Pushing the Economic Accelerator

[box]#feb026[/box]iAccelerate is featured as the cover story for the latest CONNECT: UOW magazine. The special report provides an indepth look at the iAccelerate business incubator project which is underway at the Innovation Campus. Read the full article here.

CONNECT UOW CoverCentre to Speed Up Economic Change

UOW’s Director, Innovation and Commercial Research ELIZABETH EASTLAND has been driving the iAccelerate project and will be the centre’s CEO. In this special report, Ms Eastland answers questions about UOW’s exciting new project.

How will iAccelerate generate jobs for the Illawarra Region?

In just two years of operating iAccelerate StartPad, we have hosted 25 startup companies representing 52 entrepreneurs and new jobs – with just 20 available spaces. The iAccelerate Centre will have more than 10 times as many spaces for entrepreneurs.

Waterloo in Canada is a region very similar to the Illawarra that has transformed itself from a manufacturing-based region to being named the “most innovative city in Canada” 19 years in a row. It has grown 28,000 new high-tech jobs in that time, while Waterloo Accelerator has generated over 680 new jobs in just over five years.

We have been and will continue to work closely with Waterloo Accelerator Centre to adapt their methodologies to the Illawarra. When governments, business and research collaborate to form innovation ecosystems an exponential benefit arises that is often called a “virtuous circle”. We anticipate the same success with iAccelerate.

Is this a major turning point for the region away from its traditional heavy industry manufacturing base?

iAccelerate already has made an impact in the Illawarra. The news that the NSW Government will fund the iAccelerate Centre will significantly expand the growth potential of iAccelerate and this will flow on to a growth in jobs and a well-diversified economy.

iAccelerate benefi ts the whole community and has been open to all from the beginning. It is testament to the community’s support that over half our eClub (for entrepreneurs) membership is from outside the University. But don’t forget what makes this community vibrant is we are a university town and many, many people have connections to UOW in some way – alumni, current students, future students, parents of students, people who do business with the University or those who work there in a variety of capacities.

A tight community can make things happen rapidly, and that is also what makes iAccelerate so distinctive from accelerators in big cities like Sydney. This has happened in Waterloo and originally in Silicon Valley and is part of their culture.

Does the community understand what iAccelerate aims to achieve?

iAccelerate has grown its reputation significantly in the last two years and I think people are beginning to understand the potential iAccelerate represents. We are always welcoming new members to our meetings and workshops.

Of course the proof often comes home when someone they know is touched by it – their son or daughter launches a company, they come to hear a speaker and begin to network with these entrepreneurs – and now we are seeing growing investment interest in the companies and the region.

Where will iAccelerate be built?

The iAccelerate Centre will be situated on the Innovation Campus at North Wollongong, and is critical to the campus’ mandate of integrating research, technology and business. Construction will get underway soon and it should be ready in 2015. In the meantime, our StartPad tenants have moved to temporary premises in the Mike Codd Building on the Innovation Campus, right next to the iAccelerate site.

Will iAccelerate be unique in Australia?

It’s the fi rst of its kind in regional Australia. There is no other innovation accelerator of this size in Australia – except for ATP Innovation in Sydney – and the distinction with iAccelerate is its regional focus and close integration with UOW.

Can the Illawarra become the next Silicon Valley?

The Illawarra will always be the Illawarra. Firstly, it is much more beautiful than Silicon Valley! Seriously we are not trying to be the next Silicon Valley – we are just taking lessons from other regional innovation ecosystems such as Silicon Valley and Waterloo while making our own pathway that suits the Illawarra’s needs. Secondly Silicon Valley began its growth in the 1950s with significant defence investment in the region and then again with the development of Hewlitt Packard and other businesses integrating with Stanford University technology capacity in the 1970s.

Waterloo has grown 28,000 new jobs in 20 years. iAccelerate will put the Illawarra on the same growth trajectory.

Who have been UOW’s major supporters for this proposal?

The NSW Government, particularly through NSW Trade & Investment, has always been a major supporter. Wollongong City Council donated the original office space for iAccelerate StartPad, while Enterprise Connect and Regional Development Australia (RDA) provided some early seed funding. A raft of local and national businesses have supported the University with sponsorship, mentorship, pro bono services, technology support and business software.

Do you see this development as preventing the brain drain of IT staff to metropolitan centres like Sydney? How many young entrepreneurs from the region will initially be able to use the new iAccelerate Centre?

Absolutely. It already has. Moreover it has convinced startup companies to move from Sydney to the Illawarra. The iAccelerate Centre will be able to house over 280 entrepreneurs. This will spin off to further opportunities for professional services such as legal, intellectual property, financing and accounting, marketing and so on. We hope that the current Illawarra commuter base to Sydney will be able to take advantage of new local professional job opportunities that will be created out of iAccelerate.

Where is UOW ranked for producing Communications Technology (ICT) graduates?

UOW produces around 1000 ICT graduates each year. In recent years that has been the second highest number of ICT graduates in Australia and the highest in NSW. In 2011 we graduated the highest number in Australia.

What types of companies will iAccelerate support? Will they only be ICT companies, or will it support companies with ideas that are not ICT-based?

ICT is transforming the world, and almost every company needs to understand how critical ICT is to them. This was the highest priority of the Australian Institute of Company Directors last year. Having said that, all the companies iAccelerate currently hosts also have a discipline expertise that is distinct from ICT but uses ICT as an enabler to provide a better, scalable service or product that can be ultimately globalised. For example, Critical Arc is a campus security company that uses ICT to enable an instant response to security incidents covering a wide area. Flock is a computer graphics generation company for film production that uses ICT as a global development platform. Its founder has worked for some of the biggest companies in the VFX industry such as George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic, and worked on films such as Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Beer Mogul Games creates strategy games for industries such as the boutique beer and Formula One enthusiasts market that acts as a unique marketing tool. Sandra Pires’ company Why Documentaries uses a multi technology platform for storytelling for isolated individuals. One of her current projects Pig Iron Bob has received a lot of local media attention. Geospatial Interactive uses high-tech drones to map geography in three dimensions.

Having said this, iAccelerate will consider approaches from any company with a good idea that can be scaled. EE

The full story is available in the latest edition of CONNECT: UOW magazine