Report from the 2017 WA Regional Innovation Summit

On Thursday 23rd of November 2017 Minister Alannah MacTiernan hosted more than one hundred delegates at a Regional Innovation Summit in Bunbury. While the majority of the participants were from the South West of the state and representing various government or agencies, there were also representatives from northern WA and from various social enterprises and private ventures fostering innovation in WA’s regions.

The summit mostly consisted of presentations in a very full program, and an opportunity for people to work together in groups to develop recommendations to feed into a roadmap for regional innovation. While the focus was mostly on the $4.5million budget allocation over coming four years, the ideas and discussions were broader.

Debriefing with fellow practitioners and collaborators, there was a sense that summit was valuable as a first time regional representatives had been brought together on this topic. While key ‘doers’ and facilitators in regions were missing and opportunity for audience contribution limited, good connections were made, ideas progressed and comprehensive resources shared (see summit appendix thanks to Katie)!

From the presenters, Chad Renando gave insight into models from Queensland, Bonnie Lin the same from the USA, Andre Veder from RFF Australia, Rhys Williams from City of Mandurah and Make Place and Brad Adams from Ocean Grown Abalone gave insights into specific initiatives, Julian Coyne some cases and statistics to back his optimism and Tim Mazzarol provided insights from the research into growing local economies.

I was also invited to do a short presentation and participate in a panel discussion, drawing from my experience with Meshpoints, co-founding and growing Pollinators in Geraldton and role as chairperson of StartupWA.

Here is the text of the presentation, emphasising the timeliness of an innovation focus, and the central role politicians and governments can play in facilitating it. Thanks to Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, you can also listen to the audio of Andrew and other panelists: .

Geraldton, WA is amazing, large, diverse, remote. Regional WA has 99% of land area, 95% of exports, 21% of residents. In places of remarkable beauty and great fragility, we lead in deliberative democracy, mine 800 million tonnes iron ore with incredible efficiency, harvest 0.5 billion of crayfish and in the quietest places, like the Murchison, plan to download 160 terabytes a second of deep space data.

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And, the waves of change are rolling through. As any surfer knows, timing really matters. As Chair of StartupWA, we know there are about 20,000 people who’ve started early stages ventures in the last 5 years. Some have raised millions (Fastbrick $35 million round), rapidly grown to employ ninety people (like Health Engine), lead the world in not only their product but innovation in fundraising (Power Ledger ICO) . Many of them are weird and incredible – like neuro feedback systems to train eSports players (Humm) – and as an investor, I have to be prepared to back these guys, be patient and not expect a return for a decade.

 

And, it’s not an even playing field, and the environment really matters. It’s mountainous, with aspirational peaks like Silicon Valley. Our highest peak is Mount Meharry, here, which you don’t need to struggle to get up – you can drive. It’s made of Iron Ore, but with forecast decreases in demand for steel, how long do you think that will be valuable? We mine lithium and nickel with abundant renewable energy, but our batteries are made in Germany.

The deep analysis in ALGA State of the Regions report in 2016 included the summation that all of the worlds high income economies, except those with a wealth of natural resources, rely on sustained innovation as the foundation of their economy. Are we going to sit up here and crack open a tinny, or get busy exploring new opportunities in the valleys, embrace the weirdness at the edges.

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Digital disruption, as one example, is a given. That 25% of GSP can be ours, or go elsewhere. Last month one of our Geraldton entrepreneurs received $100,000 grant to develop his drone to tractor technology for fallow weed identification. Guess where our local talent is moving. If you want to improve the rates of success, retain the best of them…

Innovation is a noun, however doing it is a verb and only ever happening now, and you have to be at the source of it (hint: there’s no-one else we are talking about here, and there is no outside it).

The etymology of innovation literally means in (in) making new. In the middle of making new. More common definitions now refer to the conscious acts to create significant new (ecological, social or economic value).

Being conscious is what’s necessary, as is doing it. You can choose where to be busy, distracted by competing with others, fantasising rather than just starting…or choose to be at the source of creating significant new value. Innovating is here and now and you, it’s nowhere else. We need to hold a big picture, to have a ten year plus strategy and vision. It’s only by holding a big, long term vision that you can cope with the guaranteed, short-term bumps and challenges.

Pollinators leases nearly 1000m2 of space for Coworking and Creative industries for CityHive. This space part of our venture has turned over nearly a million since founding, and the whole thing has never run on more than 30% funding – for the last few years 100% revenue. But in 2011 we started a pilot and $14,930 investment in an 80m2 empty space where we paid rent to the State Government.

It was waterfront, the views were incredible, but acoustics terrible. So this acoustic damping wall got in the pilot of our coworking space in each box a child placed a story about their imagined future, we got a unique and effective acoustic wall. This, all the other ‘acoustic innovations’ (pictured) and a thousand other things since, demonstrate our values of being connected, collaborative and creative – ethos that’s the foundation of a unique member-based, social enterprise that continues to grow as a response to this challenge – how to nurture people and innovations that enable healthy, resilient communities.

We have grown a very mature innovation ecosystem, and other regions are at different stages. Like raising children, or gardening, what nurturing is looks differently in each location. Your approach may need to be different, but it wouldn’t be wise to ignore the models and lessons. The vast majority of this room are government, and your remit is broad and social, but you can, and have to be, entrepreneurial, learn from lessons, and consider how you can be “in the centre” of innovation.

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