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10 minutes with... Sarah Lindblom

People

Adelaide is undergoing an economic metamorphisis, presenting new opportunities and tapping into some creative business minds, says Business SA’s new director of strategic collaboration Sarah Lindblom.

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Lee Nicholson: Welcome Sarah, what is your full job title?

Sarah Lindblom: My full title is director of strategic collaboration for Business SA.

The role is working under the office of the CEO, with Nigel McBride, and the role has been developed to assist Nigel and the office of the CEO to look at collaboration projects outside Business SA.

We’ve [Business SA] always been collaborative but I guess it’s really putting more focus on that so we can achieve what we’re trying to achieve here are Business SA – which is to have a thriving, prosperous economy. We’re also looking at how we can be more efficient in the way that we work. We don’t want to reinvent the wheel if there are opportunities out there for us to collaborate [with] and partner with government, industry or universities.

We’re really looking at opportunities to create value for our members so I guess that’s the helicopter view of what I do day-to-day.

We’re really looking forward to a fresh new 2016 and where we can take the business going forward.

We’ve gone through fairly significant changes here at Business SA and one of those is the building (currently under renovation). We’re looking forward to launching the new building mid-March this year and I think that really highlights the fact that we’re transforming into a new organisation as well.

We have a new digital strategy called Project Nova as well so it’s really going to change the way that we work and the way we interact with our members and provide services.

So we think it’s a really good tactic for the future.

LN: Tell us a little about your background?

SL: I’ve worked predominantly in small business development, economic development, business development and I have a marketing background as well.

I’ve worked in state, local and federal government projects.

I’ve completed an MBA very recently – which I’m very excited about, which has been great because it’s really given me, I guess, the depth and breadth of understanding how business works and I guess having the real critical analysis of how we look at business operations as well, so I’m hoping to bring that to the table.

I’m very passionate about the not-for-profit sector. I’m a director on  the board of Lighthouse Disability which is based out in the north so I’m very passionate also about volunteering and the not-for-profit sector here in South Australia

LN: Are we seeing more business partnerships in this sector?

SL: Absolutely. Within Business SA we have quite a large cohort of business people who mentor for the South Australian entrepreneur schemes where we have 60 active business mentors.

They’re additional staff to Business SA and we’re really grateful for the time and effort they put in to help young South Australians to survive and thrive the first couple of years of being in business.

And certainly I’m passionate about the disability sector. Volunteering is one way that our not-for-profit organisations in the sector can survive, through the NDIS as well.

LN: What does that relationship add to a business?

SL: Volunteering can make a business community – I think it supercharges it as well.

Just having those additional hands and feet and minds and also people who are passionate about a cause – I think you can really feel the energy in a business community when you give back in that kind of way.

We all have a skill that we can share and I think it’s really powerful to share those skills with other South Australians who are in need as well.

LN: Back to your role, what are the key objectives?

SL: One of the key objectives really is around focussing on the economy and, obviously, we’re 98 per cent small business here in South Australia.

We’re really looking at how Business SA can add more value to our members but also be more effective in the work that we do in South Australia around growing the economy. But, essentially, it’s about jobs growth in the state as well. How can we be a thriving economy where people want to come here, start businesses, stay, play, invest? Overall that’s really what our focus is.

We’re also looking at how the chamber can assist businesses to export overseas.

I think there’s been a few opportunities this year with the (CHAFTA) agreement and we’re looking on how we can support businesses to take opportunities in that area.

We’re looking at business support programs around exporting in South Australia as well. My role is about analysing those opportunities and ensuring that I’m bringing back to the table the best opportunities for Business SA and bringing back the innovative ideas and listening to the business community and trying to understand what their needs are and seeing how we can add value to that too.

LN: Have you seen a demand for this, more assistance, from South Australia’s small business sector?

SL: Yes, this year we have opened rounds for our South Australian entrepreneur scheme and we’ve received 65 applications – we only have 25 positions in that program. I guess it just proves that there is an appetite for people wanting to start businesses. We’ve got young people in this state who are really keen to create their own job and jobs for others as well and I think that’s really exciting and I think that program highlights the need there.

Small-to-medium business services certainly need additional assistance around how businesses survive when there are changes in the external environment – things like digital disruption. How do mum-and-dad businesses, or those businesses who have been working in those traditional industries,  survive and thrive given the new technologies and new ways of doing business?

We’re so much more connected to the global economy than we ever were.

We’re so much more reliant on what happens in the world around us and we really need to make sure that we’re adapting to that new environment and doing that quite quickly.

I think it’s a different way of thinking being in business as well. You can’t just sit back and let things continue – you need to constantly be considering how you can create that competitive edge and add value to your services.

We [Business SA] understand we need to be ahead of the pack. We need to understand what’s happening in the market place, understand our members better and make sure we’re really adding value to business in this state.

LN: With that, are you are keeping a close eye on the economic shift of Adelaide as it moves from its traditional industries to new industries?

SL: Yes, there are some really great initiatives. We are looking at how northern Adelaide can also grow and thrive in the new economy as well.

There are so many bright, talented people out there who just need support and assistance in that region.

There’s a large amount of industry out there. How can we look at different ways of doing business to ensure that they’re globally competitive? That’s really important.

LN: It’s important for regions to know there are services out there that can assist them in new business.

Ye. We really want to be that organisation that people go to when you’re starting a business or employing people in this state.

One of the key things is we do to quite well is around networking people into the business community and highlighting those opportunities.

That’s a real key area where we can add value because if you are trying to navigate the business landscape dealing with regulatory organisations and governments, how do you know which door to walk through? We really want to be there to support business in South Australia through that.

And the industries that are changing in South Australia … there’s a huge focus we feel on exporting of food and wine. Aribusiness is really important as well.

Mining is perhaps not so important here in South Australia, [but] the on-flows of the resources industry into South Australian jobs is important to consider as well.

And also a focus on the regions: they’re doing it tough at the moment and we really, really want to understand their challenges and how we can support the regions to create more vibrancy in the state as well and be global leaders.

There’s no shortage of talented young people in this state. Some of the ideas they come up with are just fantastic and some great solutions that I would never think in my wildest dreams to think of.

It always reminds you that we have so many passionate young people here in this state who are willing to invest and do good things, which is great.

LN: Tell us your vision of the Adelaide and its business sector in the year 2020

SL: Adelaide is a state of firsts and I hope we can continue to create firsts in South Australia.

My vision for South Australia is a thriving economy, a smart economy.

There’s real potential in professional services here in South Australia: we’ve got fantastic universities, fantastic minds and I think I would like to see South Australia somewhere on the world stage for excellence in certain areas of knowledge.

If you look at the Riverbank precinct, there are some fantastic things there.

In my mind, I see medical industry conferences there and highlighting some fantastic knowledge coming out of South Australia. How can we export that knowledge around the world

I want it to be a place where people want to come to start a business and [be] known for innovation and almost a startup capital.

We’ve had some wonderful investment from universities and also the private sector… the Microsoft innovation centre set up here in South Australia.

I think it indicates we are a small business economy, and for us to continue in that direction as a startup innovation state would be my vision for the future.

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