Canadian Rhodes scholar and innovation expert Ilse Treurnicht will present a series of recommendations to the State Government in September on how South Australia can learn from other cities’ approaches to building innovation hubs.
Treurnicht was the former CEO of MaRS Discovery District – a not-for-profit innovation hub that was built on the site of an old hospital in Toronto.
Her experience is being used to help the State Government transform the former Royal Adelaide Hospital site into a multi-purpose innovation and cultural precinct that houses a technology and start-up hub, a national Aboriginal art gallery, a culinary school and Australia’s first national space agency, among others.
Visiting Adelaide for the second time in partnership with the Don Dunstan Foundation, Treurnicht said the Lot Fourteen project was entering a “critical” stage of development.
“I think it’s fantastic to see there’s a lot of interest and progress and momentum around Lot Fourteen – even since my last visit which was 15 months ago,” Treurnicht told InDaily.
“We are now at the stage where some of the key early tenants have been firmed up, construction is underway and I think the machine learning centre is opening in the next two to three months, so it seems like the project is now entering a pretty critical stage of development.”
Treurnicht’s recommendations to the State Government include establishing an independent board to help manage the development of the seven-hectare site.
Renewal SA – a State Government authority – is currently the sole body responsible for the Lot Fourteen development and leasing arrangements.
“When I think back to some of the key lessons I learned at MaRS, I think the first one was it is really important to understand how the site is governed financially, but also from a management perspective,” Treurnicht said.
“We had an independent, very-neutral board of directors and a dedicated team overseeing all aspects of the development, but in very wide consultation with others.
“That independent structure meant it was non-government, non-business, but a place where you could create cross-sector collaborations between all those groups.”
Treurnicht said she had met with representatives from the state’s university and business communities, who expressed a desire to have greater involvement in the running of Lot Fourteen.
“Everybody has a responsibility to make this thing successful and no one single party or government can make it work on its own,” she said.
“Given South Australia and Adelaide’s concentration of universities, it’s absolutely critical that the university sector needs to form an integral part of the strategy for Lot Fourteen, and how that manifests itself still needs to be worked on.
“The business community have also expressed a desire to have more engagement with the site.”
Treurnicht said the independent board could comprise a “small working group” of key stakeholders, which would help “refine the vision and strategy for the site”.
She said while the State Government should maintain a say in the running of Lot Fourteen as the site’s principal landowner, it should also be open to working towards a non-government model in the future.
“Renewal (SA) is very clear that this is a high priority for the State Government, but I just think there is capacity in the community to contribute to this project,” she said.
“You actually have to have a team that works on the activation of the site and on its connection to the external community.
“Lot Fourteen is now at that stage where it’s ready to start thinking about that.”
Treurnicht’s comments follow discussions between Renewal SA and the Adelaide City Council about the management of the site.
At a meeting last week, the council’s CEO Mark Goldstone said he would prefer the council to have more involvement in the running of Lot Fourteen to ensure the site was more integrated with the rest of the city.
“My view is that it would be good to see rates payable (and) it would be good to see council involved in the site by way of maintaining because it is part of the city,” Goldstone said last week.
“There’s also how integrated Lot Fourteen is with the greater the city or whether it is a site in isolation (and) I think that is a conversation needs to be had politically and not operationally.”
Treurnicht will also recommend the State Government look at placing tenants in more “strategic” locations around the site to maximise collaboration between companies.
“If you don’t get intentional about what are the next blocks of tenants that you want to try and attract, you will just kind of opportunistically grab bits and pieces and you may end up with something that is fine, but not optimised,” she said.
“I think this is just such an incredible opportunity for South Australia to start thinking ambitiously about its economic future.”
Treurnicht’s recommendations will be shared with the Government ahead of a public release at the Don Dunstan Foundation’s “Big Change Conference” in September.
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