VIVRA – Belt-free fashion pouches

VIVRA. Belt-free fashion pouches.

Former NEIS client and Brisbane entrepreneur Emily Bitkow has totally reinvented the must-have fashion staple of the 80s, the bum bag! A regular festival-goer, Emily was frustrated at having to lug her stuff around in a cumbersome bag and yearned for the freedom of a small, hands-free tote for her credit cards, keys and phone so she could move and dance unrestricted!

Being at the very beginning of a new endeavour was daunting but Emily undertook the NEIS program with Sarina Russo in Brisbane and picked up tailored business advice, financial support and guidance while she worked on the pouch design and navigated fabric sourcing and manufacturing.

“I just absolutely love the NEIS program. The best thing for me was the ongoing help from my mentor. It is such a great initiative. The fact that the Government supports start-ups not only with mentorship but also financially, is amazing.”

With passion and fierce determination, VIVRA was born in 2016. Emily’s innovative take on the bum bag has a patented bi-fold design, which attaches to any garment with extra-strong magnets, instead of being strapped around your waist. The result is a fashionable, water-resistant pouch capable of carrying all your essentials – whilst doing yoga or pilates, heading out for a run, shopping or dancing.


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The pouches were a hit at local markets, and soon after Sarah Hua joined forces with Emily to invest in and help grow VIVRA to the commercial business success it is today. The brand has experienced rapid expansion, with 46% year-on-year growth.


VIVRA have received a lot of publicity, including features in The Courier Mail, Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and Brisbane Times locally; and Daily Mail and Daily Star in the UK. For marketing, they’ve harnessed the power of Instagram, where they cultivate brand loyalty and enthusiasm among their 16,700+ fans. Emily and Sarah encourage and celebrate UGC (user-generated content), through their custom branded hashtag #vivralifestyle. The girls also regularly share styling tips and photos of themselves using the pouches, making the brand relatable and approachable. Other posts featuring styled images and flatlays maintain the aspirational appeal. The pouches are often paired with complimentary active apparel and streetwear brands to help customers shop a cohesive look.


VIVRA pouches are sold Internationally through selected stockists and from their online store, with Australia and New Zealand being their two key markets. VIVRA were early adopters of Instagram’s Shopping tag functionality and they have recently negotiated distribution via Amazon in the US.


Emily and Sarah continually innovate. In December 2017 they launched Mummy and Me matching bags for mothers and children, and they recently introduced RFID (radio-frequency identification) functionality to protect their customers from ‘electronic pickpocketing’. A new sustainable range is about to be launched and Vivra has just been shortlisted for the Telstra Business Awards 2018 – a prestigious acknowledgment recognising excellence, innovation and best practice in Australia.


With a continued commitment to design, functionality and innovation, there is no stopping Sarah and Emily’s drive to change the way people move.

Do you have a great business idea? Would you like to access free business training with the NEIS program? Use the postcode finder to get started, and contact your local NEIS provider.




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Hervey Bay Author’s Actions Speak Louder Than Her Words

Hervey Bay Author’s Actions Speak Louder Than Her Words

HERVEY Bay author Shae Millward always dreamed of having a book published, but when she signed her first contract she realised she lacked the business knowledge necessary to be professional, and ultimately successful.

However, that all changed when she commenced the New Business Assistance with NEIS program under the mentorship of Sarina Russo Entrepreneurs and learnt the practical side of running a small business.


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“I had the creative side of being an author covered but I was excited to join Sarina Russo Entrepreneurs to learn the business skills required to run a successful small business,” Shae said. 

“Not having an agent limited the number of publishers it was possible to submit to, with opportunities narrowed to those who would accept unsolicited manuscripts, I am very grateful to have had my stories chosen from the slush pile.”


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Shae’s first book, A Boy and a Dog, tells a classic story of a lonely boy and a lonesome dog who find each other and discover true friendship. It is a touching insight into the special bond between children and animals with the universal themes of joy, compassion, trust and belonging. But at its very essence, it is a story about LOVE.

“My business promotes literacy and a love of reading by creating fun, engaging stories for children,” Shae said. “I continue to work on many new creative writing projects, now backed by the business skills acquired from the NEIS program.”

Sarina Russo, Managing Director of Sarina Russo Group, said there’s never been a better time to start a business under her mentorship through the New Business Assistance with NEIS.


On the eve of her 40th year in business on September 17, Ms Russo said her record in putting people on the fast track to business success had stood the test of time.


“We helped start over 9000 new businesses under the NEIS program and we instil in them the skills to survive,” Ms Russo said.


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Bundy Bikini Designer Bound for the Big Time

Bundy Bikini Designer Bound for the Big Time

DRESSING celebrities for red carpet events might seem a long stretch for a Bundaberg fashion designer, but Kiara-Bella Moore’s couture illustrations and custom designs are a cut above the rest.


A self-confessed designer since she could hold a pencil and self-taught seamstress, Kiara’s stunning bikini designs have recently caught the eye of Maxim, the bible of beach wear, for their National Swimwear model of the year calendar.


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And she’s now got her sights set on the big time with her clothing label Kiara-Bella Designs.


“I have been drawing and illustrating for as long as I can remember, and I was always playing on the sewing machine with my mum Cianna,” the 18-year-old said.


“Mum taught me how to sew and it sort of blossomed from there. Now I cut my own patterns and hand make all my designs from home.


“I am designing and creating all day, every day, from couture illustrations to swimwear, ready to wear sets and now dresses.


“My ultimate dream would be to showcase at international fashion weeks like New York, Paris, Milan and dress celebrities for The Met Gala.”


A graduate of the New Business Assistance with NEIS, Kiara was mentored by Sarina Russo Entrepreneurs and her designs will appear across a two-page spread in the next edition of Designer Q Magazine.


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“It’s exciting. I’ve always done everything for my label including styling and modelling myself, so it will be an amazing experience to see a whole team including professional photographers, stylists and fashion models creating the content for my designs.” Kiara said.


In addition to preparing for upcoming photo shoots and events, Kiara’s loyal clientele continue to lap her designs.


“It normally takes a maximum of about two weeks from the time a client contacts me or goes online and buys the garment for me to hand make it and have it delivered to them.”


In the words of her mentor, Sarina Russo Entrepreneurs Business Coach Cameron Ford, Kiara was always destined for big things.


“Kiara came to see me when she was 17-years-old, and her determination and passion was evident from the day I met her,” he said. “Being 17 she was too young, so I advised her to go away, keep working on her dream and come back when she was 18.”


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NEIS Makes Matt’s Transfer to Business a Smooth Trip

NEIS Makes Matt’s Transfer to Business a Smooth Trip

TIME flies when you’re having fun – just ask emerging Victorian entrepreneur Matt Gray.              


On the eve of the 12-month anniversary since he started his first business Peninsula Airport Transfers, Matt doesn’t mince his words when looking back on the secret to the success of his business.


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“I’d had the idea in the back of my mind for some time, but I’d never really crunched the numbers in making it into a reality,” Matt said.


“I had been a service technician for a forklift company in a former life.


“I had a few mental health issues at work and once I got through that I went to Centrelink and signed up for the New Business Assistance with NEIS program at Sarina Russo Entrepreneurs.


“That was in August 2018 and I made the cut-off date to nominate for the program by two days – and I started the business a few weeks later on August 23.”


Nearly 12 months later and the Peninsula Airport Transfers’ fleet now consists of a six-passenger Volkswagen, a 11-passenger Mercedes Benz and its seven-day services have been a huge success.


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“We are flat out and the business is going really well,” Matt said.


“My wife Catherine and I run it together and it’s totally exceeded our expectations.


“We’re doing upwards of 15o transfers per month and we are now extending our services from airport transfers to winery tours, golf days and weddings.”


Matt was mentored by Sarina Russo Rosebud Business Solutions Coach Jack Farrell and he heaped praise on the support he received.


“Jack was great – you know where you stand with him. He’s hard but very fair and his support was extremely valuable in getting the business from an idea and a dream to a reality,” Matt said.


“Jack certainly made life easier when things got stressful in and I would recommend NEIS and Sarina Russo Entrepreneurs to anyone considering starting a business.”


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Digital Story Telling Naomi’s Forte

"Digital Story Telling Naomi’s Forte"

CREATIVITY means many things to many people but for Brisbane entrepreneur Naomi Wengier it’s all about establishing a business which doesn’t just create content for her growing clientele, but offers support and guidance along the way. 


A digital marketer at the big end of town in a former life, Naomi leapt out of her comfort zone in March last year and freefell into the world of freelancing, self-employment and entrepreneurship.


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Fortunately, she found a softish landing in the shape of Sarina Russo Entrepreneurs and the support network of the New Business Assistance with NEIS program and in June last year she launched NW Creative – the one-stop shop of custom made content she had long dreamt of.


“The motivation to start my own business was fuelled through my frustration of working in environments which lacked support, nurturing and understanding of my creative nature” Naomi said.


“At the time, my life had been turned upside down and I was starting out all over again, so I started the New Business Assistance with NEIS program at Sarina Russo and it was amazing!


“I was always extremely dedicated to my employers and after a while I thought ‘why don’t I just work for myself and devote the same dedication to my own business’.


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“I had no idea there was so much support out there and my first two or three paid clients were people I did the NEIS course with followed by a  Facebook networking group and weekly catch ups with my NEIS classmates.”


NW Creative is a one-woman show that specialises in tailored content that showcases clients’ branding across all things digital including copywriting, web content, email marketing, design and creative writing.


“I have always admired the impact of the written word and the power of storytelling,” Naomi said.


“It was extremely challenging, stepping out of my comfort zone, finding a routine which works best for me and learning how to set healthy boundaries but it’s the best thing I have ever done.”

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Fatherly Love Fuels Fight to Cure Autism

"Fatherly Love Fuels Fight to Cure Autism"

THE paternal bond between dad and daughter is one that knows no boundaries.


But a Brisbane father who knows what it is like to grow up with autism is putting more than his heart on the line to build technology to help his daughter and others with neurological disorders.


Casey Pfluger, a medical researcher who has devoted the past 20 years to searching for a cure to cancer, MS and Motor Neuron Disease has now turned his skills to a therapy device to help his nine-year-old daughter to live without the learning difficulties linked to autism and ADHD.


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The founding director of CortexEEG, a brain therapy hardware startup, Casey heads to Melbourne on July 5 to deliver an interactive presentation for a panel of medical and finance experts at the MedTech Actuator headquarters.


“We’ve reached the final stage of the MedTech Actuator Accelerator Grants Program and I will be pitching for $80,000 in startup funding in return for 14 per cent of the business,” Casey said.


“It has been a massive journey to get to this level, but the best is yet to come – we are very well on the verge of starting patient trials with the technology we have created.


“We’re developing a new type of brain therapy hardware device to help people with neurological conditions such as ADHD, autism, PTSD and traumatic brain injury to reduce the symptoms of their conditions using brain biofeedback.


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“The headset we are developing is a wearable device which is worn comfortably on the head with small sensors that sit on the skin to measure brain activity rather than penetrate it – it’s very non-invasive.”


While his motivation was fuelled by his daughter’s autism diagnosis, Casey’s quest for a cure went up a level when he commenced the New Business Assistance with NEIS program with Sarina Russo Entrepreneurs in October, 2018.


“I had completed a degree in Applied Science at University of Queensland, served 5 years in the military and studied and researched in medical research for 20 years,” Casey said.


“My skills were in research and I had to learn business from the ground up.  The training and mentoring through the NEIS program was supportive and it made business feel much less daunting and more achievable. 


“Learning alongside other business founders during the NEIS training was the perfect way to turn founding a business from a solitary pursuit into something I was working on alongside other people with the same worries and questions I had.  I loved it.”


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Jason’s Journey from Struggle Street to Business Success

"Jason’s Journey from Struggle Street to Business Success "

BAD life choices, bankruptcy, depression, alcoholism and addiction.


Hardly sounds the like starting blocks for a successful business, but when the going got tough for Jason Shanley a few years ago, he got going, and started to make changes to turn his life around.


His first step was admitting he needed help in his personal life – the second was starting his own business Jack ‘n’ Molly after completing the New Business Assistance with NEIS with Sarina Russo Entrepreneurs.


“I was dealing with some personal issues, largely the result of bad choices, a relationship breakdown, bankruptcy, mental health, addiction and knew I had to get help,” Jason said.


“I had been to counselling and detox, but I kept relapsing and until you choose sobriety and stop believing your own bullshit, the cycle will only continue until you are ready to embrace positive changes in your life.”


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If step one on Jason’s rocky road to redemption was the completion of a recovery program, step two was his decision to undertake the New Business Assistance with NEIS program under the mentorship of Graeme Walker and Peter Whitefield.


“I had already made a start on my business and website in 2018, and in December 18′, Graeme’s mentoring with business and financial plans and support was really beneficial for me to get me started in 2019,” Jason said.


“My business is a service-based role and it’s about building relationships, better communities, & healthier lifestyle choices for everyone – I had the plan in my mind, but Graeme’s mentoring really allowed me to articulate that plan and put it on paper and take action to run my own business to help other people, which has always been my dream”.


Jack ‘n’ Molly is a lifestyle business based in Melbourne, that works with people who are struggling in recovery from drugs and alcohol, mental health, general health and wellbeing or just the stress of everyday life, with meditation being a key focus. 


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