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New thinker-in-residence examines oRAH site plans

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A globally recognised business collaborator who led the transformation of a hospital site in Canada into a vast entrepreneurial innovation hub is in Adelaide to offer her insights on the future of the old Royal Adelaide Hospital site.

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Dr Ilse Treurnicht is the long-time CEO of Toronto’s MaRS Discovery District – one of the world’s largest business innovation precincts, set on land formerly occupied by a significant hospital, about twice the size of the old RAH site.

She is the Don Dunstan Foundation’s latest “thinker-in-residence” – a Rann-era program revived by the not-for-profit – and follows Allyson Hewitt, who led the social innovation programs at MaRS.

Treurnicht said the old RAH site had the potential to host a business innovation hub which could lead a transformation of South Australia’s economy – linking also with the biomedical precinct at the western end of North Terrace and the Tonsley Innovation Precinct on the old Mitsubishi plant site.

She said several elements were vital to establishing an effective innovation precinct.

They included identifying smart, small-scale start-ups and linking them with big capital and big companies – so that they can be linked into existing global networks – fostering collaboration between researchers from a variety of fields, and welcoming artists into the space.

The MaRS Discovery District features about 150 tenants and 6500 staff, and connects leading researchers with leading entrepreneurs.

Treurnicht argues that governments attempting to set up innovation precincts have to follow a very “hands-on activation model” to foster new, collaborative working relationships.

“The government is clearly a very important stakeholder … and needs to play a leadership role,” she said.

“[The project] requires collaboration as an extreme sport.

“It’s a big, ambitious, risky project … the biggest risk is that it won’t be optimised.”

The State Government plans a business innovation hub, a national Aboriginal art gallery, and a hospitality, tourism and training centre for the old RAH site.

Treurnicht added that a single data transfer centre in the MaRS Discovery District was a key element in fostering business collaboration there, and that securing major international tenants – such as the Johnson & Johnson healthcare and pharmaceuticals company – was also “really important” to its success.

She is due to give a speech, “Building the Future on Purpose: a vision for inclusive growth in SA” on May 2 in the entrance foyer of the old RAH, starting 5.30pm. Tickets are available here.

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