The need to stand out from the crowd

Some call it a unique selling proposition. For others, it’s a point of difference. But whatever the words, it’s the thing that makes a business – or an individual – stand out in comparison with the competition.

In Bennett Merriman’s case it became the catalyst for the formation of Event Workforce Group, the business he co-founded with his cousin Shannan Gove, which has recently embarked on its global expansion having signed a contract with the NFL Superbowl, one of the world’s premier sporting events.

Bennett graduated from Deakin University with a degree in commerce and sports management, the first such course in Australia. As part of his degree he undertook an internship with a company involved in online event management and participant registration, while harbouring the desire for a career as a player manager in the burgeoning sports industry in Australia.

Travelling the world after finishing his degree Bennett received a call to attend a job interview in San Diego. At that time he was in Columbia and after three urgent flights on ‘budget’ airlines, an interview in which there were questions he couldn’t answer and no offer of employment he took away one lesson: the need to stand out from a crowd in which a growing number of people all had the same qualifications.

Meanwhile back in Melbourne his cousin Shannan was working for the sports management group IMG and had been involved in the Melbourne Marathon. IMG asked Shannon and Bennett to find people to staff the event. Drawing on a network of fellow students they engaged 30 people and the event went very well.

From this success the cousins concluded there was the opportunity to create a business that would enable students and graduates to get the industry experience and ongoing work that might help set them on a career path.

So was formed Event Workforce Group which today offers the people, experience and technology to support the event management industry. The group provides workforce staff for all types of events, a digital management platform comprising a fully integrated rostering, training and accrediting solution and an academy aimed at giving people a solid foundation for a career in the events industry.

After the Melbourne Marathon, word of mouth resulted in EWG being engaged for musical festivals, The Australian Masters Golf and in 2012, the University Games which were held in Geelong.

Geelong was also the start point of the Group’s global expansion after a pitch two years ago with ICT Geelong (now Technology Geelong) and some assistance from Austrade which would see EWG participate in the San Francisco Landing Pad, a Federal Government initiative to provide a base for market ready start-ups to network with Silicon Valley investors.

With five US events under EWG’s belt but as yet no great brand awareness it may well be Bennett’s “in your face” approach to business relationships, which accelerates the Group’s growth in the huge US market.

Unlike many of the sports entrepreneurs he sees in the US, who rely on the use of social media to spread their messages, Bennett believes in the importance of face-to-face dialogue to build business relationships. Engagement with people at a personal level, in which their own interests and activities are discussed, is a major part of building such relationships.

“We will often talk with our clients and prospects about what they may be doing in their private time, such as their weekend sporting activities.” 

While Bennett says his personal approach helped secure the contract to staff the Tough Mudder event on Philip Island, it was also the catalyst for fast tracking the development of EWG’s software which was scaled up to meet the requirements of the challenging obstacle course event.

“Once we have said yes to something, our approach is to get in the deep end and find a way to make it happen. This has pushed us to keep growing,” Bennett says. “It’s not something you can read from a book,” he says, describing the EWG corporate mindset.

More than 100 graduates have now gained full time work in the sports industry thanks to the EWG pathway. This aligns well with the company’s focus to promote and support the achievements of others.


James Campbell would like to see a better nexus between business and science in Australia to help the country commercialise the research achievements of its small but innovative biotechnology sector.

He told the audience at Entrepreneurs Geelong’s most recent In Conversation breakfast “that in the US universities value scientists with real world experience.”

In Australia, Dr Campbell says while that real world may be seen as the place of ‘the devil’s money,’ the country is a leading research centre, despite being almost insignificant as a market.

“Our politicians might say otherwise, but we don’t  punch above our weight in commercialising our research, ” he said, drawing on more than 20 years’  experience in the creation and/or transformation  of several Australian and international biotechnology companies.

The result of this experience is Dr Campbell’s passion to determine if an idea can be commercialised, while addressing the major challenge of identifying and managing risk.

He defines entrepreneurship as a mindset of seeing opportunities and determining where you can go with them. In his case that opportunity pointed to the goal of improving people’s health.

With a smile he summarises his career as “doing what has interested him, not working with a—holes and doing something which changes the world.

“Quite simply I like helping to build things and sell them for a lot of money,” Dr Campbell said.

That aspiration has most recently seen him appointed CEO and managing director of the ASX listed company Patrys, which is focused on the development of antibody therapies for major market opportunities in the oncology area.  

Prior to that the Geelong-born scientist was CFO and COO of ChemGenex Pharmaceuticals Limited where, as a member of the executive team, he helped transform a research-based company with a market capitalisation of $10M to a company which was sold to Cephalon for $230M after completion of clinical trials and regulatory dossiers in the US and Europe.

James Campbell earned his Bachelor of Science from Melbourne University before gaining his PhD at Deakin University. He returned later to Melbourne University to secure an MBA to hone his management skills. He retains his connection with Deakin sitting on the board of its Centre for Innovation in Mental and Physical Health and Clinical Treatment (IMPACT) among many other appointments.

There are three intellectual components to the decision-making that underpins his role as a senior executive assessing opportunities in the biotechnology sector says Dr Campbell.

“First is it should be a good innovation with commercial potential, second the intellectual property (IP) should be safe and third there should be a good economic structure to underpin it,” he explains.

But a rider to this response is “the need to look for an honest and intelligent founder.”

Looked at from the other direction, his advice to aspiring entrepreneurs,  regardless of industry, is to “record what you have done and employ good management.”

While biotech companies are more likely to be headquartered in Boston or San Francisco and the much closer relationship between universities and business in the USA would make it easier to work there, Dr Campbell remains “passionately a Geelong person.”

Asked about the city’s potential for hi tech ventures, he says when it comes to managing such a business, hi tech is location-agnostic.

He acknowledges however an element of serendipity owing to the presence of some scientists in the area, which has seen San Diego grow into 3rd place for the headquarters of US biotech companies.

“Success breeds success. If people like Geelong it may well become a hi tech centre,” Dr Campbell surmises.

Here comes the wave, now paddle

There’s a similar “point of commitment” between catching a wave and starting a business. Anyone who has ever surfed would understand this analogy that Alistair Lawson endorses.

In the water it’s the time when you start paddling hard until you feel the pull of the wave take over. In business it comes when you realise your idea has momentum, so you must go with it.

While a passion for surfing was to be the catalyst for Alistair relocating to Australia, the idea for his award winning business Great Ocean Road Surf Tours started much earlier when, as a youngster without a car, no one could take him to  England’s surfing beaches on the Cornish coast.

Surfing however was not his first love. As a six year old he was captivated by martial arts. It was for his business Elite Taekwondo that he won his first business award in Australia.

But the emotional pull of the waves continued and neither living in an outer eastern suburb of Melbourne or a seven month old daughter would prevent him and his family moving to Torquay and launching a surf school more than a decade ago.

With several awards behind him Alistair recommends submitting to awards as a means of refining his businesses and looking for new ideas.

“The processes you go through give you a much greater return than just an award.  You understand your business a lot better. Submitting to an award acts as a health check on a business.”

The underlying philosophy of Great Ocean Road Surf Tours provides an insight into why the business has garnered a variety of awards since it was set up in 2006.

“We want our customers to become as good as they can be when they are on one of our courses, whether they are with us for a few hours or several days,” Alistair says.

Staffing is pivotal to achieving that outcome.

“Great surfers may not necessarily be great teachers and vice versa. They are there to teach surfing all day,” Alistair says. 

It is important to live the culture and staff must show a passion, something which is encouraged in staff competitions for photography or videos.

Choosing staff with the right qualifications such as OH&S, working with children and surf coaching is important, as well as ensuring these qualifications are updated regularly, as required.

Alistair acknowledges that “finding a point of difference has helped make us successful even though the business is founded on how I wanted to teach surfing, rather than what a competitor might offer.”

With customers coming from around the word, from a marketing point of view it is essential to understand what is important to each person, including images on brochures, telephone interaction and photographs.

“Honesty in marketing is essential,” Alistair says. He is very much “hands on” with using tools like Facebook and Instagram but cautions that not all marketing tools work. A 1800 telephone number for example proved unsuccessful for his business.    

Equally, he advises not to try and hit back at critics on TripAdvisor. The likelihood of such criticism is minimised he says by having comprehensive and explicit terms of business on the company’s website.

With customer satisfaction remaining his highest priority, Alistair does a regular analysis of the business and asks himself how it might be run more successfully even though some services have been trialled and discarded when they adversely affected profitability.

Being an entrepreneur means that taking risks is mandatory but so too is having a backup plan Alistair says.

“Understand your business model and be willing to take advice. But be careful to avoid the sort of statutory warnings that say ‘this advice is general in nature’. Rather choose advice that takes your actual business into account,” he adds.

And while progressively bigger waves might strike fear into the L-plate surfer, Alistair’s experience suggests the successful entrepreneur like a big wave rider, has the knack of translating fear into excitement.

Having a palate for the challenges of a start-up

If a close family member described it as an “awful idea” for a new business, would you continue?

What about if you were a 20-something year old and it was your Father using those words?

Fortunately, Georgia Beattie persisted with her idea for a single serve package of ready-to-drink wine, even dragging her Father along to meetings to help overcome some of the cultural hurdles that presented themselves when doing business in Asia.

Addressing Entrepreneurs Geelong’s most recent seminar, Georgia exuded the energy and animation that saw her turn a simple idea into a business which she sold last year to international interests.

Now, barely five years after she launched that business, she is bringing the same sort of motivation and enthusiasm to her role as CEO of StartUp Victoria, the organisation whose mandate is to establish Victoria as the number one tech start-up destination in the Asia Pacific region.

Growing up in a wine-producing family Georgia discovered that no wine was being served at a local festival because there weren’t single serve, ready-to-drink solutions. At the time she was studying entrepreneurship, so she decided to create her own brand in a single serve package, as well as manufacture and pitch the packaging concept to a cross section of major Australian wine producers.

While beer and spirits had been the subject of packaging innovation over time, wine hadn’t, remaining “very traditional” she said. A conceptually simple package- a peel off foil lid on a rigid plastic glass-Georgia’s first manufacturing efforts at ironing a foil top onto a glass were not successful and in fact ruined a friend’s iron.

Citing Steve Jobs oft-quoted comment about the background to the iPhone, Georgia could see no point in researching a product that didn’t yet exist.

But she said you should subject your ideas to feedback from others even if her Father’s initial negative response reflected his identity “as a serious wine person”.

“By doing so you don’t risk others stealing your ideas because no one can actually see your vision of what you are aiming for. They may not see its potential and how you are able to realise it,” she says.

In the journey to create a viable business on the foundation of her idea, Georgia says her biggest and it turns out most expensive mistake was to accept a small amount of seed capital from an organisation in the injection moulding sector.

Georgia’s business quickly began to outgrow that organisation which could not see beyond Australia. When its pricing became uncompetitive she had to buy them out.

“So look for the sort of business partners who share your vision and can offer the capability to scale up over a five to 10 year period,” she advises.

Having secured a commitment from catering outlets of major event venues in Australia to carry her single serve wine package Georgia found the multi-brand wine company Treasury Wine Estates receptive to the concept.

In Australia it was a case of aiming for the volume sales typically made at events such as concerts. In Japan it was the need to get the product onto retail shelves. Those who championed the one glass cause in new markets typically shared a similar entrepreneurial mindset to Georgia’s.    She also notes that in Asia, Japan and Korea are “influencer countries in which you have to establish a track record of 12 months or more.

Cultural differences can be critical in some markets, especially for young females, so on occasions “when I needed some grey hair in the room, I would borrow someone or drag my Father (by then a convert) into the negotiations,” Georgia said. 

She notes that different countries and cultures dictated different approaches to marketing. Entering overseas markets she was actively in trade shows, ahead of which she chased media coverage, even writing stories for reporters.

“I did all the media relations which for a fun product made it easy,” Georgia recalls. 

Last year she exited the business and was appointed CEO of Startup Victoria. Its mandate is to encourage more people to make the jump into entrepreneurship and support the development of a sophisticated high growth start-up culture. She is responsible for the launch of the new digital platform for the community and Australia’s first in-depth start-up data collection.


It may come as a surprise to people unfamiliar with traditional print journalism that the culture of daily newspapers is one of fierce competition. Both journalists and photographers alike vie to showcase their achievements in what all would agree are too few pages.

As a young photographer, Darryn Lyons’ ambition was to get his images published on the front and back pages of the Geelong News, every day.

He acknowledges that this fierce work ethic played a big part in his ongoing career success “but I also took risks,” he told a recent Entrepreneurs Geelong’s In Conversation Breakfast audience.

Like the time he became the front page news when a work colleague photographed him getting too close and personal as he was trying to capture an image of a rhinoceros at the newly opened Werribee Zoo. And later, when he was thought to be the first Australian photographer working on London’s Fleet Street, he said “if there was the potential to be killed, the editor would send me.”

So it was he built his reputation behind the Iron Curtain, over the Berlin Wall and in various war zones, thereby paving the way for his initial business success as a paparazzi and founder of a global business which specialised in photographing the rich and famous.    

Years earlier it was selling signed photographs of his cricketing hero, Dennis Lillee, to school mates which pointed to the entrepreneur that the youngster from Herne Hill was becoming by the time he returned to live in Geelong. Business interests in nightclubs, property development and hospitality were balanced by a wish to serve the public which saw him directly elected as Mayor of Geelong.

Of his early career he says “working in the press was an incredible drug. It was exciting to get up and go to work.”   

Admitting to “no negatives in his DNA”, Darryn Lyons took his camera and flak jacket on three tours of the Bosnian uprising which he describes as “a bit like World War 1 being fought with .303 rifles and the occasional AK47.”

“War is exciting and a sense of mortality didn’t come into it,” he said, even though he acknowledges that accepting the smell of death is bizarre.

If Uber and Airbnb are labelled disruptive to the traditional travel and accommodation sectors, then the label might equally have been applied to the unfulfilled niche market that Mr Lyons saw in the print media industry-namely photographing the rich and famous.

“It was a case of being in the right place at the right time with a roll of film costing £2 and I might capture images that with worldwide syndication would garner £50,000 in sales.”

If this was the big picture of an emerging market, Darryn Lyons also knew that to sell them, editors would want to see more than miniscule images on a 35mm colour proof sheet. He became a very early adopter of the technology to print 8 inch by 10 inch images which left editors in no doubt about what they could buy.

So, at its height Mr Lyons photographic syndication business would draw on the skills of more than 1000 photographers scattered around the world’s celebrity hot spots.

Almost forty years into a busy life, and having returned the mayoral robes to the coat hanger, he admits to having worked as hard as ever but not without learning it was a mistake to try and do too much.

Delegation is very important as is the need for an entrepreneur to have good financial advice as well as the opinions of someone opposite him to keep him grounded.

“And, don’t be greedy. Share your dream with like-minded people.”

Success Means Giving Back for Olympian

They no doubt feel the benefit of ski jackets bearing the XTM logo but it’s a fair bet that many of the homeless recipients of these jackets, sleeping rough on our city streets, would not know of Pete Forras. But the former Olympic athlete doesn’t care about remaining anonymous.

As winter makes itself felt across the country, those lucky enough to receive a jacket are benefitting from “Heat the Homeless” a program initiated by XTM in conjunction with its retail partner outlets which encourages people to donate a second hand ski jacket.  

So, while Peter Forras enjoys the market share achieved by the XTM range of ski garments, he says one of the benefits of being a successful entrepreneur is “being able to give something back to society and ultimately leave a better company” than the one he co-founded.

With a history of nearly twenty years, XTM’s popularity as a brand can be seen among those taking to Australia’s slopes this winter.  Next February athletes from three countries at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Korea will wear the garments, which are designed on Victoria’s surf coast.  

The company that is XTM had its beginnings after Peter represented Australia at the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics in the men’s downhill.

He started skiing at Mt Buller after his father, having migrated from Hungary, bought the first hotel on the mountain.

As a youngster seeing a photo of the Olympic team, Peter was inspired to compete as a skier and from the age of 15 he moved between Australia and the slopes of the northern hemisphere to train and compete, operating largely on his own.

He describes his skiing career as encompassing everything “from exhilaration to extreme disappointment”, the latter emotion most evident following a bad crash before the 1988 Olympics in Calgary.

But, having achieved his goal of making the Olympic team he realised the need to re-set his goals after 1988, a decision which saw him begin to help some friends in their company selling headbands for skiers. It kept him in the sport and enabled him to capitalise on a good global network.

“It was six successful years, uninterrupted by any competition, until the market dried up and we got ourselves in a hole,” Mr Forras said.

Harbouring a long term aspiration to supply garments to the Australian Olympic team, he and his partners started XTM with a modest range of gloves.

The big change came when the company expanded its product range to include garments.   

Securing a licence to use Gore-Tex fabric not only helped foster new products for XTM but it was also a catalyst for the company to realise the importance of moving to a higher echelon with the brand.

“We had to ensure that athletes were happy with the product first before we approached retailers,” Mr Forras said.

XTM’s growth was helped by a “floundering” competitor in the domestic market and also that it had fostered a favourable reputation with representatives in the ski garment sector     

Peter Forras stresses the importance of having a clear vision of what a business is about.

He acknowledges he has learned some lessons along the way from failures. Of these the most important is to “know your maths, regarding cash flow.”

Now a strong player in a small domestic market for snow and outdoor wear –where there are only some seven ski resorts compared with several thousand elsewhere-XTM’s initial endeavours to sell locally designed garment lines internationally met some headwinds.

Among the lessons learned from expanding into export, Peter Forras says “we learned not to run into the first opportunity, to do due diligence and to have a clear cut business arrangement.”   

Operating from a converted residence at Jan Juc on Victoria’s surf coast, XTM’s headquarters might at first sight seem at odds with its target market but Peter Forras explains that skiers and surfers enjoy a similar lifestyle.

“Importantly we learned a lot about distribution and marketing from the founders of Rip Curl who were trail blazers in a global industry and whom we count as mentors.”

Over time XTM has assembled a great team of nearly 30 staff says Mr Forras.

They share in the corporate vision to support campaigns for social justice and environmental issues. In the past eight years this has seen XTM offset its total carbon footprint and initiate “Heat the Homeless” which relies on the support of some 25 retailers of XTM garments in Australia.

‘Teacha’ Sharyn graduates to retail tea venture

It’s no accident that Sharyn Johnston chose a pun by which to name her first tea bar in the Geelong CBD.

‘TeaCha’ is the latest venture in a career that has seen her re-invent herself to become a global force in teaching people about the world’s second most consumed drink under the business umbrella that is Australian Tea Masters.

Drawing on years overseas as a specialist in corporate restructuring, she became fascinated with the varieties of tea and how it was consumed.

Returning to Geelong, Sharyn set her heart on opening a quiet neighbourhood café. With a focus on hand-blended and specialty teas, the café would also offer good coffee. 

But perhaps in deference to Australia’s obsession with coffee the journey to becoming a global tea expert started with a diversion when the person selected to manage that café couldn’t take up the role. So Sharyn and son Nathan grasped the nettle; son roasting coffee on site while Mother managed front of house. Sharyn’s café ended up becoming Nathan’s café and together they laid the foundations for what would become the well-known Coffee Cartel.

But Sharyn acknowledges “there is no way that Cartel would be where it is today without Nathan’s passion for learning everything from roasting to branding and overall knowledge about coffee. Working alongside him and understanding more about specialty coffee made me realise that there were as many, if not more complexities in tea.”

She had also noted that while tea is grown in many countries there was little by way of cross-cultural awareness of tea between those countries. But it was her difficulty in finding a tea education course so she could become tea-literate that pointed to a massive but untapped business opportunity.

Aiding her education she drew on her international contacts to learn about tea, from growing it to drinking it. She visited real tea factories which she says were not the sanitised versions featured on TV travelogues. While noting that the tea industry is 99 percent men, she counsels the need to think about the business on a non-sexist basis.

These initiatives helped lay the foundations for Australian Tea Masters which today offers a range of services including tea education and training, private label blending, tea-related events and tea business advice. The wholesale business provides some eight tonnes of tea a year for 120 private label blends in Australia and last year alone the business made one million tea bags. With an office in Singapore and plans for further international expansion, TeaCha is her first venture into tea at a retail level.

Keen to ensure a legacy, she was recently advised that after a long and detailed process, the Government had accredited the first tea school in Australia.

“The Australian Institute of Tea will be responsible for managing our education agenda,” she said.

Sharyn’s most important advice to aspiring entrepreneurs in any field is “to save and start slowly to avoid stress. You must have cash behind you to sustain you when things get quiet,” she counsels, citing times with which she was familiar early in the life of her business.

As a restructuring expert she learned the importance of needing to know all the job roles in an organisation.

“Understand that no one is irreplaceable, even myself,” she said.

This lesson came home to her when she was charged with restructuring a company in Germany. Speaking little or no German she started on the ground floor of the company rather than the top floor which housed the executive ranks.

“You need to push through cultural and other boundaries and recognise that respect for people is very important. A packer is as important as the managing director.”

Passion and perseverance and the need to stay focussed are the essential requirements for building a business,” she says.

Timing and luck define this serial entrepreneur

Brendan McKeegan says an entrepreneur is someone who gives themselves the opportunity to capitalise on timing and luck. It’s a definition proven as much by failure as success for the Surf coast resident who can now best be described as a serial entrepreneur.

“If you’re risk averse, maybe you shouldn’t consider being an entrepreneur. Risk is part of the business but it must be calculated,” he told Entrepreneurs Geelong’s In Conversation Breakfast audience recently.

The first step in his business life and ultimately to defining that life came when he accepted a scholarship to study information technology after finishing his HSC. The IT course, sponsored by names like IBM and Hewlett Packard, had a curriculum driven by business IT needs and their relevance to real life.

While admitting “I still can’t code to save myself” a placement to work with ICI (now Orica) came Brendan’s way during the course and luck and timing saw him head to the UK with ICI. This was to give him the global perspective that dictates his subsequent business successes.

Returning to Australia in the late 1990s he became involved with Hitwise, a business that capitalised on using data drawn from the fast growing Internet industry to aid marketing. Brendan’s role was to take Hitwise global, the success of which was to see the business acquired for $240 million in 2007, thereby paving the way for his involvement with various IT-related businesses.  

A decade on it is his global perspective which sees a strong focus on the market potential of China. His first success was the securing of one of only 300 licences to supply infant formula to the Chinese market, an achievement built on putting in place in Australia an integrated supply chain of farms, production and packaging.

Exposure to China as a market convinces him that to succeed  “you must help China to lift its game by ensuring that whatever you do helps create jobs in China.” Co-branding with Chinese companies has not only helped the Australian product find its way into some 30,000 retail outlets but has helped defray the enormous expense of brand building in that huge market .

As failure can equally define an entrepreneur, Mr McKeegan is not without examples in his CV. While a business to market personal oxygen ran out of puff he says much was learned along the way about offshore marketing and patents. A credit card authorisation business cemented another guideline that there are times when an entrepreneur should not push too hard.

In an operational sense “you must also realise you may not be the right person to run the business and that perhaps you need business partners with skills which compliment your own. You should also accept remaining hands off with what others are doing,” he advises.

Having travelled extensively he says living or working from a regional location is irrelevant.

“It is critical however to understand your global customers and to do so you must keep asking questions along the way which help support the growth and direction of the business.”

From the perspective of someone living in regional Victoria, Brendan may well be at odds with conventional thinking about marketing: if it can work globally, it should work here, although he acknowledges there are circumstances in which Australia may be a good test market.

While many entrepreneurial initiatives begin around developing a product and then trying to get it to market, Mr McKeegan’s journey has proven that conventional thinking can be overturned: a resilient supply chain is essential to ensure a ready market for baby formula.

In further defining them, Mr McKeegan says “entrepreneurs have an innate understanding or self-belief that they are on the right track”. So, while collaboration is important sometimes the people closest to you “don’t see what you see, so it is important to have a wide circle to relate to.”

Brendan acknowledges there is no recipe to determine if a business is on track to grow.

“But,” he cautions, “if it smells like it’s off, you need to react.”

Outlining the issues influencing entrepreneurship he nominates his highest priorities as finding the right people and cultural alignment, followed by finance.

“By finance I mean the importance of having a cash flow model.  You can’t palm this off to an accountant. “

It is also important to document your goals: to get them from your brain to down on paper.

“And, if you aren’t good at something, get someone to do it that is. For example, it is an offshore company which prepares and provides our reports on those areas of Australian agriculture which affect our business interests.”

Working a lot from home, he typically starts his day with a coffee and reading the papers

“Entrepreneurship shouldn’t be about working 80 hours a week all the time. It has its peaks and troughs but it does appeal more than the corporate lifestyle that I once lived. I realised I was not suited to it,” he said.

He gets most excited by working on something from scratch, regardless of the ultimate outcome.

“Don’t get side-tracked, despite each day throwing up a plethora of ideas. I concentrate on one thing at a given point in time, even though that may be my specific role, across multiple businesses. “

Quick update for March

Hey Entrepreneurs,
Just a quick update on some fabulous things happening around Geelong:

Next EG Breakfast
At our next Entrepreneurs Geelong breakfast we’ll be joined by Brendan McKeegan as he talks about Building Global Technology Giants from the Comfort of the SurfCoast!
Friday 7 April, 7.15am for 7.30am (until 9am)
Australia Post Small Business Hive, 108 Gheringhap Street, Geelong.
Get your ticket today at 

Geelong Business Excellence Awards
In it’s 31st year, the Powercor Australia Geelong Business Excellence Awards recognise organisations that have achieved business excellence in the Geelong region. This year there are some new categories including Young Entrepreneur of the Year. Nominate yourself or someone else and be at the awards ceremony on Thursday 17 August. For more information, check out
Small Business Smart Business
Small Business Smart Business is sponsor of Entrepreneurs Geelong and provides low cost education and mentoring for start-ups and existing small businesses in the region.
Seminar topics for entrepreneurs in the next 6 weeks include; time management, taking better photos for social media with your mobile phone, digital marketing tools to grow your customer community, blogging, business planning, Facebook ads, and sales without being awkward.
For more information go to
Check out the mentors available

Runway Geelong open for applications
Runway Geelong is Geelong’s startup accelerator and incubator that is looking for companies keen to grow and go global. Applications are now open and close on April 5th. If you are a hard working, motivated, focused and innovative startup, then check out more information at and apply today!
Upstart Challenge Launch
The Upstart Challenge is an entrepreneurial program and business ideas competition for high school students aimed at building an entrepreneurial culture and fostering strong relationships between students, educators, industry and the community. This year’s program launch will be on Thursday 30 March from 5.15pm to 7.30pm at Deakin Waterfront. Our President, Matthew Fletcher will be interviewing some of the Upstart alumni, so book today at or find out more at
Australia Post Small Business Hive upcoming events
We’re always grateful to our partners at the Hive for providing a great venue for our breakfasts. Pamela and her team are running events regularly so make sure you check out what’s coming up so you don’t miss out. 
Look forward to seeing you at our next event and go get your entrepreneur on!

Darren peddles good coffee to find out what his customers need


That some of the world’s keenest competitive cyclists choose to describe their hand-crafted Baum cycles as the “world’s best” starts with a cup of coffee at a modest industrial building in the Geelong suburb of North Shore.

Regardless of whether they are multi-millionaires with private jets or people of more modest means, the first step in the process of building bespoke bikes is for Baum staff to listen to what the client wants over a coffee.

It’s a convention, begun by business founder Darren Baum, and designed to get an answer from each and every client to the question ’why did you come to us?’ 

Equipped with that answer the process can begin of building a bike to exactly meet a customer’s needs.

In one week Darren’s clients might range from a Tour de France winner to a grandmother who needed a bike to address the biomechanical challenges which resulted from knee surgery, some arthritis and living in a hilly suburb.

“We get as much pleasure providing Cadel Evans with a bike as we do helping to change that grandmother’s life,” Darren Baum says.

An A-grade rider by his mid-teens, Darren had an accident which at 17 abruptly stopped his riding career. But the seeds of an idea for a business had been sown when he decided that he couldn’t afford European-made bikes nor did he like the Australian-made products.

Later undertaking an apprenticeship as an aircraft maintenance engineer, his workplace enabled him to experiment and innovate. This with the biomechanical problems he experienced following his accident- which were to give him an insight into both the geometry and handling of bikes- became pointers to the business that would become Baum Cycles.

“These factors ultimately resulted in a naïve decision to have a go at making bikes, something which capitalised on the enjoyment I get through working with my hands,” Mr Baum said. This was despite a concern expressed by his Father about starting a business.

Just as Mr Baum says there is no formal training for what he has done or the paths he has taken to build an internationally-recognised business in his home town, Baum Cycles does not conform to conventional images of a manufacturing business in today’s global marketplace. It is arguable that is why it is succeeding in a market dominated by much larger businesses.  

A basic premise of the business is that hand-crafted or bespoke bikes are the best option for racing bikes, given that an individual’s biomechanical requirements dictate optimum performance of rider and machine.

If a cup of coffee helps start a dialogue to clearly define a customer’s needs, then the customer remains foremost in the corporate mindset of Baum Cycles.

“We look at everything from the customer’s point of view,” Mr Baum said.

In this age of multiple types of communication-from Snap Chat to snail mail- this presents a challenge as regards ongoing dialogue with the customer.

“So we operate with a single point of truth, namely a box in which all customer information is stored. This is critical to bespoke or customised manufacture. 

“The acid test of success for us is if the customer has a smile on their face when they take delivery of their bike.”

The manufacturing process at Baum Cycles is a very manual one in which it is very obvious what people are doing. Unlike other forms of manufacturing, a lean and agile approach proved unsatisfactory at Baum.

Seeking the advice of a mentor as the company grew Baum was told to established cleaner, more defined work practices, advice that has Mr Baum says has paid dividends.

As part of a vibrant corporate culture, each workstation in the process of building a bike treats the next as an internal customer, something which supports an ongoing drive for quality.

Reflecting the company’s flat management structure and that its founder still enjoys being a welder Darren nevertheless plays a major role in training staff. He says the company has a corporate culture that may not appeal to everyone.

Echoing the experience of many successful entrepreneurs there have been failures along the way.

“Failures are the best time to prove yourself by the way in which you manage them,” Mr Baum said.

With the manufacturing process at the Geelong factory turning out about three bikes a week, the lead time for a bike can be between four and five months.  But this is acceptable for people who look to express themselves through their bikes-whether they are former prime ministers, captains of industry or those who value a bike that is widely acknowledged as one of the best in the world.

Would a bigger workforce reduce the lead time? Mr Baum thinks otherwise, given the importance of the staff progressing up the curve that is learning to fit into the corporate culture.

“We also remain competitive by staying lean.”

Certainly diversification into products allied to bikes is a possibility but bikes remain Baum’s true passion

With a third of its production destined for export and Asia being its biggest market, Baum expects to continue steady growth.

Most customers in Australasia and neighbouring regions are direct. Further afield, such as in North America Baum very carefully selects retail outlets with whom it can partner. 

While producing a world class product for a sport that has global appeal and following Darren Baum admits that financial support for a professional cycling team is beyond his small company’s capability. 

Nevertheless the impact of the internet is such that Baum Cycles cannot be seen as small or think small.

“We are being judged by world’s best practice,” Mr Baum said.