The Tech Revolution in Regional Australia, and Opportunities for Future Growth

Here’s an article I wrote in March 2017 for StartupsInnovation.com. You will notice this was pre-2018 Australian leadership spill! I have a real love for Queensland, and regional Australia’s potential to be world leaders in innovation and creativity. This article has heaps of resources and events to be aware of if you’re keen to get started with your big idea in Queensland, whether in the big city or further out. Share your thoughts below.

There's a tech revolution Down Under- and we have ideas on where the next opportunities will be.

As a frequent city-hopper throughout Australia, we've noticed that the tech revolution isn't solely limited to our most famous capital cities. 

 Brisbane skyline at night. Louise Teo

Brisbane skyline at night. Louise Teo

The rural towns dotting the 2300km expanse of the Great Barrier Reef have long been subject to “boom or bust” economic conditions in Australia. With the recent Australian mining sector downturn affecting once-bustling cities throughout Central and Northern Queensland, the time is ripe for entrepreneurialism to take place.

The Australian Federal Government's Innovation Agenda has helped foster an environment for numerous innovation events. One such event coming up is Myriad, the global entrepreneurs’ conference to be held in Brisbane, Queensland’s capital, at the end of March. Bringing speakers from TechCrunch, Estonia, Western Europe and rural Queensland to the city, the event promises to help connect and inspire attendees as Australia’s answer to SXSW. 

Myriad’s timing coincides with the World Science Festival, which will host Hack The Reef, the world’s first hackathon dedicated to the Great Barrier Reef. Held in Townsville, one of Northern Queensland’s largest Reef gateposts, Hack the Reef will bring participants together to brainstorm solutions for the Reef’s rapid bleaching crisis, with global warming sending water temperatures 1-2 degrees Celsius higher than usual and irreversibly bleaching the beautiful coral. Hack the Reef will send winners to Myriad, and help boost tech and entrepreneurial skills in a region not known for its Opera House or laneway coffee spots. 

 Great Barrier Reef from above! Louise Teo

Great Barrier Reef from above! Louise Teo

Maker spaces and coworking centres have also opened up in Mackay, Cairns and Townsville. Startup Mackay is a hub for the sugar cane city and former mining hub now focusing on tourism. The Assisted Devices Hackathon will be held in Mackay, Toowoomba and Townsville later this year, with support from Advanced Manufacturing Queensland helping to re-energise Queensland manufacturing and engineering. theSPACE Cairns and Canvas Coworking in Toowoomba also host startup events and coworking space for locals and visitors. 

Additionally, Australia’s largest corporate startup accelerator Slingshot has announced a presence in Cairns this year. It will dedicate funding and resources to projects focusing on travel, hospitality and entertainment in this city of 160,000 people which hosts international guests such as Elton John. Slingshot is known for running one of Australia’s largest health-tech accelerators, and currently has Australia’s first Human Resources Tech accelerator open for applications to be the next Freelancer or similar. 

Finally, small business groups in these towns continue to host events for local startups and small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) alike. Small Biz Big Future has been held in Cairns for several years’ running, bringing together web developers, agricultural, marketing and legal experts in the region to deliver Top 3 Business Tips for attendees. 

Advance Queensland also completed a regional tour featuring 6 of Queensland's most successful entrepreneurs, including Shark Tank Australia's Steve Baxter and We Are Hunted's Stephen Phillips, visiting ten rural cities to share their experiences with locals. 

How else can regional towns pivot from existing business models and upskill in entrepreneurship? Currently, the options for rural business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs are to attend local events or education providers; otherwise, if they can afford it, to relocate to one of the capital cities. In our opinion, education shouldn't be limited to local TAFE centres and universities, which are often costly and not suitable for time-poor owner-operators. It's also worthwhile remembering that many small business owners are successful despite not completing school, or not having a strong tech culture within an Indigenous Australian community. Private tech skill educators such as General Assembly and Academy Xi are based in major capitals such as Melbourne and Sydney (with GA opening in Brisbane). These cities are doing their bit for entrepreneurship, but are becoming saturated with choice of events. Surely such schools could also aim to broaden their reach to rural areas by offering free or paid video access to classes and talks. 

In times of crisis, there is a long-held resilience demonstrated by local farmers, retailers, and other small business owners, with communities devoted to buying local. Much can be learnt from business owners who have dealt with cyclones, droughts, banana plantation destruction and international trade adjustments. Perhaps a platform needs to be developed for giving these stalwart regional business owners a chance to share their lessons virtually with young and tech-savvy entrepreneurs across Australian cities. This could help introduce a new revenue stream to such business owners, in a valuable collaborative effort of Ideas Exchange. 

Australia's current Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, a former tech entrepreneur himself, has tried to shine a light upon regional innovation. Taking in rural Queensland towns such as Bundaberg and Rockhampton last year, Prime Minister Turnbull was impressed with technologies such as drones used by farmers for crop surveillance and pest control. As mentioned during his visit, it's important to remember that entrepreneurs are not just city-based friends in T-shirts coding in a garage for fun. The real need for tech and entrepreneurial skills comes from those who are geographically isolated and time- and resource-poor. 

Ongoing support for local businesses and education providers, whether rural or metropolitan, will continue to drive the future of Australian innovation. We'd be glad to hear your thoughts on this article and other ideas you may have.  

How Can Facebook’s Spaces VR Program Help Patients and Consumers?

First published April 20, 2017

Overnight at Facebook’s F8 conference, Mark Zuckerberg officially announced the launch of Facebook Spaces in beta. Using the Rift platform and available on the Oculus store, purportedly all that’s needed is Oculus Touch and an Internet connection.

 

Essentially, this means Facebook is adding virtual face-to-face interaction. This is a huge win for patients and healthcare consumers.

There are several ways in which we think virtual reality through Facebook will help patients, consumers and clinicians.

Patient communities are a burgeoning interest in healthtech. The Mayo Clinic Connect is an online messaging and education platform where patients and carers can chat with others suffering the same or similar illnesses. Australian app CancerAid is also building patient communities and sharing the burden of cancer with the millions affected by cancer worldwide, through their app for iOS and Android. Imagine the potential for communities to virtually “talk” with each other.

 

Patients can create avatars and share vivid experiences with each other, including their Facebook photos and 360 degree videos. Imagine taking a 360 video of your community hospital’s dialysis unit in Chile with your smartphoneand sharing that in real time with your friends in Norway.

 

facebookspaces1.jpeg

Screenshot from Facebook Spaces Oculus’ launch video.

The potential for healthcare education is huge. Facebook Spaces includes a drawing function, meaning that potentially, clinicians could educate patients and families in a more hands-on way, without needing to be in the same room as them. Of course, this helps students and clinicians train for procedures and study for exams, as well.  This could come in handy for rural and residential communities who may not be able to travel to the city for care so readily. Hospitals, clinics and education centres producing educational video content (such as the Royal Children’s Hospital) could potentially integrate their videos into Facebook Spaces, and nurses and staff could help teach with the added drawing function inside the virtual classroom. Imagine teaching a patient about what to expect from a hospital visit through a virtual tour on Facebook Spaces. (Or through our anaesthetist friend’s made-for-VR video!)

 

Facebook Spaces also adds another potential dimension to telehealth. Using Facebook Messenger, video calls can be made, including outside of Facebook to the “real world”. We imagine chatbots for Messenger like Amelie, the mental health chatbot, will have incredible functionality here, where the user’s virtual avatar can consult “face-to-face” with the chatbot counsellor. Sometimes it’s easier to chat to someone you can’t look directly in the eye, and we can imagine people who are too uncomfortable to talk to a face-to-face counsellor or who can barely get out of bed when in a bout of depression may find it easier to start with a chatbot. (One of Amelie’s functions is to guide the participant to further help, rather than replace a professional psychiatrist or psychologist.)

And from a global health perspective, users will be able to virtually “travel” with chatmates and experience different environments. This could help with disaster resource planning, for example sharing VR videos and 360 photos of earthquake – ravaged zones with aid organisations to help their planning for resources and deployment. Similarly, can you imagine how design of healthcare spaces will be impacted? Oculus’s YouTube video above shows a user sharing photos of the apartment she just bought. Again, the virtual tour aspect of public buildings and clinics can help plan for better patient care through architecture and design. Imagine sharing 360 pictures of your Emergency Department layout with other EDs around the world at conferences; or performing emergency simulation training through VR tours and demonstrations.

Are you an app developer or health tech startup founder? Now you have a whole new avenue of possibility to think about when integrating social functions into your product.

Of course, cautions about security and encryption of call content apply here, but just imagine the potential…

Got any ideas for how you will use Facebook Spaces in healthcare or for leisure? Comment below and please share this article if you enjoyed it. Sign up for our mailing list if you’d like more updates like these.