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After surviving one of the toughest economic years to date, local Sydney businesses are going well beyond recovery from the COVID pandemic. They’re paving the way for the future of small business.

In 2019, the City of Sydney in partnership with Investible, pioneered the Retail Innovation Program, a 12-week initiative to support local retailers and business owners to innovate, grow and adapt to a changing world. 

Now closing out its third year, the program has included over 50 businesses in the heart of the city. This diverse group of business owners span from a variety of sectors such as retail, hospitality, beauty, health and wellness and manufacturing. 

Short term outcomes have manifested into learnings that are helping these amazing companies stand out and continue to prosper well into the future. It’s clear, the flame of entrepreneurship is burning bright in the City of Sydney.

Cantina OK! Margarita Seltzers will be officially released in 2021.

Twelve weeks to thrive

Over this short action-packed period, the program aims to de-risk every aspect of the business model and provide owners with the tools and strategies needed to remain competitive in today’s increasingly-digital landscape. 

One of the program’s central themes is applying the mindsets and frameworks learned to real business challenges. By blending the combined experience of industry-leading business owners with a rich playbook of strategies and tools, partnerships, collaborations and new opportunities all sprout.

While many of the small businesses in this year’s program fell victim to the pandemic, they quickly pivoted—adapting to their new environment—and are accelerating into the future stronger than ever. 

Here are some highlights from businesses in the program’s 3rd cohort.

  1. In just a couple of months, founders of ‘Cantina OK!’—Timeout’s #1 best voted cocktail bar in Sydney—Jeremy Blackmore and Alex Dowd validated their existing Margarita Seltzer concept through Investible’s Business Model Blueprint framework and accelerated their go-to-market strategy boldly and efficiently.
  2. 2020-lockdown born business Remarkable Humans, an Australian-made Online Marketplace, not only de-risked and brought efficiencies into their newly launched business, but gained invaluable digital marketing strategies and insights that will play a central role in their business.
  3. Due to the current environment limiting tourism, the Jewellery retailer Opal Minded needed to explore how to market to their 90% international customer base digitally. Through the guided process of the program, business owner Renata Bernard was able to validate and test digital strategies quickly and make some key operational decisions to bring efficiencies into the business.
Opal Minded jewellery earring and necklace

Sydney-based Opal Minded is the only jewellery maison dedicated exclusively to Australian opals.

A foundation for the future

The Retail Innovation Program isn’t just about immediate wins. It’s designed to underpin long-term growth and vision, setting businesses up for the years to come. By creating a culture that fosters entrepreneurial thinking and a test-quickly-fail-fast environment, we see this shift in mindset set these businesses apart, year after year. 

Here are some other success stories from program alumni

  • RaRa Ramen, 2019 participant: Since 2019 has grown from a single location to five in NSW and QLD
  • The Freedom Hub, 2019 participant: From a cafe/event space/survivor school to Australia’s leader on ending modern day slavery, educating businesses of all sizes on the Modern Slavery Act
  • Soul Dining, 2020 participant: Korean Fine Dining turned take away comfort food with the forced closing of dine in restaurants, Soul Dining took their bowl concept tested during COVID and used it to launch their new Soul Deli.
  • Banksia Bakehouse, 2020 participant: After a delayed opening due to Covid, business owner Christopher Sheldrick used his lockdown time wisely to treat people all over Australia with his newly launched e-commerce Thicc Cookies and Bigg Brownies, now able to be purchased along with other mouth watering and beautiful treats in the rocks
  • ShirtBar, 2020 participant: Launched a new supper club concept in Surry Hills called Dean’s which is the latest hotspot in Pott’s Point
Participants in the 2021 Retail Innovation Program

Alumni business owners from previous cohorts of the Retail Innovation Program

Business leaders building a stronger community

Beyond the individual successes of each business in the program, we’ve been so excited to see the benefits continue to compound in the active alumni community. These City of Sydney-based businesses create a strong network through the twelve weeks that lasts well beyond the duration of the program.

The program also establishes a wonderful camaraderie amongst the participants. Entrepreneurship can be an isolating and lonely journey, but when you surround yourself with like-minded locals who share similar challenges, it gets a lot easier.

We see this in hundreds of messages weekly and casual conversations leading to genuine partnership opportunities. These businesses are demonstrating the power of a dedicated and diverse community as they contribute to making Sydney a beacon of entrepreneurship and innovation. 

Learn more about the Retail Innovation Program here.

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