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.”
Technology Parks: An Intellectual Attraction
Roy Chapman is the general manager of Innovation Services and Technology Parks at WA’s Department of Industry and Resources. He oversees Technology Park Bentley, often considered Australia’s leading technology park, and the Australian Marine Complex, whose tenants come from the marine, defence, and oil and gas industries.
He says government legislation made provision for the parks to add value to existing sectors, a move now seen as prescient considering Australia’s current ‘brain drain’. “When we had one technology park, Bentley, the philosophy was diversifying the state’s economy away from our resource base. We wanted to demonstrate to international investors that the state was more than a big quarry,” he explains. “Technology parks, certainly in the 1980s, served to demonstrate that there was a collection of non-research industries. And while they were fledgling, they were contributing.”
While Bentley grew into an ICT-dominated park, the WA Government noted a dearth in intellectual capital in emerging areas, which brought them to construct the Australian Marine Complex next to marine defence capabilities and shipbuilders. This saw the added bonus of spreading the knowledge. “There are a lot of spin-off companies, mainly people who were leaving industry sectors and opening their own businesses, providing services back to the core companies or taking the knowledge and transferring it to other areas,” says Chapman. “A lot of the ICT companies support the resource companies but some have used the technology to go into agriculture or medicine because it can be applied in those areas.”
Western Australia is arguably the most advanced of all the states in terms of its technology park initiatives. With ICT and marine activities covered, the state has since planned two bioparks, one adjoining the University of Western Australia and another near the QE2 medical facility. “It’s great that they have a huge concentration of research facilities, but you really need to have some commercialisation facilities,” says Chapman. “A similar theory has been applied to Murdoch University and is part of the excellent development of the Stanley Hospital, which will service the southern metropolitan region.”
Collaboration is a key element in furthering the technology park concept and embedding it into what will eventually become a knowledge economy, hence the formation of the association Technology Parks and Incubators Australia.
“Western Australia was one of the founding members of Technology Parks and Incubators Australia. We started as park managers talking to each other on the phone and visiting each other and we thought a profession association would look at the issues in membership, what we should be doing and so on,” describes Chapman of the group’s founding.
“The association has evolved to showcase the various things that go on in Australia. We certainly have our voice heard in the right place. Canberra certainly knows we exist and we have become a mouthpiece for representation to the IASP [International Association of Science Parks]. We’re better positioned now than we were in the formative years,” he states.
The association tackles issues concerning the intellectual and commercial development of technology parks, from monitoring changes and trends to implementing programs. “Also making sure we network with the relevant federal and state government representatives [as to] how the park can be used as a vehicle or an economic development tool,” adds Chapman. “And bringing the universities into it as well. Tertiary institutions have started to take the research and development commercialisation a bit more seriously.”
Despite all this forward thinking, Chapman says it pays to see where new technology and new businesses can be applied to existing markets, a mark of maturing technology parks. He recalls how parks lost their way in the 1990s trying to distance themselves from past activities. “There was an abandonment of each state’s core activities in trying to concentrate on advance technologies without looking back on what we were really good at,” he notes. “Our philosophy now is to build on our capabilities through resource technology. For example, the ICT focus has a huge amount of high performance computing and, while it is mineral research, most of it is done on computers so it’s very compatible.”
Technology parks and incubators are the important bridge between taking existing knowledge and markets and expanding them, by supporting new businesses that have the energy and agility to move industries to the next level. As well as retaining talent, Australia could become an intellectual attraction, turning what is now a scattering of commercial neighbourhoods into the start of a commercial nation.
10 Reasons to Start a Business at a Technology Park
- Access to quality infrastructure at a lower cost than individual start-ups. Facilities include offices, meeting rooms, high-speed broadband connection, administration support, car parking, food and beverage outlets.
- Facilities that will expand to accommodate growing businesses.
- Support from park management, via business mentoring and coaching.
- Support from, and potential collaboration with, other park tenants.
- Access to networks via other businesses, educational links and government contacts.
- Established reputation from the ‘technology park’ address.
- Access to education and training programs initiated by the park management.
- Assistance with financing, such as introductions to venture capitalists.
- More efficient, happier employees.
- Access to research facilities and, if close to a university campus, students.
Technology Parks and Incubators
Business Innovation and Incubation Australia: www.businessincubation.com.au
National ICT Australia: www.nicta.com.au
Technology Parks and Incubators Australia: www.tpia.org.au
Australian Technology Park: www.atp.com.au
Desert Knowledge Business & Innovation Centre: www.desertknowledge.com.au
Brisbane Technology Park: www.brisbanetechnologypark.com.au
Innovation Centre Sunshine Coast: www.innovation-centre.com.au
Technology Park Adelaide: www.techpark.sa.gov.au
Tasmanian Technopark: www.development.tas.gov.au/technopark
Innovation Centre Western Australia: www.innovation.wa.gov.au
Technology Park Bentley: www.techparkwa.org.au
Central Victorian Innovation Park: www.latrobe.edu.au/cvip
University of Ballarat Technology Park: www.ballarattechnologypark.com