22 December 2023

Taking care of business: our top 15 stories for 2023

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Illawarra businesses, big and small, are making their mark in the region, across Australia and throughout the world. Despite tough economic times, local businesses continue to kick goals. Here we celebrate the top 15 business stories from 2023. Can you guess what’s number one?

15. Sensational seafood and passion for community: Kiama’s Saltwater Cafe wins top business gong
by Katrina Condie

Lady with award and seafood platter

Gulcin Topel says she has put her “heart and soul” into her business. Photo: Saltwater Cafe.

When Gulcin Topel purchased Kiama’s Saltwater Cafe in May 2021 the country was almost immediately plunged into its second COVID-19 lockdown, however, despite the shaky start, the Turkish-born restaurateur has proven she’s got what it takes to run a successful business.

Gulcin’s seafood restaurant has gained a cult following in the town, and was recently voted the Illawarra and South Coast region’s Outstanding Restaurant at the 2023 Local Business Awards.

14. Riding the wave of success: 14-year-old Illawarra business owner celebrates major milestone
by Keeli Royle

Cooper Palmer facing Woonona Beach in "Surfing Is My Coffee" hoodie.

Fourteen-year-old Cooper Palmer is celebrating one year of his business “Surfing Is My Coffee”. Photo: Keeli Royle.

While most 14-year-olds are just starting to consider getting their first job, Cooper Palmer is already celebrating a major milestone in the workforce, marking the first anniversary of his business Surfing Is My Coffee.

The phrase was coined by the Illawarra teenager in 2020 while he was at the beach with mates, but he didn’t realise just how popular it would become.

13. Andrew Minett’s charged up to energise the future by fast-tracking battery technology
by Kellie O’Brien

Sicona Battery Technologies' Dr Andrew Minett

Sicona Battery Technologies co-founder and chief technical officer Dr Andrew Minett celebrating being named a finalist in three 2023 IMB Illawarra Business Awards categories on 30 August. Photo: Supplied.

As the world grapples with how to move away from fossil fuels, one Illawarra company is giving batteries a massive boost and companies from around the world are taking notice.

12. New Shell Cove skydiving company moving forward after long ride to launch
by Kellie O’Brien

Big Wave Skydive Rob Crombie

BigWave Skydive will be dropping into Shell Cove from September. Photo: Supplied.

Shellharbour adventure seekers can now gain thrilling views of their own backyard as new skydiving company BigWave Skydive drops into Bass Point at Shell Cove from September.

Wollongong couple Rob and Megan Crombie started BigWave Skydive after an opportunity was identified to bring skydiving to the Shellharbour area.

However, it’s been a long ride to get there.

11. Illawarra science teacher’s switch to tutoring scores national recognition for her small business
by Keeli Royle

Teagan Hines-Waterman from Focus Tutoring.

Teagan Hines-Waterman stepped out of the school system to create her own classroom. Photos: Keeli Royle.

An Illawarra science teacher who decided to make the switch to private tutoring has won a national award for her small business’s success, and her passion and enthusiasm for education are attracting students from right across the region.

Teagan Hines-Waterman had already climbed the career ladder in the public education system, working as a headteacher in Sydney and getting a position at one of the most sought-after schools in the Illawarra. But despite her expertise, Teagan decided she wanted to find a way to step back and gain a better work-life balance.

10. From Hysata’s hat-trick to a first for Business of the Year, the 2023 Illawarra Business Awards night was rich in highlights
by Dione David

Hysata at the 2023 Illawarra Business Awards

The Hysata team took out three awards on the night including the top gong – Business of the Year. Photo: Business Illawarra.

The 2023 IMB Bank Illawarra Business Awards showcased the region’s remarkable growth across a diverse spectrum of industries. Check out the winners and how they are all contributing to a better future for the region.

9. Wollongong yeast bank Mogwai Labs raises a glass to growing out of start-up phase
by Kellie O’Brien

Mogwai Labs

Mogwai Labs owner Josh Allen is ready to expand his liquid yeast business. Photo: Supplied.

Wollongong yeast bank Mogwai Labs is helping South Coast brewers create truly “local” and unique beers with its library of yeast strains – and it’s only set to get bigger.

Josh was a University of Wollongong (UOW) graduate in biology, before spending 10+ years in medical research focused on neuroscience and cancer cell replication biology.

During that time, he delved into home brewing and then commercial brewing, co-founding Sydney’s Merchant Brewing Co in 2015.

8. World-changing: the story behind Illawarra’s Business of the Year
by Dione David

Hysata CEO Paul Barrett stands with equipment and two engineers at the Hysata lab

Hysata CEO Paul Barrett at the Hysata lab. Photo: Hysata.

In 2019 Paul Barrett was a partner at major venture capital firm IP Group Australia when he was introduced to a transformational clean energy technology at the lab benches of the University of Wollongong.

When he looked into it, what he discovered blew him away.

Professor Gerry Swiegers from UOW’s Intelligent Polymer Research Institute (IPRI) and his team of experienced researchers had broken down a major barrier in the fight against global warming, and it centred around electrification.

7. This Kiama teen is printing the answers to life’s little hassles
by Dione David

Noah Keenan with his 3D printer

Noah Keenan with his 3D printer. Photos: Printed Success.

Noah Keenan enjoys computer building, competitive Rubiks Cubing and algebra. His latest business utilises 3D printing technology to create solutions to life’s small problems. Also, he’s 15.

6. Wollongong founder of Escabags named 2023 Rotary Inspirational Women’s Awards finalist
by Dione David

Founder of Escabags Stacy Jane with her dog

After escaping domestic violence herself Stacy Jane launched Escabags. Photo: Stacy Jane.

Four years ago, Stacy Jane fled from a violent partner. Today she’s the founder of Escabags – Escape Bags, and a finalist in the 2023 Rotary Inspirational Women’s Awards for her efforts in helping others escape family and domestic violence.

5. Life comes full circle for new Fairy Meadow Newsagency owner
by Kellie O’Brien

Fairy Meadow Newsagency Kristy McGrath

Kristy McGrath took over the Fairy Meadow Newsagency on 2 October, after a long association with the business. Photo: Supplied.

Kristy McGrath’s life has come full circle, from walking through the Fairy Meadow Newsagency to get home from school each day as a child to now owning the business.

The 31-year-old took ownership of the newsagency on 2 October from her bosses Nick and Kate DiMaggio, who have serviced the Fairy Meadow community for 16 years.

“I used to walk through here on the way home from school, so we used to walk through the shop,” Kristy said.

4. Veteran journalist Jen White signs on as Region Illawarra’s editor
by Genevieve Jacobs

woman in front of building

Region Illawarra editor Jen White outside Region’s head office. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Journalism is always full of surprises as Region Illawarra’s new editor, Jen White, learned at 18.

“My first job in the media was as a copygirl at Cleo,” she recalls. “It wasn’t long after the Ita Buttrose era and male centrefolds were still a thing.

“As the office junior my job entailed running around the CBD getting the editor’s lunch, picking up fashion for photo shoots and opening the mail.”

3. Mangerton mum’s innovation makes beach play a breeze
by Dione David

Young boy in a green Rugii wearable hooded towel set

Ethan in his Rugii with mumpreneur Natalie Zukowski. Photo: Natalie Zukowski.

Proving necessity is the mother of invention, Natalie Zukowski has come up with the ‘Rugii’ – and it could just end up being this summer’s must-have beachwear!

2. A lolly shop for grown-ups: Kanahooka store stocks nostalgia galore
by Zoe Cartwright

Pam and Ric Cann

Pam and Ric Cann, with shop assistant Harry, at their lolly shop in Kanahooka. Photos: Zoe Cartwright.

If you walk into Fairyland Confectionary – also known as ‘The Licorice Shop’ in Kanahooka – you’ll be instantly transported to another time.

Row after row of brightly coloured lollies, chocolates and licorices line the shelves.

Some you won’t have seen since the last time you were at the school canteen, however long ago that was.

1. How visionary Jim Eddy turned a cow paddock into the largest water theme park in NSW
by Kellie O’Brien

Jim Eddy at Jamberoo Action Park

Jim Eddy is looking forward to a strong season to help move forward with the next stage of the park. Photo: Kellie O’Brien.

Jim Eddy started out with a dairy farm in 1980 and turned it into what is now one of the biggest water theme parks in NSW. Here’s the story of how he did it.

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