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Beneath the surface: SA's economic gems

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South Australia’s economic engine is ticking over very nicely thanks, says investment banker Marcus Bailey.

He’s tucked away on the ninth floor of 108 King William Street, where his corporate advisory business Fortis Ago taps into the aims and ambitions of  local businesses.

Bailey, however, wants more – more for the businesses and more for South Australia.

He and co-founders James Sargent and Leigh Morgan, along with like-minded entrepreneurs in diverse fields of endeavour, are keen to “keep things moving and then make them move better and faster”.

Their passion was formalised earlier this year with the formation of The Engine Room, a networking and development concept they hoped would be a catalyst for businesses to take bigger steps.

“We are not focused on innovation or new products – we are focused on existing companies and assisting them to grow effective, faster and better,” Bailey told InDaily.

It’s an important distinction – The Engine Room is more than an incubator for the tech-savvy – some of the businesses are as traditional as you’ll get.

One of the co-founders of the concept is Leigh Morgan, a wine merchant who started online wine marketing success story Vinomofo.

Another strong identity in the group is real estate agent Phil Harris – he stepped out from the protection of an established agency and hung out his own shingle; he now employs 105 people, sells 1000 properties a year and manages another 2000.

The Harris and Vinomofo stories are reasonably well known – it’s the scores of others that Bailey wants to push into the daylight.

“I noticed in my day to day dealings with companies that there were some amazing, hidden gems and they seemed very reluctant to talk about success and growth,” he said.

“There were a lot of great companies that were being started by passionate, energetic, amazing people that weren’t getting any recognition.

“Leigh, James and I decided that the entrepreneurial voice, the energy and passion of company owners was not getting  through loud enough.  We need a collective forum where we the entrepreneurial voice of the state could be heard.”

In the few months since The Engine Room launched the results have been beyond Bailey’s expectations.

“To date we have signed up over 400 company owners, we are well on our longer term goal of signing up over 1,000 company owners and being the most active representation of company owners in SA.

“We had 100 in our first week and have been growing steadily ever since.”

So, who are these hidden gems of industry?

“You’ll meet them in the next 12 months as we embark on a program of telling their stories to South Australians. We know that some sectors in SA are on the slide – what we are saying is ‘here’s the other part of the picture’.

“More than 20 per cent of the companies that have joined The Engine Room have revenue above $20 million, most of which I had never heard of until they joined.

“The potential in this state is ridiculous.

“Our aim is to take companies in The Engine Room and point them in the right direction and watch them take off, if we can take a company employing 50 people to 250 people, turning over $10 million to $100 million or even listing a few of our members in the next few years I would be delighted.”

He’s not the only one.

The Engine Room has already come to the attention of the State Government and talks are well advanced on joint ventures to create opportunities.

Former Manufacturing and Trade Minister Tom Kenyon is a fan.

“The concept is an indication that there’s a large group out there who are tiring of the negativity that naturally arises when you have decisions such as those made by Holden and others,” Kenyon said.

“Those decisions don’t affect these people – they have their own businesses, ideas and ambitions. They deserve plenty of support.”

Bailey and Sargent say the first few months have been inspiring.

“When you fill up a room with company owners and watch them network and share stories and collaborate it is incredibly powerful, the deals that are getting done at our functions is inspiring,” Bailey said.

“We have given emerging company owners access to funding, to politicians and to people we know can help them.

“Our goal is to be the place that all South Australian companies come to grow; this may sound aggressive but we are well on our way, we have some exciting plans for the Engine Room.”

One of the strongest arguments for the concept came at the recent Business SA Export Awards.

The winner of the small business category was local company Protect-it, which makes warehouse safety equipment and exports to 60 countries.

The Wingfield-based company is an example of an innovative manufacturing enterprise that’s been able to overcome the hurdles of a high dollar and high manufacturing costs in Australia.

Yet when their win was announced, very few in the room had even heard of them.

A few more success stories like that and the post-Holden woes may not be so bad after all.

From next week The Engine Room will launch a series in InDaily which will feature some of the “undiscovered gems” of SA business.

The Engine Room is dedicated to championing the growth of South Australian companies – for more information go to www.theengroom.com.au.

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