Storytowns adds another dimension to regional Victoria with interactive audio tours

After a decade working in radio and years spent hitchhiking around the world, Jarrod Pickford came home to regional Victoria and realised his true passion was storytelling.

“I learned from hitchhiking that I could become part of any small town by meeting the locals and hearing their stories,” he said. “I always wished I could share that experience with the whole world somehow.”

Jarrod’s background in radio gave him the practical skills to put together an audio story, so he began producing podcasts and took the chance to attend a masterclass run by The Ideas Place in Warrnambool, an accelerator funded by the Victorian Government’s startup agency LaunchVic to support early stage regional startups.

His pitch to potential investors at the end of the program resulted in a $10,000 cash prize, a mentoring package from 25eight Group and membership to The Hive, a shared space for local innovators to meet, work and collaborate at South West TAFE.

Jarrod talking to the locals at one of the Silo art installationsFrom local foodie tours developed with the Food and Fibre Council to exploring the Grampians and the Silo Art Trail, the geo-located podcast startup Storytowns was born. The Storytowns app was launched as part of Victoria’s 2020 Digital Innovation Festival, with 1,000 downloads in just the first few weeks.

Storytowns gives tourists and locals the chance to experience regional and rural Victorian towns in a new way, through interactive location-based audio tours. The guided podcasts share real stories in real time, with listeners hearing directly from local community members and artists as they explore each town or attraction.

“With my knowledge and skills in putting podcasts together and my passion for storytelling, the art started to come together,” said Jarrod. “People started to really respond to these podcasts.”

As the concept began to grow, Jarrod approached regional businesswoman and social enterprise expert Simone Dowding to bring her operational and business skill set to Storytowns as its CEO.

“I jumped on board as soon as I could, I just have so much passion around storytelling and connecting people,” Simone said. “This really appealed to me having worked in regional centres – it’s something that boosts local economies, connects communities and has a real social benefit.”

Jarrod credits the Warrnambool City Council and his experience with The Ideas Place for giving him the confidence to pursue his idea.

Jarrod listening to the local stories“The support and funding through LaunchVic to get me started and them having that faith – that’s transformative,” he said. “That $10,000 turned into a quarter of a million dollars in revenue in our first year, and I wouldn’t have had the confidence to do it without that support.”

From her background in social innovation, including as Head of Social Enterprise for World Vision Australia, Simone is also a strong advocate for investing in regional business growth.

“There are so many visionaries in regional Victoria, but it’s not like as entrepreneurs we’ve got master’s degrees in business,” she said. “So that ecosystem that the government provides, the mentoring and the funding to kickstart these startups, is crucial in the development and progression of ideas.”

Startups like Storytowns provide an opportunity to showcase Victoria’s regional and rural towns, promoting local businesses and attractions, accelerating jobs growth and building our economy.

Through initiatives like LaunchVic and the Victorian Startup Capital Fund, the Victorian Government is backing entrepreneurs like Jarrod and Simone, supporting early stage startups to scale and grow.

“There are some incredible ideas out there that will create local jobs and do amazing things for these regional communities if they get a leg up,” Simone said.

“That investment is so important if you want to foster creativity and if you want to see these innovators thriving not just in cities but in regional areas.”

For more information about startup programs in Victoria visit the LaunchVic website.