Well, there are a couple of things happening, said Jillian Kilby. “I can’t tell you exactly what it is just yet because a few more pieces need to fall into place.
“But it is very exciting.”
It was mid-April and I was speaking to Jilian Kilby a few days after her big prize.
Earlier, the Dubbo-based civil engineer had emerged from four finalists at Parliament House in Sydney to join the impressive pantheon of NSW Woman of the Year winners.
The focus on the night was obviously on the achievements Ms Kilby has under her belt. But what was the farmers’ daughter from Coonamble, the Stanford University-trained founder of the Infrastructure Collective, going to do with her $10,000 bursary?
Probably best to recap what the 34-year-old has built already.
Since 2009, when she founded her business on a 50,000 hectare property west of Walgett, Ms Kilby has worked with 50 local councils across regional NSW.
She’s also worked with clients across Australia and the USA.
But her focus in undoubtedly in the regions, and on the people looking to get their ideas off the ground.
The spine of her Rural Women’s Award pitch was a commitment to Regional Startups Insight Study to get a better idea of who is out there in regional NSW, what resources they have, and what resources they need.
“We have no data on these people,” she told The Daily Liberal in April.
“They are sitting at home at their kitchen bench, thinking through their business ideas and no one has captured the information around how we are best to serve them.”
And so things were set in motion.
There are wonderful, excellent, high-quality services (in regional NSW). But the space is congested, there is no traffic controller, and no-one knows where to start
In the months since her award win she’s used her bursary to organise three workshops across the state to identify and explore the needs of regional start-ups and future founders
“When we won the award, I’d already pulled the trigger on some of this stuff,” she said. “I figured, don’t wait to win it, commit to do it. And even if you don’t win (and get the $10,000), it’ll work itself out.
“The thing that surprised me about winning was the amount of support I’ve gotten since. Whether that’s been ‘here’s a free space, here’s catering, we’re going to send two or three people along to your workshops’.”
She puts that support down to the power of backing a woman.
“Sometimes women aren’t brave enough to put their hand up and say, ‘this is what I want to do’. Or if they do their voice isn’t deemed loud enough.”
Ms Kilby’s Regional Start-ups Insight Study saw workshops held in Dubbo, Armidale and Sydney last week.
In part, they were organised to help service providers – government departments, graphic designers and accountants – understand exactly what budding ideas and business people in the regions need.
She says building start-up communities in the regions is key.
“These areas are craving community. And my project is not saying that there aren’t enough services in regional communities. There are wonderful, excellent, high-quality services out there.
“But the space is congested, there is no traffic controller, and no-one knows where to start. My solution is community.
“The approach has been piecemeal. No-one has enough money to do anything well – only enough to do things here and there.”
In amongst it all, Ms Kilby is launching and facilitating an initiative in Dubbo called The Exchange. It’s a free, non-commercial community for start-ups to come together.
“Red Cross does something similar. They let every service provider turn up and do what they do best. So we want to be the Red Cross for start-ups.”
As for the national award in October, Ms Kilby is again holding her cards close to her chest. She says the timing of the awards is undeniably great publicity for her survey and start-up focus.
“Now is the best time to run at this.”
“If we win another $10,000 at Nationals, despite the fact it is costing me more than I won, I could turn around and go ‘right, who’s in? Who wants to get on board?”
There’s also a couple of other things in the works too.
“I can’t say just yet, but it’s been a long time coming and just needs a couple of things to fall in place to make it happen.”