Telstra has announced a joint venture with National Australia Bank (NAB) to form a digital marketplace for small businesses to swap or pay for marketing, design, technology, accounting, and other business services.
The startup, called Proquo, provides an online platform for businesses to network, source services, publish briefs for the work they require, negotiate costs, handle payments, and leave reviews.
"Small businesses often struggle to get off the ground and our research shows that the exchanging of services will be a great advantage to many startups," group managing director of Telstra Business, Andy Ellis, said.
"We're excited and proud to partner with NAB to offer this unique digital platform. This joint venture further highlights our commitment to small business so they can run, develop, and grow their business."
Proquo, developed out of Telstra's Gurrowa Innovation Lab and NAB Labs after being first conceived during "innovation experiments" in October last year, will be initially led by two CEOs: Ricky Lam from Telstra and Carl Spurling from NAB.
Despite being a 50/50 joint venture between the two companies, Proquo will operate independently and be based out of a co-working space.
According to NAB, Proquo will provide an important way for businesses to connect and grow, particularly with the ability to swap services rather than solely paying for them.
"Small business owners tell us they are continually looking for new ways to do business, and we think Proquo will provide them with a unique way to network and grow their business," NAB executive general manager of Micro and Small Business Leigh O'Neill said.
"Strategic partnerships like this one with Telstra, to combine the capabilities of two of Australia's biggest companies, creates a really innovative business option for the small business community."
NAB Labs was created in 2014, with around 40 permanent staff members working on projects in six-week cycles. In March, NAB's innovation lab similarly announced a cloud-based digital platform for small business customers, called NAB Business in One.
NAB Business in One, developed in partnership with cloud startup Maestrano, synchronises real-time data across several applications, such as accounting, sales, and customer relationship management software, into a centralised and customisable dashboard.
"Business in One will give small business owners the data and information they need to help them run their small business in one place," NAB CEO Andrew Thorburn said at the time.
"Our customers have been asking us to make it easier for them, and that's exactly what Business in One does."
NAB also formed a strategic alliance with the University of Melbourne and Melbourne Business School for the purpose of promoting and supporting innovation and collaboration between business and universities on joint design and research projects.
"NAB Labs works with existing technology partners and with new startups, to drive change at pace and try new things. We are disrupting our business from within, tapping into ideas and talent from both inside and outside the organisation, for the benefit of our customers," Thorburn said.
"We are listening to what our customers are telling us they want and we are delivering for them."
Also eyeing innovation, Telstra CEO Andrew Penn last year said the telecommunications provider is looking to stay ahead of the curve by encouraging technological development through collaboration with startups, machine-to-machine (M2M) technology, and the Internet of Things (IoT).
In October 2013, Telstra launched its startup accelerator Muru-D for the purposes of incubating and providing seed funding for tech startups in Australia.
Its Gurrowa Innovation Lab, located inside its head office in Melbourne, also provides a co-creation space for Telstra and its enterprise customers, vendors, research institutes, and incubators to collaborate on projects via the Pivotal and Cloud Foundry Foundation-provided open-source platform-as-a-service cloud software.
Proquo will pilot its services beginning in June, with a full launch due by July.