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Tonsley Is Australia’s First Innovation District

Tonsley has been the home of innovation since the 1800s when the Ragless family farmed the site and developed several automated harvesting technologies.

For almost five decades, Tonsley was also a cornerstone of South Australia’s manufacturing industry, the home of Chrysler Australia and later Mitsubishi Motors. Both companies developed their own innovations at the site.

Tonsley is today a project that is intrinsic to the state’s economic development as it transitions to a high value industrial base that is underpinned by innovation and collaboration. The vision for Tonsley was to create an operating environment, a precinct, that would assist South Australian businesses in their move up the value chain and into global markets.

The model for achieving the Tonsley vision has been based around a triple helix partnership between government, university and industry. This model incorporates the development of high amenity, mixed-use urban development (physical assets), populated with anchor businesses as well as research and training institutions (economic assets) in an environment that supports entrepreneurial activity and a culture of innovation (networking assets) to create an innovation district.

“The Tonsley precinct is evidence South Australia has transformed from a manufacturing state, to a state that is focused on and embraces innovation. The simple fact that Tonsley now has more employees under its roof compared to when it was manufacturing cars is testament to this,” says Damien Kitto, CEO, Adelaide Convention Bureau.

“Over the years we have secured business events that have accelerated start-ups and innovative companies in getting a foothold in the marketplace. Having the National Energy Storage Conference and Exhibition in Adelaide gave Tonsley an opportunity to promote its precinct to a larger audience of global companies. And when the convention bureau secured the Asia Pacific Land Forces event for multiple years, it provided a trade and investment platform for the individual companies within Tonsley to travel ’up the road’ to meet multinational organisations. This is the value that business events can deliver.”

Tonsley’s economic development objectives are highly aligned to the state’s strategic priorities, in particular: commercialisation of research and the student experience, growth through innovation, and showcasing South Australia as the best place to do business.

Tonsley’s four focus sectors of health, medical devices and assistive technologies, cleantech and renewable energy, automation, software and simulation, and mining and energy services reflect South Australia’s economic strengths and opportunities.

“Technology precincts have a great potential for industry, government and research coming together. This is what attracted us to Tonsley. It’s the best example that we can see in Australia for such a technology precinct,” says David Pryke, Executive Vice President, Energy, Siemens.

The enthusiasm of the South Australian public for all things tech and Tonsley helped make the innovation neighbourhood’s recent first open day an outstanding success, attended by an estimated 10,000 adults and children.

More than 70 activities were offered on the day, with 43 Tonsley-based businesses, organisations and attractions involved. This included ZEISS, Micro-X, Voxon Photonics, ZEN Energy, Tesla, Humanihut, Somark, Siemens, TAFE SA, Flinders University, and the Global Centre for Modern Ageing.

Innovyz is a good example of the innovative spirit and vibrancy of Tonsley. Innovyz is an end-to-end provider that helps individuals, universities, research centres, existing companies, and corporate spinouts build and grow companies, to bring their innovations, research, and ideas to market. Instead of allowing finance to dictate innovation, their intensive nine-month programmes ensure that the ’idea’ remains paramount during the company’s growth. Equally, cofounder Brett Jackson believes that the key to their success is working with people who they like and trust, and who are open to being coached through the scaling of their business. Their approach to partnership synergy and underlying business mission is what distinguishes Innovyz from other business incubators on the market.

Cofounders Brett Jackson and Stuart Douglas delight in helping companies to innovate, scale, and raise capital. While many would be discouraged, the duo had no qualms in establishing Innovyz during the global financial crisis. Fast-forward ten years, they’ve started 60 companies with a collective value of more than half a billion dollars (with more in the works), and they’ve raised funds in excess of AU $70 million.

“What we found is that if you have a great innovation, a great team, and a great plan, you get great money. If you don’t have that, then you’re not going to get it. That’s the secret to what we do,” says Brett Jackson.

Flexibility is also an important consideration for the Innovyz team whose programmes need to work across multiple sectors. Being able to work with clients such as Green Industries SA to deliver a commercialisation programme to reduce waste and enhance recycling then switch gears to help commercialise the innovative approach to welding developed by KTIG is part of what makes Innovyz unique.

KTIG is a great example of the power of the Innovyz programme. Born out of South Australia’s CSIRO, the founder of KTIG, Dr Laurie Jarvis, presented with a new keyhole welding technology that took one per cent of the time usually required and with a cost saving between 80 and 95 per cent. Since working with Innovyz, KTIG is now a successful global business, winning Australia’s Best Industrial Product Award 2014.

“Back ten years ago there was no eco-system for entrepreneurship and the commercialisation of innovation. Tonsley has enabled like-minded people to connect,” says Brett Jackson.

Entrepreneurs and start-ups are key to Tonsley’s future. From day one, they benefit from the collaboration and the guidance, mentorship and support of established businesses in their own sector and educational support from Flinders University and TAFE SA.

Education and business are innovation and collaboration partners at Tonsley, focusing on identifying industry needs and researching and developing smart solutions. This collaborative culture encourages educational institutions to be heavily embedded in industry activity at Tonsley, with high value manufacturing a primary focus.

“Our investment in Tonsley reflects our commitment to stimulating jobs growth, bringing our students together with the very best academics, researchers and entrepreneurs in the state-of-the-art facility that encourages innovation and drives new industry,” says Professor Colin Stirling, Vice Chancellor, Flinders University.

Flinders University has built a strong reputation for excellence in teaching and research underpinned by a network of strong external relationships and collaboration with industry. Its Tonsley campus is a five-minute drive from its main Bedford Park campus and more than 150 staff and 2,000 students are located at Tonsley. The university runs a bus loop between the two campuses and a train line connecting the two campuses with the city centre is due to open later this year.

Flinders University is preparing graduates to work in Tonsleys four focus industry sectors. Flinders at Tonsley is also a hub for entrepreneurs and next-generation start-ups through the New Venture Institute (NVI).

Photo: Tonsley, South Australia, photo by Business Events Australia.