Illawarra Business Awards 2017 winners: Symbio Wildlife Park cleans up

A family-run Helensburgh zoo that enjoys incredible success with digital marketing, continuously invests in its exhibits and enjoys dramatic growth in visitation has scooped the pool at the IMB Bank Illawarra Business Awards.

Symbio Wildlife Park picked up five major awards on Friday night when the annual celebration of business success run by the Illawarra Business Chamber returned to WIN Entertainment Centre.

Matthew Radnidge and John Radnidge acceptance speech at Illawarra Business Awards. Video Greg Ellis.

And celebrate the Radnidge family did as Symbio was named Illawarra Business of the Year, its marketing manager Kevin Fallon the best Young Business Executive and the Helensburgh zoo won the excellence in business, innovation and tourism awards.

The recognition comes just two years after Symbio general manager Matthew Radnidge broke the ice by being named Young Business Executive in 2015 on the same day he announced his engagement.

Some of the 33 strong Symbio Wildlife Park team at the 2017 Illawarra Business Awards where the family run zoo picked up five awards and was named Illawarra Business of the Year. Picture: Greg Ellis.

Some of the 33 strong Symbio Wildlife Park team at the 2017 Illawarra Business Awards where the family run zoo picked up five awards and was named Illawarra Business of the Year. Picture: Greg Ellis.

Matthew and Kylie Radnidge got married on the same day as the awards in 2016 and this year they started painting their house on awards day.

But Mr Radnidge was there on Friday to cheer on his marketing guru colleague Mr Fallon.

Earlier this year the two young men were invited to Los Angeles to rub shoulders with Aussie icons at Tourism Australia’s G’Day USA Australia Day function.

It followed a video of a butterfly landing on a koala’s nose being chosen to showcase Australia in the USA after it attracted more than 38 million combined views on Symbio and UNILAD’s social media channels, plus 2.3 million views and over 74,000 likes/reactions on Tourism Australia’s Facebook page.

It is just one example of Symbio’s digital media success that has also generated coverage for the Wollongong attraction on major media players such as Fox News, BBC Worldwide, Good Morning America and CNN. The butterfly video resulted in visitation increasing 66 per cent. In January this year Mr Fallon said “overall the park has seen a 96 per cent increase in visitation since 2014-15”.

While Mr Fallon has attracted global attention Mr Radnidge has continued to build large industry leading exhibits suitable for international breeding programs to save endangered species. He has carried on the same passion for animal conservation as his parents John and Margaret did when they bought the park using bridging finance in 2000.

There were many hurdles to jump in the beginning such as severe bushfires during Christmas 2001.

But the Radnidge family continued to invest and grow in a wildlife park that today bares little resemblance to what it did 17 years ago.

“We started with three staff,” John Radnidge said.

“Today we have 33. And we are very proud to take Wollongong and the Illawarra to the world. We have an incredible group of people who are so committed to what they do.”

Symbio is renowned internationally for its animal conservation efforts and its growth in visitation from developing an up-close-and-personal experience is regarded as phenomenal.

In accepting the IMB Bank Illawarra Business of the Year Award Matthew Radnidge said “there is really something special about Symbio. It is hard to define what it is when a business has a really strong chemistry. It is an honour for me to accept it but I want to thank the entire Symbio family”.

Business Leader of the Year Chance Hanlon said he started entering the Illawarra Business Awards 12 years ago and been a finalist eight times.

“It shows persistence pays off,” he said.

Chance Hanlon acceptance speech at Illawarra Business Awards. Video: Greg Ellis

The Young Entrepreneur Award went to Sian Ludlow, of Stella Studioz and Diana Foye, of Foye Legal, followed up her best new business award at the Illawarra Women In Business Awards earlier in the year with the Outstanding New Business Award at the Illawarra Business Chamber hosted awards.

Other winners were F1 Moto, CareSouth, Warrigal,  Central Data Networks,  Dapto Leagues Club, Kiama and District Business Chamber, The Flagstaff Group, Merrigong Theatre Company and  Mobile Phone Hospital.

2017 IMB Bank Illawarra Business Award winners

  • Illawarrra Business of Year - Symbio Wildlife Park
  • Business Leader – Chance Hanlon of Hanlon Windows 
  • Excellence in Business - Symbio Wildlife Park
  • Excellence in Small Business – F1 Moto
  • Employer of Choice - CareSouth
  • Outstanding New Business – Foye Legal
  • Excellence in Sustainability – Warrigal
  • Excellence in Innovation – Symbio Wildlife Park
  • Excellence in Export – Central Data Networks
  • Excellence in Customer Service – Dapto Leagues Club
  • Local Chamber of Commerce – Kiama and District Business Chamber
  • Excellence in Tourism – Symbio Wildlife Park
  • Social Enterprise – The Flagstaff Group
  • Wollongong City Centre Business Excellence – Merrigong Theatre Company
  • Retail and Hospitality – Mobile Phone Hospital
  • Young Entrepreneur – Sian Ludlow, Stella Studioz
  • Young Business Executive – Kevin Fallon of Symbio Wildlife Park

Highly Commended Awards went to:

  • Courtney Butler of Skydive Australia
  • Lauren Buhagiar of Active Property Conveyancing
  • Specsavers Wollongong
  • Dapto Leagues Club
  • Prological
  • RMB Lawyers
  • Lisa Jones of Australian College of Commerce and Management