Providing small businesses the chance to grow into something more commercial while receiving undue support from educational institutions, industry players, and government and enjoy high quality facilities is something start-ups only dream about. However technology parks are providing these services, helping to accommodate growing businesses and maturing the economy.
Located at the heart of the Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, close to mountains, beaches and hinterland, this estate boasts modern architecture, high-speed connectivity and space galore. No, this is not a property advertisement. It’s an accurate description of the Innovation Centre Sunshine Coast, a subsidiary company to the University of the Sunshine Coast, which resides on the edge of the tertiary campus at one of Queensland’s most sought-after locations. Is it any wonder that people want to move north?
“People come here on holiday and dream about living here but a lot of people don’t realise they can also work here,” says Colin Graham, CEO of the centre. “A lot of managing directors have come to the Sunshine Coast fairly recently from Sydney or Melbourne and overseas and they choose the Sunshine Coast for the lifestyle, and then they want to run an ambitious business as well. People largely sell themselves on that—we’re one of the fastest-growing regions in Australia.”
The centre was an initiative of the university, which at 12 years old is only a young fixture itself. The purpose behind the centre was to encourage the seed of knowledge, provided by tertiary education, to grow into something more commercial.
“The university didn’t want to grow in isolation, because there’s no point growing a university from scratch to ultimately 12,000–15,000 students and still having an immature economy around it,” explains Graham. “The Sunshine Coast had a fairly thin economy, heavily reliant on tourism, retail, and property, and had a fairly high level of unemployment—classic tourism area stuff. A lot of the jobs were low-paid, part-time or seasonal. Each of those industries is particularly vulnerable to economic cycles, the weather or just the end of a property boom, even a terrorist threat.
“You need something else to build a more mature economy. So the university, backed by local, state and federal governments, got the centre going. It was one element to help advance the Sunshine Coast to a more knowledge-based economy, to diversify the economy.”
This hybrid education and commercial campus, called Sippy Downs, will eventually grow into a university town of about 40,000 people, Graham estimates. At the moment the centre is home to ICT-based businesses, 70 percent of which are IT companies and the rest are other types of technology such as EcoNova, a water recycling company, just one of the sustainable technology residents in the complex.
Growing Small Business and Strengthening the Economy
The centre is an incubator, a fledgling technology park. A technology park is physically larger and often boasts more established businesses as tenants, offering start-ups access to more experienced players in the sector. One such park, also instrumental in a regional economy, is the University of Ballarat Technology Park, the largest technology park in regional Australia, which counts ICT companies such as IBM and the Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority as its main tenants.
Prior to its opening in 1995, the university’s vice-chancellor at the time, Professor David James, initiated the idea of the park “to foster and support new and emerging technologies, as well as be a catalyst for incubating dynamic new businesses,” says Malcolm Vallance, director of the park. “He recognised that 70 percent of technology parks globally had a close affiliation with a university. It was also important that the activities of the technology park strongly interfaced with the research endeavours of the university.”
With some 1,300 people employed in different capacities on the park and a $350 million output in direct and indirect economic benefits, Vallance emphasises the park’s importance to the town. “The University of Ballarat Technology Park is central to the economic and social well-being of the Ballarat region. The State Government of Victoria is enormously pleased with the important contribution it is making to the development and advancement of the region.”
Vallance says the next two years will be dedicated to growing the park’s workforce to 2,000 staff, some of whom may come from sectors other than ICT. “The university is also exploring the potential to attract tenants from the biotech and agritech industry sectors as well. So, if the university identifies start-up businesses or small to medium enterprises that align with these industry sectors, then we will attempt to attract them to the park.”
Both the Innovation Centre Sunshine Coast and the University of Ballarat Technology Park are commercial neighbourhoods built specifically to increase retention of intellectual capital in their respective regions. The incentives are high–tenants receive undue support from educational institutions, industry players and the government, and enjoy quality facilities that most start-ups could hardly dream of, let alone afford. In return, the park and the surrounding community expect success, with the flow-on effects making a positive impact on the greater economy.
“We’re not interested in any company that will come in with one person and two years later will go out with one person,” explains Graham of setting up premises at the Innovation Centre. “We’re looking for a company that we think has a good chance of success. We’re getting good at picking them now and a lot of that is [because of the company] having a strong lead entrepreneur.”