CONNECT Mid Program Highlights

We were so pleased to secure  Simona Hughes from Financial Utilities to present this year again on Financial Resilience. Simona is currently a CFO for Evari Insure, Dinnertwist, KPA Architects, Australian Dental Association (WA) Inc, the Fox Group and Facial Plastic Surgery Pty Ltd. Knowledgeable, clear and engaging, Simona never fails to generate enthusiastic and positive session feedback. Simona ran a practical workshop which included the cohort solidifying their big hairy audacious goal, the importance of knowing their numbers, cashflow, tax and human assets. Even a cohort member with an accounting degree finished the session full of revelations and went home with Simona’s workbook to work on their financials over the weekend! It was great to hear from our CONNECT 2021 partners,  David Johnston, Branch Manager at Community Bank Busselton and Dunsborough, after the session about the community banking model and the advantages for startups and growing SMEs.

“Being part of this program is proving to be a very valuable experience for me. The cohort is so supportive and I feel like I am part of a community now which is something I needed as I am new to all of this and it has been a journey to find the right sorts of support and guidance. The Innovation Cluster team is amazing, I am loving the workshops and am looking forward to the rest of my time with the program.”

Amanda Gardiner, Deep Walking Australia


Vinnie Lauria founding partner of global venture capital firm Golden Gate Ventures visited Connect Hub to discuss the Investor perspective with our cohort . Vinnie is a Kauffman Fellow, a guest lecturer at the National University of Singapore, and rated by the Founder Institute as highest startup mentor in Asia from a pool of 2,500 mentors.

Vinnie’s passion is building and bridging startup communities from Silicon Valley to south east Asia and he shared his journey and insights as a Silicon Valley entrepreneur turned venture capitalist:

  • the value of competition with a number of companies in your space increasing potential investor interest
  • the journey can take a long time even a decade; 
  • the geo location of your startup is important to assess the competitors, find the experts to help you and know the landscape;
  • the importance of team building with the CEO being able to inspire staff, knowing your brand and short Mission statement, creating a Vision to last 10 years, and refine and evolve your Values every 2 years – this is important as it will inform how you hire team; plus new approaches to performance reviews including 15Five 
  • the structure and order of your pitch deck per slide, and that the pitch deck and what the founder communicates in conversations after to potential investors needs to align 

The cohort were given a useful session about relationship building and business development with  Emma Briedahl who has worked across journalism, marketing, media, PR for high profile celebrities, and fundraising for the past 20 years in Australia, Europe, the UK and America. Emma shared her unique, and often hilarious, insights from her breadth of experience and covered how to build your confidence in “making the ask”, how to identify potential new contacts, what to prepare before your big meeting, how to create an engagement and cultivation plan, how to succeed in managing your donor and sponsor relationships.

“So far I’m loving it, the only thing that I’d change is for the master classes to be full day. The content is really insightful and the guests hosts are brilliant, they all have a unique way of communicating & sharing their brilliance. I know that everyone is gaining so much out of the course. I’m really looking forward to the 2nd half and what it provides.”

Brendan Earl, Keip Filtration

Lily Yeang , a specialist in marketing, publicity or copywriting and has had key roles in Australian festivals and the WA tourism industry, held a brand development and marketing strategy session. It was amazing to see that Lily had spent time reviewing each CONNECT business prior to tailor the comprehensive session which included a marketing toolkit that illustrated the importance of developing your brand before you can market a business, and that you need to have a clear understanding of what it is, what it has to offer and how it is perceived.


Experienced export and international business experts Simon Taylor, Regional Development Officer & Trade Advisor from South West Development Commission (SWDC) and Austrade, and Peter Why, Business Development at RLG (formerly RooLife group) led our Exporting session. There was an immediate atmosphere of connecting and collaboration even before the session started and this continued with each cohort member able to ask questions and share challenges while they gained an understanding of the value in expanding into global markets, and discovered the funding and support that is currently available. 

Simon shared case studies from local businesses who have begun their export journey, and the support he is providing through SWDC and Austrade, plus detailed the new opportunity presented by the new Export Marketing Development Grant with a new round opening 1st August. It was great to hear that there are now industry specific digital resources for exporting on the business.wa.gov.au website.


Peter Why has had over 30 years of international business including a key role in the development of the first technology clusters like Curtin Technology Park, in Australia, and has worked and lived in China and Brazil.  He illustrated the importance of “co-opetition” : the act of cooperation between competing companies. Peter shared insights into China’s continued strong appetite for premium Australian produce, plus wellbeing and health care products, and said that WA’s challenges of isolation, remoteness and smaller profile presented opportunities for WA producers to tell their fresh and  unique brand stories to spark  interest in asian markets.



Peter expressed the importance of provenance and traceability in asian markets and is working with innovators in block chain technology labelling. WA’s challenges of production capacity and supply chain fulfilment are recognised by RLG who provide innovative solutions including e-commerce platforms across Asia that enable WA businesses to connect and transact with shoppers online. RLG understands the need for an integrated solution for regional distribution and will soon  launch an app in partnership with WA Wines that will get WA wines into a variety of overseas markets, part of thier goal of creating the WA Shopping Basket to the World.  


CONNECT Regional Innovation Hub is delivered by Innovation Cluster and supported by the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development through the GroundSwell program.

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