Sunshine Coast Clean Tech Version of Silicon Valley

Sunshine Coast Clean Tech Version of Silicon Valley

Strolling around the post-modern buildings at Sippy Downs and you could be in any world-class university or technology park – until you stumble across the wild kangaroos lazing around the campus grounds. Welcome to Australia’s no-worries-answer to Silicon Valley. So went the story on CNBC Europe. Now the Innovation Centre, along with the University of the Sunshine Coast and a healthy bunch of clean tech businesses, is putting on Australia’s first Clean Futures conference (21/22 October).

JULY 2010

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Hotspot: Sippy Downs, Queensland

Strolling around the postmodern buildings at Sippy Downs and you could be in any world-class university or technology park – until you stumble across the wild kangaroos lazing around the campus grounds. Welcome to Australia’s no-worries-answer to Silicon Valley

Located on the fringes of the Mooloolah River National Park, the 100ha site that is home to the University of the Sunshine Coast is about to become Australia’s first dedicated university town. Under an approved master plan, Sippy Downs will see its population double over the next decade as 2,500 dwellings get built around a self-contained business and technology precinct that will employ 6,000 knowledge workers in the information and green technology sectors.

Around 90km north of Brisbane, the country’s third largest city with two million people, Sippy Downs is a short hop down the Bruce Highway (seriously) to Australia Zoo, the wildlife park that was run by crocodile hunter Steve Irwin until his death in 2006. Further north are the idylls of Noosa Heads, Fraser Island and the pristine coastline near the southern reaches of the Great Barrier Reef. But Queensland wants to be known for more than just sun, surf, sand and dangerous creatures. In a bid to diversify the economy beyond seasonal tourism and property speculation, the state has earmarked this balmy hinterland as a hothouse for innovators and entrepreneurs.

The fact that southern Queensland is such a desirable location has its advantages. Th e region has attracted a surging community of highly-skilled professionals and managerial executives who either vacation here or else have decided to flee the urban stresses of Melbourne, Sydney and countless other cities abroad. All that was missing to perfect their new-found work/life balance was a business-support infrastructure attuned to the needs of home-brewed start-ups.

Which is where the already thriving Innovation Centre enters the equation. Founded in 2002 as a subsidiary of the University, the Centre comprises both a Business Incubator, to help nurture new ideas from their most embryonic stages, and also a Business Accelerator, for those that show the greatest commercialising potential or are in need of expansion. Th e support extends well beyond just office space, shared facilities and a communal pool table; fledgling companies get mentoring advice, professional and legal services and introductions to potential customers, partners and investors.

Under the stewardship of its founding CEO, Colin Graham, the Centre has played midwife to numerous businesses spanning such sectors as software development, electronics and nutraceuticals. Just recently, Big Ant studios, one of Australia’s largest game developers, announced plans to initiate a 30-person development team at the Centre’s Business Accelerator offices; taking advantage of the gaming community flourishing in nearby areas such as Fortitude Valley, Big Ant wants to hire 84 more gamemakers in the next four years alone.

Born in Northern Ireland before making his reputation in Scotland as the guiding force behind the Business Incubator for the Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen and the author of EPeople: Engaging Talent in the Entrepreneurial Age, Graham typifies the dynamism of many of the expats here.

“Australia has always been a very entrepreneurial country,” says Graham, “initially by necessity, since you needed to be innovative and make use of whatever resources you had to get by and survive. These days, the Australian economy is dominated by the resources industry but there is also a new stream of entrepreneurs – often recently arrived immigrants who have chosen to live in Australia for its quality of life, and have brought their talents and international business networks with them.”

The net result has the makings of a new enterprise hub that is increasingly wired into the global economy. “When I came over from the UK to start the Centre, I thought we had all the ingredients for success but wasn’t totally sure everyone else would recognise this,” reflects Graham. “We are now one of the largest innovation centre’s in Australia – not bad for an area that was a paddock in the mid-90s. We have helped to start over 60 businesses and helped thousands of people connect with each other through high-level business networking events. I think the greatest success is showing that a regional area can compete for talent and ultimately show a new way of working that is more balanced, innovative and effective than what many people experience working in a big city.”


The Clean Futures conference, to be held on 21 – 22 Oct, is a practical event primarily aimed at entrepreneurs and business managers in the Cleantech sector – including areas such as as building materials and design, wind, solar, water, waste and energy management. It will also be of interest to business advisors, investors, government, educators and students.

The conference includes three main elements and people can attend one or all of these elements:

•           Practical one day workshop delivered by practitioners and industry experts, Fri 22 Oct

•           One day study tour visiting 3 cleantech business, Thurs 21 Oct

•           Green drinks – an evening business networking forum, includes business expo , features John Knaggs, CEO of Sunshine Coast Council and Bruce Napier, head of Cleantech Industry group, Thurs 21 Oct

Businesses will benefit by practical insights and ‘lessons learnt’ by some of Queensland’s leading environmental industry entrepreneurs – people like Bob and Christine Cameron of Rockcote and Gayne Emblin of Ritek, a building materials business with over 150 staff.


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