Wednesday, 28 November, 2018


Participants: Heath Raftery from Newie Ventures, Siobhan Curran, Manager of the University of Newcastle’s Integrated Innovation Network (I2N), and the ABC's James O’Loghlin

Q1: Many of us are already aware of Smart Cities and the Internet of Things (IoT). How can Newcastle businesses get involved and take advantage of what is available?

Heath: I think that everyone has 20 or 30 internet of things or smart city ideas on their desks. We need to understand what the technologies can bring. We have benefited in this region by having an excellent ecosystem of resources to help with that. Siobhan has been involved in a number of events where people have discussed these things. There are free workshops to help us understand this technology. I have also been fortunate enough to start a group two years ago, which now has over 430 members.It is called Newcastle IoT Pioneers. Every three months, it holds a meet-up event where people can come to understand what value they can reap from these emerging technologies. I encourage you to check that out.

Q2: Siobhan, you have recently returned from Toronto and Chicago. What successful North American models did you see that can be adapted to the Hunter’s innovation ecosystem?

It is not so much a question of adapting what is happening in North America. We already have a lot of the ingredients for innovation happening in the Hunter region. There are a couple of missing ingredients, but these gaps are being addressed by organisations like Hunter iF, Eighteen04 and the University’s Integrated Innovation Network.

The Hunter region is where Waterloo was five to 10 years ago.Waterloo is an hour and a half’s drive from Toronto, Canada. The significant investment that is being poured into their innovation system is something that we could definitely achieve in the Hunter, and it is already happening.

In Chicago, I attended the Global Conference of Entrepreneurship Centres. We heard a keynote from the Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel.He stated that 10 years ago in Chicago there were no innovation hubs, no co-working spaces, and no accelerator programs. Now they have over 100.

In the Hunter region, we already have multiple co-working spaces.We have Australia’s first regional accelerator program, which is a partnership between Slingshot and the University of Newcastle. We have all of those ingredients already happening, and that has happened just in the last couple of years. I think that the only challenge that we have is in respect to density of our networks. That relates to our population.

However, the Hunter region is becoming more and more attractive to people to come and live here. That is particularly for those in metro Sydney and Melbourne, We have an amazing lifestyle, relatively affordable real estate market and good prospects for jobs.

When I look at places like Waterloo, I am see the Hunter as filled with promise. What they have done is something that we can easily achieve within the next five years.

Q3: Newcastle seems to have the right assets to attract a Google or Facebook. How do we attract those types of business to our city?

Siobhan: I don’t think it is a matter of attracting those businesses here.It is about building on the businesses we already have to become the next Google or Facebook.

You mentioned Rapid Phenotyping before. I can see that type of business growing and scaling. They have a global outlook. They have the ability to access good PhD research, working with the University of Newcastle and the Hunter Medical Research Institute. There is no reason why those founders cannot base themselves in the Hunter region. They can grow and scale their business globally from here. That type of business has the potential to employ thousands of technological graduates from the University of Newcastle or people who want to move here to work.

James: Why would you want a global multi-national like that here? You have got your own things going on. You have a great mix of established businesses and new start-ups, and an innovation network.

Heath: I encourage people not to be too parochial. There are great advantages to having a multi-national set up shop here. You can prove to these businesses that you are worthy. Newcastle needs to demonstrate that there is talent here, that there are opportunities here.Then it becomes organically attractive.

Q: What incentives (reduced/special rates, etc.) are currently provided to attract innovators and startups? What else can be done?

Siobhan: At the University of Newcastle’s Integrated Innovation Network, we have a number of incentives in place. We have four co-working spaces, including 376 Hunter Street, across the road from the law courts. There we have very reasonable rates for high-potential entrepreneurs wanting to start businesses. We have another hub at Williamtown, which is focused more on defence industries. It is not just for entrepreneurs but also for small businesses. It houses researchers, and their PhD students, looking to engage with industry to help solve problems through research collaborations.

We have another hub at Muswellbrook. Two hours up the road, you find a very different set of issues that small businesses face within that particular ecosystem. We have researchers working on research partnerships with industry there – in energy, resources, food and water. We also have small businesses that service those larger companies. They have their own unique challenges; so we deliver some programs specifically for those businesses. A lot of the programming we do is very low cost.

We are supported by the NSW Government and delivering their innovation program, as well as the University of Newcastle’s teaching initiative.We are able to provide holistic programs for people that we call ‘entre-curious’. They might have an idea but are not exactly sure how they want to turn that thought into an actual business. We also cater to companies that are scaling up and looking to overcome problems they might have in getting to the next level.

For example, for those entre-curious, we offer Start-up Stories. This weekly speaker series has a founder, with some kind of connection to Newcastle and the Hunter region, talking about their innovation journey. That story provides a really great catalogue of different stages, from initial idea to those businesses starting to think about high growth.The stories explain how one can ‘do’ innovation and that you can be an entrepreneur in the Hunter region.

At the University of Newcastle, we are thinking a great deal about how you diversify the economy within the region to avoid brain drain. We want the Hunter to retain our talented graduates.