Innovation Awards winner Outback Business Networks signs $1.2m partnership agreement with BHP Billiton

Australia’s only national business network dedicated to connecting remote and regional businesses throughout Outback Australia has signed a major partnership agreement with BHP Billiton Australia.

The $1.2m agreement means that Desert Knowledge Australia Outback Business Networks, which last week won a 2012 Northern Territory Research and Innovation Award in the Minister for Business Innovation Initiative category, will continue beyond its original three year establishment program.

More than 1450 small to medium enterprises are members of Outback Business Networks which connects businesses across states and borders. The service was set up in 2009.

The businesses are represented in five key industry areas; mining, sustainable building, tourism, local produce and creative industries.
Desert Knowledge Australia Chair, the Hon Fred Chaney AO, said the funding was welcome news which ensured that Outback Business Networks could continue to deliver a valued service to Outback based small to medium enterprises businesses.

“Outback Business Networks is the only business networking service dedicated to Outback businesses that works nationally across borders and regions,” he said.

“The news that OBN won a 2012 Innovation Award is a testament to the innovative approach being taken and the impact the Network has made to businesses across Outback Australia and I congratulate the OBN team and in particular, Mike Crowe, the OBN Director and its instigator, for this award.”

Outback Business Networks Director, Mike Crowe, said the Networks are about connecting businesses to build collaboration and revenue opportunities and create socio-economic capacity.

“Many of these businesses are quite remote. We offer them opportunities to connect with other like-minded businesses, no matter where they are based.”

Mr Crowe said in its three years the Networks had delivered real outcomes for many of its members.

“In tourism, our work in developing business clusters such as the pastoral tourism project Station Stays SA and cross-border collaboration promotion through Overlanders Way and the partnership between the Road Transport Hall of Fame in NT and Old Timers Museum in SA, demonstrates how innovative and collaborative approaches bring real benefits to business.”

The Networks had also developed the Virtual Trade Fair, linking local producers in remote locations with buyers and distributors for their products using web-based technologies.

“This has opened up new market opportunities and revenue streams for a number of our members,” he said.

Collaborative opportunities to promote mining services members at trade fairs and conferences and the Art of Business professional development series had also proved popular with members.

Outback Business Networks has also been recognised internationally for its achievements. An independent benchmarking report commissioned by Desert Knowledge Australia in 2011 found that the work of the program over its first three years was both “bold” and “unique.”

The comments were contained in a report by Brian Webber of SAICAN Consultants in Canada, which specialises in business clustering studies.

He said the unique characteristic of OBN was the concurrent development of linkages between businesses both within regions and across regions and the implementation of tools and processes to make these work across Outback regions.

These tools include the use of relevant communication technology to connect businesses from remote locations.

“No other identified network initiative has tackled these two concurrently. The virtual clusters and the dynamic linkages within OBN could set the standard for economic growth initiatives in sparsely populated and geographically challenged localities,” Mr Webber said.

He said OBN was not just another clustering initiative.

“It is a bold attempt to expand the base of business collaboration while focussing nationally on virtual collaboration between pockets of business activity across the Outback. This is unique.”

Mr Chaney said the BHP Billiton funding support would enable Outback Business Networks to focus on its core service delivery which included the regular series of Cross Border Meetings on industry specific topics, business cluster facilitation, networking events across outback regions and a searchable data base of business members.

“OBN is typical of DKA activities. It brings people together to collaborate, innovate and work locally and across borders to overcome the particular challenges of living and working in the desert – and create opportunities to thrive. I offer my congratulations to the many organisations and businesses and our staff who have been made it a success and thank BHP Billiton for their ongoing endorsement and support,” he said.

According to BHP Billiton, the partnership with Desert Knowledge Australia Outback Business Networks is in line with its aim to make a valuable contribution to its local host communities, not only by providing employment opportunities, but also by supporting organisations that help to create a healthy and sustainable social fabric in those communities.

A second phase of the partnership from October 2012 will see a new investment by BHP Billiton of $1.2 million, bringing its total contribution to $3 million across five years. The focus of the new partnership is on building the long term financial sustainability of OBN beyond BHPB’s support. Desert Knowledge Australia will develop greater diversity and sustainability in revenue streams to strengthen the program for the long term.

BHP Billiton was a founding corporate supporter in 2009 of Outback Business Networks, a flagship program of Desert Knowledge Australia, with a three year, $1.8m social investment.

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