Blue sky thinking accelerates two new businesses

Sophie Cox is a fair way from the family farm in Hay, but she carries with her the hard-working, enterprising, down-to-earth spirit that saw her family establish one of the Riverina’s biggest, most diverse farming enterprises.

She’s sitting in the Student Union, with ‘Cox’s Agriculture’ printed on her T-shirt. It’s an everyday reminder she is a country kid, in Bendigo pursuing a goal to influence the farm’s fortunes far beyond its boundaries.

Sophie’s family run cattle and sheep, grow crops, grapes and vegetables, in the face of increasing hardships. She says while she loves the lifestyle, the challenges of farming have pushed her in a different direction to her parents and grandparents, starting with an agribusiness degree.

While completing Year 12 at Hay War Memorial High School in 2017, Sophie read an article about La Trobe’s new Bachelor of Business (Agribusiness) degree. She says her ATAR score didn’t qualify her for the course, so she enrolled in marketing and business management, which she did for one year before transferring to agribusiness.

“It was mainly the agricultural side of it that appealed to me,” she says. “Growing up on the farm, and the fact I have a very business and entrepreneurial mindset.

“I didn’t want to be on the farm. I see the stress and the pain and anger my dad goes through every day. Especially this year, with the drought and poor water management of the Murray Darling Basin.”

Sophie plans to use her degree to improve outcomes for rural people like her family. And she’s not waiting for the qualification to start.

“I started looking deeply into the farm management and I started to ask, how can we better the farm with our limited resources?” With the help of her dad, Sophie has come up with an answer.

The pair took a common problem faced by the farming, mining and earth-moving industries and invented a simple solution. Their product will prolong machinery life, reduce waste, time and costly maintenance. That’s the most we can say at this stage, until it’s officially launched, but it already has the interest of an investor, thanks to the La Trobe Accelerator Program.

Sophie was one of the entrepreneurs to win a place on this year’s program, which provides mentoring, workshops, legal and grant application assistance and co-working spaces for innovative start-ups. “Basically everything I need to start a business,” Sophie says.

Earlier this year Sophie attended a one-day business development course on campus, then a six-day Accelerator Program primer course, all with another business in mind, Barley Grass Bar. (Her mobile caravan bar was launched in June.)

She says throughout those workshops she was thinking, how could she apply what she was learning to her invention? “We’d been working on the product for two years, and we hadn’t told a single soul until six months ago,” she says. “The first person I told said, oh my god, why hasn’t anyone thought of this before?”

So Sophie made a video pitch about her invention for the Accelerator Program board. She’s now two weeks into the competitive 12-week program. “By the end I want to have sold 500 units, to be fully set up, with a fully-functioning website, and have an investor.”

As the saying goes, if you want something done, ask a busy person. “I’m handling my studies pretty well at the moment, I have learnt time management very quickly,” Sophie says. “I learnt how to grow up very quickly. Last year I started off living on res but I moved into my own house this year. I’ve started two businesses this year. With the Accelerator Program and uni and Barley Grass Bar, it’s taught me time management. I can plan my day to get the maximum out of it.

“I have a lot of determination. If you want to do something, I’d support you, I’d work out how you’re going to get there. I’d help you.” And that is Sophie’s ultimate motivation. “Helping farmers, that’s my calling.”

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