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Hills boss nudges out government

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Hills Ltd boss Ted Pretty was a strident critic of Labor Party policies on innovation hubs last year; today he joined Premier Jay Weatherill in a $5 million, three-year partnership to create two such hubs.

In doing so, Pretty has taken ownership, management and control of the intellectual property away from government agencies.

The Government and Hills will each contribute $2.5 million over three years to support the creation and operations of the two major centres for development.

“We are delighted to work with the Government, the Premier and Minister Kenyon and thank them for their encouragement and support,” Pretty said at the launch today.

Early last year Pretty said governments had a poor record on innovation hubs.

He told an economic forum in Adelaide that Labor’s innovation policies led to “more government agencies studying more options about where to put more technology parks”.

Pretty argued instead for direct government handouts to stimulate innovation, instead of propping up industries such as car making.

“Why pump $300m into steel transformation and billions into the car industry?” Pretty said.

“Instead of the South Australian government handing over $50m to Holden, why not give 10 lots of $5m to emerging and innovative Australian companies?”

It appears that he got his wish.

Weatherill and Pretty today unveiled plans for two “hubs of innovation” – the Lance Hill Design Centre (LHDC), named after the inventor of the renowned Hills Hoist – and the Digital Research and Commercialisation Centre (to be known as “The D-Shop”).

UniSA and the Flinders University will play pivotal roles with both of the proposed new centres, with Pretty also announcing Hills had signed memoranda of understanding with the universities to collaborate on projects at the two facilities.

The LHDC embraces “user-centred design”, particularly in the area of solutions for health care, aged and home care.

The D-Shop will encourage and, where appropriate, fund development projects and pilots as well as support early stage start-ups in the areas of “Internet of Things” applications, including health and well-being (wearable devices), safety and security.

Pretty said the deal delivered growth opportunities.

“Hills is undergoing a major transformation to meet the challenges of the global marketplace. We believe this mirrors the challenges facing South Australia. We both need new opportunities for renewal and growth.

“Our collaboration with the Government and UniSA and Flinders University is a positive step towards supporting new and innovative opportunities in South Australia. Hills is pleased to contribute funding as the private sector must play a role in generating economic prosperity.

“We are optimistic that creating the two centres in Adelaide will act as a catalyst for new products and businesses to be incubated from within the state.

“We must act decisively and quickly to reposition the economy to be able to compete in the global market place. All of these initiatives should receive wide bi-partisan support”.

Pretty said Hills estimates that the new centres could create up to 50 new highly-skilled jobs in South Australia.

He has succeeded in taking control of innovation away from government agencies.

The LHDC will be owned and controlled by Hills and the D-Shop will be managed by Hills which has undertaken to work closely with leading SA institutions such as UniSA and Flinders University and also local start-ups to incubate new projects and businesses in the State.

Hills and or its partners will own or jointly own the IP created based on contribution.

The location of the centres will be determined by Hills but may involve satellite facilities at various SA institutions.

Hills will also endeavour to secure further Federal Government support during 2014 for the D-Shop facility to stimulate innovation in the State.

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