Portraying faces of business innovation

University of New England

Every business has a story. Every business founder has nursed the spark of an idea until it burst into flame, and then worked to keep the flame alight against the flukey winds of business fortune.

Over the past year a series of inspirational stories of New England businesses made – and occasionally nearly lost – have been celebrated by the UNE SMART Region Incubator (SRI) community forum series, Back Stories of Innovation.

Now many of the business owners who contributed their ‘back stories’ are appearing before the community in another form: captured in black-and-white photographs for the Faces of Back Stories Exhibition.

The SRI tasked 23 New England residents with a passion for photography – some professional photographers, most not – with recording portraits of 23 contributors to the Back Stories series.

The results have been collected into a photographic exhibition at SRI’s Armidale headquarters, NOVA, at 122 Faulkner Street. The exhibition will be opened on Wednesday 30 November, and remain open to the public through to February 2023.

SRI Director, Dr Lou Conway, said the Back Stories series was partly aimed at making people aware of the home-grown ingenuity and innovation that exists in New England, and partly to inspire those with the germ of a business idea to investigate the idea further.

“When you start to look around, you realise that this thing we call ‘Armidale’ didn’t just happen. It took people with ideas, and the courage and determination to nurture those ideas into reality,” Dr Conway says.

“In the Back Stories series, we explored food, transport, mapping, the repurposing of old buildings for business, housing, technology-based business, creative enterprises and the business of gardening. All of these enterprises only exist because of individuals.”

“The Faces of Back Stories exhibition is a photographic homage to some of those people. We see ordinary people, some of whom we will know or recognise, and each of these people has done extraordinary things that have contributed to the quality of our lives in this region.”

“We hope that the exhibition will encourage people to stop and think about the nature of business enterprise – what it takes to build a business, and perhaps whether they have an idea that in the right environment might flourish into something that contributes to the lives of others.”

That’s what the SRI exists for, Dr Conway observes: “To take ideas that might benefit us all, stress-test them, and nurture the viable ideas into reality.”

In 2022, SRI was supporting 60 startups who collectively raised more than $4 million to bootstrap their ideas into reality, and created 225 regional jobs in the process.

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