animals.
The Maroochydore trio are Cloud Data Centre, Intelligent Automation and Future Oceans, the last of which has used the grant to trial a new low-frequency whale pinger, which reduces the chance of migrating humpback whales getting entangled in fishing equipment.
The regional start-up grants are small change compared with the almost $200 million allocated by the program overall, but it has provided some regional developers with an incentive to stay put.
"We're strong believers that you can now build a global market-leading business from anywhere, using scalable digital marketing models," said Blackbird Ventures co-founder Rick Baker.
"The challenge is attracting talented people to regional locations, and Commercialisation Australia's support certainly makes it easier to do this, providing resources and credibility."