Beyond the Horizon


In the lead up to the 2018 Commonwealth Games billions of dollars were invested into the Gold Coast, not only to meet the event’s infrastructure needs, but to ensure the city could leverage its potential in the post Games era. Aside from the physical infrastructure substantial emphasis was placed on realising the city’s intellectual capital, particularly through entrepreneurial enterprises and innovative start-ups. As Australia’s small business capital the strategy made perfect sense.

As part of that strategy $5 billion was invested into the Gold Coast Health and Knowledge precinct, encompassing Griffith University’s research facilities, the new University Hospital, the Gold Coast Private Hospital and the G:Link light rail service. The GC2018 Athlete’s Village occupied some 10 hectares within the precinct, a parcel of land now being reimagined as Lumina, an entrepreneurial nursery for innovative, high technology enterprises, many of which will feed into, and form partnerships with, Griffith University’s world leading biomedical research facilities.

Over the next decade Lumina is anticipated to create some 12,000 jobs and $1.4 billion for the economy. The innovation cluster is already attracting investment with the Griffith Innovation Centre (GIC), the healthcare AI enterprise IntelliHQ and the coworking facility COHORT which has a number of tech start-ups now operating from their site. Griffith University has also allocated $80 million for its Advanced Design and Prototyping Technologies Institute (ADaPT) within the precinct.

Innovation Lab

With stakeholders keen to realise the potential of the precinct this week Lumina hosted Horizon 2.0, a pop up innovation lab running over two days with local and international speakers sharing their insights while firing imaginations through interactive workshops.

Cohort’s Head of Innovation Murray Galbraith addressed the challenges of succeeding as an entrepreneur in Australia in his opening address. Australia has the third lowest population density in the world, with only Namibia and Mongolia having less people per square kilometre. Why should this matter to a budding entrepreneur? Galbraith suggests that with so much room to move and so few people it’s hard to get noticed, not only within your own country, but beyond your borders given Australia’s relative geographical isolation.

Murray Galbraith

“In Australia those who do choose to stand out are often chopped down by their peers through the ‘tall poppy syndrome.’ It cannot be underestimated how much this affects us,” says Galbraith. It’s something any Australian can easily identify with, growing up in a culture where the pack mentality runs along these lines: “No one else is doing it – why does this goose think he can stand out from the crowd?”

Three Entrepreneurial Lessons

Murray says the three lessons he’s learned from his (not always successful) entrepreneurial endeavours are: 

  1. The destructive impact of the tall poppy syndrome.
  2. Design for density. Optimise for empathy.
  3. Complexity is far more valuable than simplicity.

It’s the third of these key points he wants us to consider most. Without complexity there is little value in what we create. His analogy of exporting a raw material like iron ore well illustrates his point. Dig it up from the ground and sell it and all you get is a sale. But dig it up, turn it into steel, use the steel to build a complex machine like a car where an inter-connected network of industries evolves to support the manufacturing process and the value of your simple commodity increases tenfold.  

Murray then uses his analogy to focus on the local opportunities within the Health and Knowledge precinct. With Australia currently spending $181 billion on healthcare annually (10% of our GDP) the potential is enormous, an opportunity too good to miss and while the solutions to providing better, cheaper and more accessible healthcare won’t be easy an entrepreneurial network collaborating together from within a single precinct has the best chance of producing successful results, or to put it in Galbraith’s parlance: “innovation is a contact sport, it’s also a team sport. Communication builds community.”

US Case Studies

One of the keynote speakers for Horizon 2.0 was Chris Laing, Executive Director of Capital City Innovation in Austin, Texas and one of the world’s leading experts on innovation precincts. Chris shared his experience of heading up a medical research district in Philadelphia and then his move to Austin, an innovative city dominated by data analytic companies now seizing the opportunity to collaborate with scientific, medical and biotech enterprises who are increasingly relying on analytical data. Chris says the market is growing so big that companies like Google and Amazon are investing heavily in this space now.

“Innovation districts are a type of intervention that shifts the trajectory of market dynamics. Unlike business parks which promote vertical interaction, innovation districts promote horizontal interaction,” explains Chris. “To work successfully an innovation district needs collaboration between all stakeholders, the key is to leverage knowledge precincts and industry expertise with the innovation sector. The best way to do that is to establish an intermediary, which could be a representative committee from various stakeholders or an independent organisation established to drive the sector’s goals,” he says.

Chris Laing likes the thinking that’s gone into the Gold Coast Health and Knowledge precinct. He sees comparisons between the Gold Coast’s situation and that of Austin. Both are young, rapidly growing cities that don’t need to retrofit an established industry within the construct of today’s entrepreneurial landscape and as such that affords them greater flexibility and opportunity.

Perpetual Innovation

At the end of Laing’s presentation you can almost hear the cogs turning as local minds digest his analysis of the Gold Coast precinct. A question for Chris comes from the floor regarding the role of the intermediary: “Does he think there’s a point where an innovative district no longer requires an intermediary to ensure the collaborative success of the collective?”

Laing thinks for a moment before he responds. “I don’t have any evidence to back this up, but in my opinion the job of the intermediary is to eventually put themselves out of business. There is a point where the innovative culture becomes self-sustaining and enterprises within the innovation district can grow organically without the need for interventions through an organised structure,” he says.

It may well be that there’s no evidence to support Laing’s theory because the notion of structured entrepreneurial collaboration within a world of digital disruption is still too new to be tested and those too busy pushing the boundaries are yet to discover how this will play out. For a young city like the Gold Coast just beginning to realise its potential that might be the most exciting prospect yet.      

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