Dianna Somerville – shining the light on regional Australia

Dianna Somerville has packed more into her 39 years than most and things aren’t likely to slow down anytime soon, which is just the way the navy ship driver-turned-entrepreneur and champion for regional Australia likes it!

Over two weeks in February 2017, Di travelled almost 16,500 kilometres around Australia from her home near Wagga Wagga, NSW, on a preparatory tour of the regional centres that would later that year host their state’s final of the first-ever national Australia Post Regional Pitchfest.

 The Regional Pitchfest Journey began in 2016, after Di saw a lack of opportunities for regional people and their great ideas, to unearth and shine the light on local entrepreneurial talent, with the first Regional Pitchfest held in Wagga in June that year. In 2017, with full support from Australia Post, her local bright idea went national.

Little did Di know that Australia Post representatives were in the audience of her 2016 Wagga event, scoping opportunities to support regional innovation. They were so blown away by what Di had pulled off that they jumped at the chance to support the development and expansion of her idea to bring it to every state and territory across Australia - the ultimate Pitchfest outcome!

Eighteen months on, and Di has reimagined Regional Pitchfest to create an “In a Box” program which is centred around grassroots activation of regional Australia on any scale - from a region based event, to statewide or nationwide.  It is this speed and agility that entrepreneurs thrive on according to Di, who credits the support of her family and focus on her career for literally saving her life.

Born and bred in Wagga, Di’s life has come full circle since she moved away after high school to follow a dream to work in the armed forces. While she initially wanted to be a firefighter, an Australian Defence Force Academy scholarship saw Di change course for the navy, where she quickly rose through the ranks and drove war ships for a living. Given Di’s love of the water, having grown up water skiing, she doesn’t call her navy life a job, it was a passion.

As there is no ocean around Wagga, Di thought she would never return. Ironically things quickly changed on a visit home when she bumped into Dane, a boy she had known since pre-school. Fast forward 11 years, Di is married to Dane and living on their sheep and cropping property at Collingullie, just 24km from Wagga, with their children Judd, 11, and Lacey, 9.

A 10-year drought quickly destroyed any romantic notion that Di had of being a farmer’s wife, which she thought might be a little bit like the McLeod’s Daughters TV show. She had to find a job and she soon found herself struggling to come to terms with her professional identity. In particular, how to transfer the significant skills and abilities gained from her time in uniform into a civilian life.

Lack of promotional opportunity locally within the public sector made Di look elsewhere and when presented with the idea that people needed help putting tenders together she thought she’d “give it a crack”.

As the saying goes ‘opportunity breeds success’, and after tapping into a start-up network in Wagga established by another entrepreneur Simone Elyes, of 365cups app fame, Di quickly saw how geography doesn’t have to be a career barrier. It was also a key driver for her Regional Pitchfest vision to give people in regional areas the vehicle and confidence to bring their burning ideas to life.

“Regional people are inherently innovative, they have to be! That is why our regions are full of such amazing ideas. It’s about time that we not only heard them but also celebrated them.”