University of Southern Queensland (USQ) PhD student Hema Veerapura has been chosen to represent Queensland at the fourth national Australian Falling Walls Lab in September. The Falling Walls Foundation, which was established in 2009 on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, is an international platform for leaders from the worlds of science, business, politics, arts and society. The Falling Walls Lab offers emerging talents, entrepreneurs and innovators a stage to pitch their research project, business model or initiatives to a distinguished jury based on the question ‘which walls (problems) will fall next?’

Veerapura’s work on improving small and medium business performance in peri-urban areas (where rural and urban regions meet) was judged one of the five best pitches at Australia’s first regional Falling Walls Lab (Queensland), hosted by Study Australia. She will now compete at the national competition in Canberra to secure one of the 100 international places for the grand finale in Berlin in November. It was an outstanding achievement for the mother-of-two who competed against 13 other presenters from six different universities. She is proud to be the only non-University of Queensland finalist selected and the only one outside the science discipline. “It was an extraordinary experience and I was thrilled by the result,” she said. “I wasn’t expecting to be named a finalist because it was the first external presentation I had delivered and I had less than two weeks to prepare. I’m very fortunate to have a lot of support from my colleagues here at USQ.”

Veerapura is driven by a passion for small business and wants to help business owners avoid failures and improve performance. Her current research explores what small and medium businesses in peri-urban areas need to do to become future-ready and successful. “Business failure has been around for decades and it hasn’t changed much in terms of failure rate or top two failure reasons,” she said. “Only about half of small businesses see the first anniversary and only a fifth are still operating at 10 years. Improving the performance of small businesses is critical, especially during a time when there is a huge push towards urbanisation. The United Nations predict that by 2050 nearly two-thirds of the world‘s population will be urbanised, which presents many new challenges for businesses,” she said.

Veerapura, who has qualifications in commerce, IT, finance and marketing, believed peri-urban areas hold the key to future urban growth. “We know about global warming and globalisation, but in the business world the G-word we need to be aware of is global peri-urbanisation which is happening now,” she said. “Peri-urban areas are not only important to current businesses, but also for our future urban regions as they provide urban resilience to meet the increasing ecosystem demands of the surrounding urban region, where we are heading.”

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