Evolution of an idea

By Shari Tagliabue, published in Townsville Bulletin

Mellissah Smith is a high flying marketing and technology consultant who divides her time between Melbourne and Atlanta, Georgia. But while Smith jets between continents, her roots are in the north. Born in Charters Towers and raised in Townsville, Smith has a deep connection and affection for her birthplace, “I knew the region was doing it tough, and I wanted to give back to the community, I wanted to do something to make a difference,” she said.

That difference was a not-for-profit online entity, The World Incubator, where successful people sign up to become a sponsor or a mentor, and people with a business idea are helped to commercialise it.

If people prefer a face-to-face interaction they’re in luck because Smith is also behind the North Queensland Entrepreneurship Conference to be held here in November, featuring high profile business people from here and overseas sharing their stories of success for those with a concept, an idea or an established business that hasn’t yet achieved its potential.

Smith said she had wonderful people in her life, “They helped her to be better than I was yesterday and to think outside the box,” she said, and these mentors and friends are self-funding their trips to North Queensland to share their knowledge.
Smith knows the value of mentors, she has one of the best, Jack Cowin, the Canadian-Australian who is Australia’s undisputed fast food king. After starting KFC in West Australia, Cowin brought the US success story Burger King to Australia, renaming it Hungry Jacks, and is the CEO and Chairman of his company Competitive Foods, and owns Australia’s largest meat processing company, Consolidated Foods, and is the keynote speaker at the conference. Small ideas lead to big things, and Smith says Cowin is an incredible mentor, driving her to dream big and achieve more,

“I met him through a business organisation in Sydney. I started my first business when I was 25 years of age, that grew into a multi-million dollar business, and at 30 I started Marketing Eye, which I now own outright. What I’ve learnt from going to conferences and having mentors and sharing ideas from people is that you want to be better, you want to push the envelope, and not be afraid.”

Another is good friend Megan Burton, who grew up on an Atlanta farm and had no idea what she wanted to do as a career. Burton says she somehow blitzed chemistry at college and ended up founding the Atlanta-based security and internet consulting company SeeGee Technologies. Burton tells of the introduction of Bitcoins as currency in the 1980s, “I wish I had a screenshot of the Wikipedia entry from back then, it was just a couple of lines” she laughed, but the concept of virtual cash exchanges led her to build her next company CoinX, which facilitates electronic money transfers in over 40 U.S. States. Her company navigated the Federal and State regulations governing each State, and have set up a system that allows businesses to move away from banks, and she is an engaging and inspiring speaker.
“There’s a part of me that likes being told ‘No.’ As sadistic as that sounds, when I’m told ‘It’s 47 States you’ve got to get licences in and you’ll never be able to get them,’ I thought, “Never?” Who says ‘never’? I like a challenge, I like pushing beyond the limits. I think pushing beyond the limits, I think perseverance in being an entrepreneur is probably the number one key to success. When you’re told ‘No,’ it’s finding 15 other ways to get to a ‘Yes.”

One who has already benefited from the World Incubator scheme is Charters Towers farmer Russell Broad. Under the mentorship program cattle graziers Broad and his brother-in-law have seen Koorca, the public safety and crime prevention app they dreamt up, set for release.
A former policeman, Broad says, “Three years ago Jill Meagher was murdered in Melbourne and it didn’t seem fair to me and my brother-in-law. We live about four hours west of Townsville and there was a horrible drought and the world sucked. We would just ponder problems, we’d try to solve problems all the time, sometimes they were bigger problems, like ‘how can it be with the technology we’ve got these days, Gillian Meagher couldn’t have the tools to deal with creeps like Adrian Bayley.” Broad said, “My brother-in-law was feeding out hay and had a light bulb moment,” and the rest as they say, is history. The World Incubator has allowed Koorca to progress to the world stage, and Broad has evolved with it,

“We’re not tech heads, I’m former police, I just know what the police need. When my brother — in-law said, ‘Hey, what about this …” I got goosebumps. We don’t even get mobile range out here so why would I be doing an app? I can’t do marketing or social media, I just can’t get my head around it. I needed an excuse to get off my bum and do something about it, and that’s where the incubator came in.”
Broad agrees the universe was telling him something, “Why would there be a Start-up Incubator that would suit us, come to Charters Towers?” Broad’s wife saw the meeting on facebook, and despite two flat tyres on the way there, went through the application process, and is set to launch.

“We had to show our ideas, and show we believed in our ideas, then Mellissah and whoever else was making the decision, pretty much went, ‘All right, if you believe in it, let’s see what you’ve got.” Broad spent three months in town, employing someone to take his place on the farm, a side-effect Smith hopes will filter throughout the community as ideas come to fruition, “He’s still there. When I started this incubator I had nothing except an idea, and in 12 weeks, the last day, I had an app.”