AUSTRALIA’s three most supportive places for emerging technology companies have been named as Innovative Regions Award finalists in the Australian Technologies Competition.
The Greater Adelaide Region of South Australia will go head to head with the Hunter Region in New South Wales and the Sunshine Coast in Queensland to be named the most interconnected place at the award ceremony on 20 October in Sydney.
The three regions will be judged against a framework developed by Harvard Business School's innovation expert, Josh Lerner, which places value on the quality of innovative ecosystems rather than size.
"It's about the interconnections," says competition organiser John O'Brien. "The interconnections between startup companies, researchers, investors, business and just creating an environment where those discussions can happen and opportunities can emerge."
O'Brien explains that the best technology companies usually emerge from a supportive innovation ecosystem - something that can't be created simply by throwing money at the issue.
Paul Daly, who authored the South Australian entry in to the award, is the co-founder of the MEGA SA Entrepreneurial Program and a consultant in science and technology commercialisation.
"It's been remarkable to think that when we first did the map we came up with around 40 programs. In the last two years we're up to 109 programs. There's been a huge amount of support that has emerged for entrepreneurs," Daly says.
"It's hard to put a finger on why, but part of it is having visibility of the ecosystem. People can see where there might be gaps and programs organically evolve to address the need of specific groups."
He cites programs like BOSS Camp, which present self-employment and entrepreneurship as viable careers to high school kids, and other programs tailored to women entrepreneurs and seniors.
Adelaide was identified at the G20 Young Entrepreneurs' Alliance's 2014 summit as the exemplar of coordinated support for entrepreneurship.
"There is an ecosystem operating here. There are pathways for people to move from one program to another, and the people running those programs are collaborating and working together, rather than competing. It's created the best coordinated environment for entrepreneurs anywhere," Daly says.
Hub Adelaide is one of many coworking spaces available in the Greater Adelaide Region.
The New Venture Institute (NVI) at Flinders University is one of these centres of entrepreneurial activity. The institute is located in the Tonsley precinct, a high-tech cluster of business and research built on the bones of an old Mitsubishi manufacturing plant.
Matt Salier, the director of NVI, says that their job is to leverage the university's assets to help SMEs and entrepreneurs as much as possible.
"We have a number of programs, an incubation space, co-working, all in Tonsley which, as a precinct, is a physical manifestation of that," Salier says.
"Our view is all of that early stage activity is essential to have these potentially global companies rise from it. You need all these tech startups and entrepreneurs and creative startups blending together at events, in co-working space, all trying innovative ways to create new value."
Matt Salier (centre) with tech entrepreneurial graduates of the NVI Venture Dorm.
Salier believes that the journey of precincts like Tonsley, located outside of the city centre, has only just begun. NVI's incubator contains 23 startups ranging from single-person operations to four or five person emerging SMEs.
"All of those people are accessing parts of the university. We link them in to mathematicians or psychologists or education specialists to help develop business models,” Salier says.
"You need vibrant ecosystems, with contributions from corporates like Hills and Siemens who are at Tonsley, contributions from the university and contributions from the startup and SME space."
Salier says that all three universities based in South Australia contribute to the ecosystem and there's also support from the government and councils.
"They see you need a whole city approach, a capital city approach when you create these environments. It's not just about that square mile of the CBD. We've got a really strong community pulling in the direction of collaboration and openness. It's good to be a part of it."
"The whole of Adelaide has this ecosystem," Paul Daly says, "It's not just the CBD."