skip to main content
Stuart Ridley
Business and Technology Journalist

Stuart Ridley is the Smarter Business™ Print Editor and has covered trends in small business, tech and marketing for two decades

Stuart Ridley
Business and Technology Journalist

Stuart Ridley is the Smarter Business™ Print Editor and has covered trends in small business, tech and marketing for two decades

  • The 2016 alumni unanimously agree the entry process itself is worth it for the opportunity to review your business practices.
  • The awards alumni network provides businesses with opprtuities to build their profiles and learn from eachother.
  • 2016 Awards alumni have made efforts to improve their social and environmental sustainability, grow collaborations with partners and expand overseas.

2016’s Telstra Business Awards winners sat down with Smarter Business™ to reflect on their achievements over the last year, and why it’s worth entering even if you don’t top your category the first time.

The Telstra Business Awards celebrates Australia’s best small and medium businesses and, more recently, charities across the country. Some of the previous winners have massively disrupted markets locally and even overseas, others have carved a niche in specialist areas – and very few were overnight successes.

iSimulate at the 2016 Telstra Business Awards
iSimulate winners of the 2016 National Micro Award.

Take the 2016 Telstra Business Awards alumni for example:

Spell and the Gypsy Collective, a fashion brand started in 2009 and Business of the Year 2016.
iSimulate, a medical training technology company started in 2011 and winner of the National Micro Award 2016.
Snowdome Foundation and Maddie Riewoldt’s Vision, the blood cancer research charity launched in 2010 and winner of the National Charity Award 2016.
In Safe Hands Educators In Safety, a child protection and safety training provider started in 2005 and winner of the QLD Small Business Award 2016.


What a difference a year makes

For inspiration, read on to find out what the 2016 Telstra Business Awards alumni are up to now:


Spell and the Gypsy Collective want to change the fashion industry

When Spell and the Gypsy Collective was awarded 2016 Business of the Year the judges said it exemplified the value of regional businesses in their communities. The fashion brand was already highly profitable and employed nearly 50 staff in the Byron Bay area. 

Since winning the top award, Spell and the Gypsy Collective has achieved its first ‘million dollar day’ online and relocated so that the entire team can work together under one roof: “It was a year in the making and long overdue,” says Elizabeth Abegg. “Now we all operate in a brand new beautiful and creative space that we’ve always dreamed of. 

“We launched a new SWIM category in November 2016 (soon after the Awards) and we’ve embarked on a huge sustainability journey, both socially and environmentally. Every one of our factories is ethically approved by a third party auditing body, and that’s just the beginning. We want to be part of the solution and lead the way in an industry that has a lot to answer for.”


Snowdome Foundation and Maddie Riewoldt’s Vision are winning major sponsors for new research

The collaboration between Snowdome Foundation and Maddie Riewoldt’s Vision continues to prove a success. The judges cited benefits such as more efficient use of funds under one governance and administrative structure, and added efficiencies through information sharing and cooperation.

Snowdome Foundation’s “Great Shake-Up” events raised more than $2.5million for blood cancer research with less than 10 per cent expenses to revenue reports it’s CEO Miriam Dexter, who engaged major partners such as Cisco, Village Roadshow, AFL Media, Viocorp and b2cloud to deliver live and interactive virtual fundraising events streamed into boardrooms across Australia. 

“We’ve since also received our largest donation of $5.5million,” says Miriam. “This grant helped establish a lymphoma genomic research centre that will accelerate personalised treatments for Australian lymphoma patients to help them live longer, better lives. And we’ve granted $3million to the Centre of Research Excellence in Multiple Myeloma for its cutting-edge genomics research approach advanced personalised treatments providing next-generation therapies to Australian patients with multiple myeloma”

Nicky Long, CEO of Maddie Riewoldt’s Vision reports that the partnership with Snowdome Foundation delivered the ‘Bloody Good Dinner’ attended by 416 people. “We raised $400,000 to conduct a world-first medical research project focused on improving the outcomes of bone marrow transplantations; and through other campaigns we’ve been able to fund $1million in urgent bone marrow failure syndrome research, including two Fellowships, three Grant-in-Aids, and the first National Aplastic Anaemia Registry.”


iSimulate is expanding its product line and markets overseas

“iSimulate has always had the belief and the desire to help make conducting simulations easier for both the participant and the educator,” says Peter McKie. “We’re doing this with the aid of technology that is easy to use and cost effective for all clients, and we’re passionate about bringing it to remote communities in Australia and across the globe.”

Peter reports that medical professionals embrace the training technology because it helps them maintain and upskill staff. A strong community of health professionals helps the organisation improve the technology’s features and usability, leading to iSimulate doubling its business since winning a Telstra Business Award.

“Our technology has improved and we’ve launched several new products in 2017,” says Peter.  “At the international conference in Berlin for Social Media and Critical Care we launched our training stethoscope AURIS and CTGi, which is a simulation of a foetal heart/contraction system used in the health and wellbeing of the foetus in the weeks prior to delivery, and during labour and delivery.

“Our new REALTI product (incorporating a patient simulator and video debriefing in a single system) also launched in 2017, and will eclipse our first product with new features to enable active engagement and feedback from students and peers.” 
The iSimulate team also made very encouraging connections during a recent networking trip to Singapore and is now exploring opportunities in other parts of Asia, as well as South Africa.


In Safe Hands is taking best practice to the world

“Developing a Child Protection program which really works is what matters most,” says Michael Pecic, CEO of In Safe Hands. “Now that sounds like a cliché, but working with our clients and understanding what they experience in their environment allowed us to develop a program which could be used all the time to support children and families to minimise the effect of child abuse in our society.”

The organisation’s strong commitment to exceptional service is vital to its success explains Michael, especially as child protection is a very difficult subject to deal with: “Great service is important in every way, from making the training process easy to supporting staff and families when they need it,” he says. 

Dedication to providing meaningful customer experiences is definitely working: since winning a Telstra Business Award in 2016, In Safe Hands has seen 300 per cent growth in customers and revenue, launched into America and New Zealand and been invited to present at child protection and safety conferences overseas.

“Growing a business from scratch has been challenging!” admits Michael. “I made some costly mistakes and really questioned my self-belief, but by putting a team of people I trusted around me I stuck to the business model and eventually started making the right decisions. 

“Sitting down and having to dissect my business during the Telstra Business Awards entry process made me clearly identify where I wasted a lot of time or spent money the wrong way. My business grew when I did have the opportunity to be outside it! I’ve always wanted a business that improves its customers’ lives. As Henry Ford said, ‘A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business’. Multinational companies are driven by profit margins but SMEs are driven to deliver products and services that they are proud of and are respected in the community.  Having satisfied clients is a SMEs greatest reward.”


Lessons from the top

Winning a Telstra Business Award can be a fantastic launch platform for big aspirations, explain our 2016 winners. You might pursue revenue growth, hire more people or even lead a revolution in your industry.


Analysing business performance means owning your mistakes

Our 2016 Awards alumni unanimously agree the entry process itself is worth it. It’s an opportunity to look at your business practices and future operational needs, explains Peter McKie, co-founder with Dr Anthony Lewis of iSimulate, who used the Business Health Check to fine tune marketing and distribution procedures.

If you uncover issues that need work, don’t be hard on yourself. Elizabeth Abegg, co-founder of Spell and the Gypsy Collective with her sister Isabella Pennefather, admits the entry process taught her that the business hadn’t formalised several policies: “We’re slowly getting on to them now. We also learnt from speaking with so many people that it’s important to celebrate the losses along the way too. Not just the wins. Learning from our mistakes is what allows us to keep growing as a business and team.”

Michael Pecic, CEO of In Safe Hands also found the Business Health Check eye-opening. He’d been so busy working in his business that he’d struggled to make time to plan improvements: “The expert commentary – not always glowing – brought out many emotions and I was initially quite defensive, though I also identified the areas I could ask for help in or target to really improve my business quickly.” 


Accepting that you don’t need to be big to be successful

Small to medium businesses are the engine room of the Australian economy and without them many Australians wouldn’t have meaningful employment. The more personal nature of SMEs can also build resilience and strong community connections.

“From little things, big things grow”, a powerful song by Australian artists Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody, is sometimes quoted as inspiration for financial growth. However, Michael Pecic, CEO of In Safe Hands, says it’s really about community pride and standing up to bigger players that want you out of the way: “The song talks about real history: the Vestey Brothers tried to dominate a market and satisfy stakeholders at any cost, including great cost to the Gurindji people. The Gurindji were proud of their community and fought for what was right. SMEs also pride themselves on relationships, personal attention and great service to their communities. We traditionally struggled for media attention, though the Telstra Business Awards showed me recognition from the right people at the right time is far more important.” 

Australian technology companies are known for innovation and SMEs punch above their weight says Peter McKie, CEO of iSimulate: “The progression and stability of these businesses keep the country afloat financially. We’re proud to be one of these SMEs providing useful products that help train medical professionals but also to employ amazing people that are talented, hardworking and love what they do.”

Similarly, not-for-profit and charity organisations are driven by hard working people who innovate out of necessity. Nicky Long, CEO of Maddie Riewoldt’s Vision, and Miriam Dexter, CEO of Snowdome Foundation, praise Telstra for acknowledging the status of charities in the business community. They remark that while charities are invariably well meaning, like their for-profit peers, they must have strong strategic direction to succeed: “Charities also have significant stakeholder engagement beyond their employed staff,” they add. “We have four full time people but more than 50 volunteers – charities need to continually engage their stakeholders and generate passion for their cause to deliver their mission.”


Making the most of the Telstra Business Awards alumni network

Every business leader we speak with says networking helps them build their profiles, but equally important are the opportunities to learn from each other.

Elizabeth Abegg recommends business owners reach out to their peers for advice: “Don’t be afraid to share challenges with other business owners and entrepreneurs. We can all help each other strive to reach our full potential. We’re expanding our network by being part of the bigger alumni community and it really validated our little grass-roots label as a thriving, successful Australian business: we’ve finally got a substantial loan from the bank!” 

Miriam Dexter agrees that winning a Telstra Business Award brings credibility: “It was a great validation of what we knew – we run a great business – and it’s helping us raise our profile more nationally as we pursue new growth opportunities.”
“It is inspiring to hear the passion of the other businesses and charities,” says Nicky Long. “It is very humbling to be among this elite group of businesses and charities.” 
Of course, learning from other leaders about how they’re growing their organisations is valuable, though as Michael Pecic points out, there are plenty of lessons about personal growth too: “Participating in a network of trusted and likeminded people has helped me understand business and more importantly the balance with personal life. We are not the only ones out there with dreams and their support and friendship helps us enjoy our journey to building a business we can be proud of. The support from Telstra has also given us the confidence to take risks and strive to improve the methods we use in both the administrative and operational fields of our business.”

Peter McKie, co-founder with Dr Anthony Lewis of iSimulate, agrees that learning to enjoy the journey is a valuable and insightful lesson: “We’ve gained confidence in what we have. Anthony and I have met some great enthusiastic business people that have provided us with sound advice and the will to embrace what we do and challenge the global market. Their support and friendship has been immensely appreciated and we hope we will be able to follow in their footsteps and pass our knowledge and experience of these awards onto those that follow.”


Nominations for the Telstra Business Awards are open year-round.
Find out more Nominations for the Telstra Business Awards are open year-round.
How to spot a gap in the market: The minds leading the non-alcoholic drink movement

Paying attention to evolving customer needs is essential for any small business. Australian drinking culture has been changing over time. The Australian Institute of Health and...

How to upskill on a budget: Our guide to the best online courses

Training and upskilling can be a great way to keep your employees inspired. It can also help to fill any knowledge gaps for small business owners – like you – who wear many hat...

Selling… on TikTok? The surprising success of these Aussie brands

Since launching in 2016, TikTok has become a social media giant. The platform is a destination for unparalleled viral reach potential, where unknown users with one popular vide...

How Freddy’s Pizza harnessed delivery platforms while keeping their in-store customers #1

Third party delivery platforms like Uber Eats play a big part in how customers find and interact with small hospitality businesses. But they have their pitfalls. Freddy’s Pizza...