12 November 2023

Canberra skills and technology 'ecosystem' shines at world-class Defence trade show

| Andrew McLaughlin
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people at a trade fair stand

The Canberra stand represented 14 locally based SMEs and universities at the Indo Pacific 2023 Maritime Expo. Photo: Andrew McLaughlin.

The 2023 Indo Pacific Maritime Expo in Sydney was, by all reports, the biggest yet.

And the ACT was well represented, with 14 locally based small-to-medium enterprises (SME) and universities displaying their skills and technology on the ACT Government’s ”Team Canberra’’ stand at the show.

State-based stands are a relatively new phenomenon at these large trade shows. With the ballooning price of floor space at the shows as they continue to outgrow venues, it has become prohibitively expensive for SMEs to rent even a small 3m x 3m booth in a back corner somewhere, let alone a high-traffic area.

At this year’s iteration of the show, the Team Canberra stand was led by the outgoing ACT Defence delegate and former ACT senator Kate Lundy, and her interim successor-designate Karen Schilling.

During a catch-up at the show with Region Media, Schilling said her background in the military as well as running a defence-based SME gave her a unique insight into what companies in the Canberra SME ”ecosystem” needed from a large defence tradeshow.

“I spent time in the army and air force, and then left and my husband and I grew a defence business,” she told us. “So, I’ve been down that road of growing a business in the defence industry as an SME.

“I’ve always had a passion for growing SMEs, and a passion for Canberra. Canberra is a fantastic place, not only to live, but I also find the ecosystem of SMEs here very friendly and very supportive. And because it’s a lot smaller, I find that there’s really that collegiate approach rather than a competitive approach.”

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Bringing SMEs together to jointly display on a state-run stand gives them an opportunity to learn about how to operate at trade shows, how to accelerate their business by booking meetings and networking, and by jointly supporting each other and being supported by stand staff during the show.

“Part of what we do is to coordinate VIP visits to the stand,” Schilling said shortly before Chief of Navy Vice Admiral Mark Hammond, was due to visit the stand, and not long after Chief of Air Force Air Marshal Rob Chipman had been there.

“So, being on this stand gives you potentially a lot more exposure to a wider range of people than what you might get on your own stand.

“It can actually get quite lonely being on a stand by yourself. Here, you get the best of the whole stand, and there’s always a buzz around the stand because there are lots of different people and things going on.”

For 2023, the Canberra stand had 14 exhibitors, each of which had a small desk around the perimeter of the stand. In the centre of the stand were several seating areas, a reception desk and a coffee bar.

“We have a pretty large contingent this year, ranging from up-and-coming cyber or technology companies, communications specialists, an open-source data-collaboration company, a company that does heavy-lift drones, securing protected data and communications, plus there are three university stands that are about collaboration and research,” Schilling said.

The participating SMEs and universities included Early Birds, Advanced Design Technology, archTIS, C3 Systems, Geodrones, Willyama, UNSW Canberra Launch, RD Consulting, Elysium EPL, Outlander Solutions, UC/Cisco, ANU and Thaum, RPS Group and Seitec.

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Nearby, a former Canberra stand tenant that has since ”graduated” to its own stand is the veteran-owned SME AeroPM, while Canberra-based CEA Technologies wasn’t too far away either.

“In the lead-up to a show, we do expressions of interest, and hopefully we’ve already engaged with most of those companies through the Team Canberra ecosystem,” Schilling said.

“But we also acknowledge that this is a stepping stone, and success would be that they grow and move on to their own stand for future shows.

“But even if an SME isn’t ready to invest in a stand of their own, they can still be involved with us. They still pay a co-exhibitor fee to be on the stand, but they get the benefit of the collective impact of Team Canberra.

”We have the space here, we have coffee, our networking event, and they can have meetings in this common area.”

For an SME, the investment in being part of the Team Canberra stand will not always be immediately measurable.

“We really encourage our companies, if nothing else, to get that next meeting,” Schilling said. “You need to work out who you want to speak to by researching who’s going to be at the show, and make sure you get a meeting in the diary.

“Defence is a long burn – you’re not going to sign a deal here today. It’s more about establishing those relationships and then following up after the show.”

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