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April 30, 2015

In The Engine Room

Say what you will about Adelaide’s economic landscape, but if you look in the right places there’s no shortage of optimism. Marcus Bailey and James Sargent of The Engine Room tell us how they’re helping to keep Adelaide’s wheels turning.

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  • Words: Johnny Von Einem
  • Pictures: Julian Cebo

There has been some disparaging banter floating around recently about the state of South Australia’s economy.

With the loss of the submarine construction contract looking likely and Holden withdrawing from Adelaide’s north, two major sources of jobs in the state are all but gone and it’s easy to paint a picture of dire times.

There is, however, a strong supply of Adelaide-centric optimism being created by The Engine Room.

“Adelaide’s not full of doom and gloom. It can be if you want to see that world, but at the Engine Room we choose to surround ourselves with people that want to grow their companies and want to do cool things.”

Starting out a little over 12 months ago as a Facebook post, the networking group (organised by Marcus Bailey and James Sargent of corporate finance advisory firm Fortis Ago, as well as third co-founder Leigh Morgan of Vinomofo), has quickly grown to around 700 members, all of whom are young company owners looking to grow their business.

“We have three longer term things that I’d love to see, firstly a lot more pride about out state… South Australians need to be the biggest advocates about Adelaide, because if the people don’t love it, people won’t hear about our amazing place,” says Marcus.

“Secondly, when South Australians are leaving universities I’d love them to be thinking about what company they will set up now instead of what job they will find.

“Finally, I’d love to see people in their 20s not leave South Australia and come back with a family and a mortgage, I’d like to see them stay at their energetic and enthusiastic peak and use this energy to do great things in this state.

“That’s only going to happen if their peers are doing it. If there’s a community to be a part of.”

In order to foster that community, The Engine Room tailors networking events and education programs toward a younger demographic.

We are an SME state, and if we understand that, I think we’ll do amazing things.

“You don’t walk into on of our events and look at your clock and wonder how are you going to get out of here,” Marcus says.

“It’s a party. There are DJs, there’s awesome activations, there’s cocktail bars, there’s incredible food. So we network in a way [that] is highly engaging to our demographic. It’s a lot of fun, the biggest challenge is kicking people out when we have to pack up.”

The Engine Room’s members are varied, and some who have seen success through their involvement include LeetGeek, an Adelaide IT company who came in at 15 on BRW’s fastest growing companies of 2014 list; Convergen, a three-dimensional graphic design company; and Dave Matkovic of Brighton Jetty Bakery, who has used the events to reach out and connect with The Engine Room’s sponsors.

“He did a deal with the Hills Cider guys to do a Hills Cider and pork pie. Whilst he runs a bakery, he is the most passionate and infectious guy, always trying to come up with the next idea. Anything we have, he’ll be on the front foot to cater and enhance our community, we have a lot of members like this that are happy to offer their products and services for free,” says Marcus.

The Engine Room relies solely on the support of sponsors.

“A lot of them [the sponsors] are seeking to give back to South Australia,” Marcus says. “They know that the next generation is a worthy cause [and] they know that there’s not too many people backing them.”

“This is a perfect forum where they can come and meet people in a different demographic to what they’re used to and see if they can help out.”

Rather than trying to elevate South Australia’s national standing in comparison to other states, the goal for The Engine Room is to concentrate on what we already do best.

“A lot of people look at where we should be because we compare ourselves to the other states and we get ranked,” Marcus says.

“I think we’ve had a lot of hits in the last two years – big hits, with the subs and also with Holden – but we have always been an SME [Small and Medium Enterprises] state, and from what we see, our SMEs are doing just fine.

“If we get ranked on number of listed companies, number of head offices and number of CEO jobs, of course we’re going to lose, but I don’t think we should ever be ranked on that measure. We are an SME state, and if we understand that, I think we’ll do amazing things.”

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