Wednesday, 28 November, 2018

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Are we winning or losing the innovation game in the Hunter? This question was posed at the Hunter Economic breakfast in Newcastle on 16 November.

Dr Anthea Bill, lead economist for the HRF Centre, told the 230-strong audience why innovation is essential to Australia’s economic success. She cited ABS data that shows that firms who innovate are more likely to report increases in sales, profitability, productivity and growth than firms that do not innovate.

Hunter business innovation has been measured by the HRF Centre since 2009. The latest data show that 46 per cent of Hunter firms introduced new or improved products or services in 2017. That is the highest proportion since the HRF began collecting data.

Sydney is the State’s innovation powerhouse. It benefits from global connectivity as well as access to infrastructure and a deep pool of talent. Developing scale to deliver impact is more difficult in regional Australia. Yet, regions face the same pressure to innovate.

Dr Bill cited evidence that shows that the creation of a viable local innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem may be the first step toward enhancing the benefits of innovation in the region. Innovation ecosystems result in more than just a direct increase in the number of startups, scale-ups and employment. They can unlock wider business potential and generate high-value jobs, with multiplier effects into the broader economy.

Dr Bill also discussed the Hunter iF Project. This collaborative effort aims to unite, scale and champion the Hunter’s growing innovation ecosystem.

Keynote speaker at the breakfast, the ABC's James O’Loghlin stated that anyone can innovate. He examined barriers preventing people from innovating and strategies to overcome those barriers.

Although most people recognise the need to innovate, motivation fails without method, he explained.

“Motivation is the key that starts the car, but method - having a plan - is the engine that drives it.”

People should not ask whether innovation is hard but whether it is worthwhile, O’Loghlin suggested. They also need to overcome the fear of failure, as failure is an integral part of innovation.

“If you want to start being more innovative in your business, recalibrate your relationship with failure. Accept failure. It is a numbers game. If you have enough ideas, you will have a good idea.”

O’Loghlin has worked with thousands of individuals and organisations to support change and innovation.Based on his experience, he offered tips on how to introduce innovation culture and systems within a business.

“Good leaders know that good ideas can come from anyone in the business, particularly those down the line dealing with customers, processes and systems.”

To create an innovative culture, companies should make innovation a KPI for everyone in the business, he stated.

O’Loghlin is local incubator Eighteen04's Expert in Residence this year. This position is part of the National Innovation and Science Agenda Entrepreneurial Support Program.

He joined local entrepreneur, Heath Raftery from Newie Ventures, and Siobhan Curran, Manager of the University of Newcastle’s Integrated Innovation Network, for a question and answer session.

Read edited excerpts of the panel Q& A.

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