The Sunshine Coast is fast gaining a reputation as the startup capital of Queensland. There’s a growing entrepreneurial energy here, helped along by hubs like the Innovation Centre at the University of the Sunshine Coast, Spark Bureau in Maroochydore and Grow Coastal, the Sunshine Coast’s first food accelerator. We spoke to five young locals who have taken a great idea and turned it into a thriving business.
- Knobby underwear
What is it? Subscription underwear service
Founder: Rob Rand
With a background in design and marketing, Rob Rand came up with the idea for Knobby Underwear while living in a remote town in far north Queensland where it was a six-hour round trip to the shops.
“When I got a new pair of undies, I realised how good they make you feel,” he says. “I wanted others to experience that as well. A good way to do it was to make it more convenient. For men to get a fresh new pair of undies in the mail, and also in a design that was a mystery, made it fun to receive the product every month.”
Mr Rand designs the product and also sources artists and illustrators from around the world. What started as a men’s brand has now expanded to include a women’s range.
“We went full-steam in 2015 and since then we’ve grown astronomically,” he says. “We now ship around half-a-million a year from our little Sunshine Coast warehouse.”
Knobby Underwear is a finalist in the Australia Post Online Retail Industry Awards, to be presented in Sydney on July 26.
Advice to other startups: “The biggest thing is to just do your research – don’t get turned off if somebody has already done it.
Commitment is a big thing. Don’t expect to go into it in the first year or two and all of a sudden see results. Don’t give up your day job straight away. I was still working my normal job as a freelancer. A lot of people tend to go all in – it’s going to add too much pressure everywhere else.
Just absorb information in every possible way. Listen to people, talk to everyone. Let the idea organically happen; what you set to do when you first went into it, you’ll come out the other end and it will be so different.
Also, Spark Bureau in Maroochydore is awesome for startups to work out of and use their equipment. It’s also really well resourced to help get people’s ideas off the ground.”
What is it? Sunscreen and lotion applicator
Founder: Raphael McGowan
Launched: December 2018
Keen surfer Raphael McGowan had been on the lookout for a brilliant idea for a startup, but it wasn’t until his sister Tess died from melanoma in 2012 at the age of 31 that it hit him. He decided to develop a device that would enable the application of sunscreen to hard-to-reach areas of the body. He launched a Kickstarter campaign, which has raised $15,000, and he’s confident he’ll reach his goal of $40,000. When that happens, the product will enter its final production stages. Those who supported it via Kickstarter will receive their bakslap in November and it will be available in retail stores in December.
“What we found in our research was there wasn’t one particular group who were experiencing problems applying sunscreen to their body,” he says. “There were people with mobility issues, people who lived by themselves, golfers who were hesitant to use sunscreen because it got on their hands and impacted their clubs. It was the same with fishing – once sunscreen touches bait, the fish won’t bite.”
Mr McGowan spent five years travelling the world in his twenties and returned to study a Bachelor of Business at the University of the Sunshine Coast. After working in the corporate world in Sydney, he returned to the Sunshine Coast in 2017, ready to get serious about his startup idea.
“Queensland has the highest rate of melanoma of anywhere in the world and I wanted to make a difference here,” he says. “I was in contact with the Innovation Centre at the university when I was at uni and I found it to be a very exciting place and one that offered a lot of support.”
Mr McGowan invented the idea and worked with a product design company based in Warana called Guzu.
“They have two industrial designers and I was given the confidence that they’d created products out in the market. We created and tested seven different prototypes, each varying in size and functionality. Although it was my idea, I’ve always made sure I surround myself with local businesses and draw upon their expertise. I know where my strengths are and where they’re not.”
Mr McGowan has a number of retailers in Australia ready to take the product and has had enquiries from the US, UK, Brazil, the Bahamas and Bali from stores saying they’re ready to stock it.
Advice to other startups: “Share your idea; don’t keep it to yourself. Share it with friends and family and every time you do, they will give you tips or ideas you haven’t thought of.
Go online, see what competitors are out there. Reach out to places like the Innovation Centre with an ecosystem of other startups. If you associate yourself with people who’ve been there and done it themselves, you don’t have to do it on your own.
The Sunshine Coast is a big place, but the community is very small. Everyone in the startup space knows each other and is happy to help. There are also online communities you can join and by doing that, you’ll start to progress.”
To offer support, visit kickstarter.com and search for ‘bakslap’.
What is it? Carbonated yerba maté tea
Co-founder: Shane Nettleton
Launched: June 2018
Personal trainer Shane Nettleton is known on the Coast as one of the directors of Vodka Plus, a no-carb, no-sugar, pre-mix vodka drink launched in 2016 and sold in 300 stores Australia-wide. While Vodka Plus has been an exciting venture for the Minyama local, his new startup, Maté Co2, has him equally enthused. He has teamed up with friend Darren Wallis, CEO of GJ Gardner Homes, to launch a drink he says is new to Australia.
“Darren went overseas with his partner and saw this maté was huge and everyone was drinking it,” he says. “People were replacing drinks like Red Bull with maté, because it was a healthier version. He knew I was involved in Vodka Plus, so he asked me to get involved.
“I used my connections, got the branding done, got the bottling done and went through a lot of taste tests to find the right formula – not too bitter, not too sweet. We nailed it about four weeks ago and did our first run. We’ve got a few stockists on the Sunshine Coast and we just nailed a deal with every Good Bean Australia wide.
“The whole yerba maté tea in a ready-made drink has not been done,” he says. “I said mate, look at kombucha – it has gone through the roof. This is going to be the next big thing.”
Maté Co2 will be officially launched on the Sunshine Coast in the next six weeks.
Advice to startups: “I think right now people are a little delusional when it comes to starting their own business. It is going to be hard yakka, it’s going to be setback after setback after setback, but you only need one thing to go right. We’ve found that with the vodka and the maté, we had taste testing fails – a lot of people would go ‘nah stuff it’. You’ve got to keep pushing and go down swinging. If you’re going to have a crack at it, you’ve got to go all in. It’s got to be a two- to five-year plan to penetrate the market.”
Black Lemonade Bakery
What is it? Gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan triple fudge chocolate cookies
Founder: Zoe Wombwell
Based: Forest Glen
Birtinya mother-of-two Zoe Wombwell was a finalist on the TV show Recipe to Riches for a sausage roll recipe she eventually sold to Woolworths, and Black Lemonade Bakery is her next venture.
“My own personal frustration started when I saw a naturopath and was told the usual – cut out dairy, wheat and sugar. I had to bake at home for my treats to survive, because there wasn’t anything around that tasted good. I dabbled with my own baking and started supplying cafes.
“It was very hard to get a gluten-free and vegan treat together – it took about 12 months to get the recipe right so it looked and tasted like a real cookie. I gave it to my friends and family and a few cafes and they were blown away.”
Ms Wombwell has expanded her range to include gluten-free brownie sandwiches with butter cream filling and a vegan chai spice cranberry cookie which contains oats, so it’s not gluten free.
“The plan is to develop more cookies. We’re in the Grow Coastal program at the moment and we’re very close to getting these triple-choc cookies packaged up and into the likes of IGA and some wholefood stores around the Coast, then hopefully into Brisbane and interstate.”
Ms Wombwell says Grow Coastal has helped enormously, introducing her to marketing mentors, packaging mentors and branding mentors.
“With the massive vegan movement happening, I visited cafes around the Coast and said ‘try these’ – a lot said ‘wow, we’ll stock them straight away’. The university cafe was selling 40 a week straight up.”
She has outgrown her commercial kitchen at Forest Glen and is now looking for a bigger kitchen. “It’s just me at the moment and I’m there a couple of days a week,” she says. “I can make about 300 cookies a day. I have two kids, four and two, and I have to work around my partner, who is a wedding photographer.
“Our first-born was diagnosed with leukaemia at nine-months-old and part of our food journey was him being sick and not eating while he was going through cancer treatment. My second born was born with an egg allergy. That’s why I do a lot of free-from cooking, because I do treats for them.
Advice to other startups: “Show your whole self. People want to know who you are, your why, your story and what problem you’re solving for them.
The key to a great startup is having the right product, right time, to solve your client’s problem, teamed with great people around you. Find your tribe and key market sector. Network, network, network. Get uncomfortable and put yourself out there. Find a great mentor. Their advice on their own fails and wins will save you time, money and sanity… I promise!
Avoid overthinking the little things. Minor details can bog you down. If your gut tells you you’ve got something great, act on it. Your gut is one of your greatest assets.”
What is it? Surfwear brand
Founder: Jaxson Bermingham
Chancellor State College student Jaxson Bermingham hit on the idea for his surfwear label when he was 12, launching it on his 13th birthday in April. His mum is Sunshine Coast entrepreneur Rachael Bermingham, who had encouraged him to start his own business. An avid beachgoer who loves to surf and skate, he was doodling in class and began drawing the word ‘faithful’ in graphic block letters.
“I was a bit bored and I just started drawing names,” he says. “I was looking at cool words that would come together. I drew the word Faithful and showed Mum. She thought it was really good.”
Jaxson’s mum helped him with getting the range made and setting up a website (faithful.net.au), plus social media and publicity. The Faithful range includes T-shirts, caps, socks, bags, hoodies and girl’s crop tops, with plans for more in the pipeline.
“All my friends have had positive feedback,” Jaxson says. “They say how they really love it and the clothes are really cool.”
Queensland Surfing has invited Jaxson to present an award at the Junior and Grom titles on the Coast on July 28 and 29. The only other surfwear label invited to attend is Billabong, so he’s in good company.
Advice to other startups: “Ask questions, believe in yourself and give it a go. Just have faith and go follow your dreams.”