Innovative start up hub lays foundation for the business of creativity


Nicki Farrell and Vicci Oliver

New Sunshine Coast business incubator program The Refinery is already bearing fruit with one of its recent program graduates winning a 2019 Sunshine Coast Business Award.

Sunshine Coast based Wildlings Forest School, a business that encourages children to take risks, dig in the dirt and play outdoors, won the Education and Training category for a small enterprise at the recent awards ceremony.

Founders Nicki Farrell and Vicci Oliver said it was the skills and knowledge gained through their participation in The Refinery creative incubator program, held at The HQ office within the new Maroochydore City Centre, that enabled them to win the award.

The Refinery is a 10-week program, developed by SunCentral Maroochydore,, Sunshine Coast Council and the Sunshine Coast Alliance, that helps participants turn their creative ideas into sustainable businesses by building skills and knowledge through workshops, mentors and industry experience.

Wildings Forest School was one of only 15 projects selected from 90 applications to take part in the inaugural incubator program earlier this year.

“As a small business it really paid off for us,” Mrs Farrell said.

“It forced us to really put down on paper what we wanted to achieve and write down our business plan which really until then, had mostly just been in our heads.

“We learnt so much and I don’t think we would have won this award if we hadn’t taken part in The Refinery. It was such a wonderful opportunity for us and will really help our business grow.”

SunCentral Maroochydore Project Manager City Activation, Bronwyn Adams, said it was rewarding to see The Refinery program already paying dividends for local businesses.

“We want to create a hub for innovation and creativity within the new city centre through programs such as The Refinery, the program helps people join the dots between their ideas for a business and a practical outcome,” Bronwyn said.

The Refinery participants took part in workshops, masterclasses and coaching from industry leading mentors including Heidi Middleton of Sass and Bide, Ian Mason from Virgin Start-Up's, Timothy O from Hatched, Kaylene Langford of Start-Up Creative and QUT Creative Enterprise Australia.

Mrs Farrell and Mrs Oliver, both former high school teachers, started Wildlings Forest School in 2017.

“I was frustrated seeing all these children in class-rooms, who were fidgeting and wanted to get up and move,” Mrs Farrell said.

“We wanted to create a program that let children move naturally and enabled them to be outdoors more often. This is turn, has led to the creation of a suite of incursions, excursions and professional development for educators on how to take children outdoors safely and more often in a traditional classroom.”

The pair joined forces to launch the business and now operate two forest kindergartens and nature playgroups.

They also offer a range of holiday workshops which see children climbing trees, sliding down mud slides, whittling with pocketknives and building rafts.

“We let them have a childhood experience like many of us had 30 years ago,” Mrs Farrell said.

“It is supervised and safe, but we allow the children to feel a real sense of freedom.”

Wildlings Forest School is planning a three-week holiday program with an adventure playground at The MET in the new Maroochydore CBD from January 6-24.

Expressions of Interest for The Refinery’s 2020 program open February 3. The course will run from Thursday May 7 - Friday July 3, for more information visit

Business Business & Economy

SunCentral Maroochydore :
1/7 Golf Street, Maroochydore
07 5452 7274
SunCentral Maroochydore
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