Laying the innovation foundation

Take a look inside iAccelerate – a purpose-built business incubator and accelerator uniting entrepreneurs,students and researchers to translate bright ideas into commercial success and embed an innovation mindset in tomorrow’s workforce.

Inside the architecturally stunning three-storey, 4000 square metre iAccelerate Centre, ideas people are leading a new direction in the regional economy.

Opened in July 2016, the iAccelerate Centre has ‘plug and go’ space to accommodate up to 280 entrepreneurs across any number of fields. It is home to UOW’s iAccelerate program – a first of its kind in Australia that supports the development of startups while also fostering innovation and growth in established companies, or intrapreneurs.

The program is a crucial component in UOW’s plan to aid the region’s transition to a knowledge-based economy, creating new industries and employment by leveraging the skills of graduates, researchers and the Illawarra community. More than 90 technology-driven businesses have taken part since its inception in 2013, creating almost 215 startup jobs in the process. By the end of the decade, the program aims to have generated 500 direct and 1000 indirect jobs attracting $70 million in investment in the regional and state economies. Local startups are also benefiting from the $10 million iAccelerate Seed Fund.

iAccelerate’s multi-faceted program – offering education in entrepreneurial skills such as marketing, ethics, IP, finance, pitching and networking opportunities – delivers a great deal more than the shared infrastructure and opportunity to bounce ideas offered in traditional co-working spaces. The overall result is not only to refine and fast-track ideas into commercially viable, successful and scalable operations, but also to foster a generation of graduates ready to apply those skills to advance innovation and change in existing businesses.

iAccelerate CEO, Omar Khalifa says that the program creates a pathway for researchers and entrepreneurs to collaborate in turning ideas and prototypes into successful commercial products; where entrepreneurs can effectively ‘shop’ for researchers that can bring the most benefit.

“We are working to create a frictionless interface between entrepreneurs and researchers that allows the free flow of movement across that traditional divide, with great benefits on both sides,” he explains.

Resident profile: Enviro Building Services

Enviro Building Services is the fastest growing Building Management System (BMS) company in NSW, developing internet of things (IoT) solutions for the built environment.

Enviro’s IoT solutions drive operational and energy efficiencies optimsation for the built environment through smart sensing and advanced edge device analytics. The company has successfully engaged with iAccelerate’s network of connections to forge valuable partnerships with researchers to develop next-generation solutions,collaborating with the Sustainable Buildings Research Centre (SBRC) at the Innovation Campus on self-commissioning BMS controllers utilising advanced machine learning applications, and with UOW’s Smart Infrastructure facility, with support from Advantage SME, onan IoT smart sensing application with corporate partner Grosvenor Engineering Group.

Enviro Building Services General Manager, Matt Cochrane says that the company has benefited greatly from iAccelerate’s entrepreneurship development programs and is reaping the rewards of being connected with the Innovation Campus.

“The access to the advanced technical research community at the Innovation Campus and UOW has been a key driver in the success of our business,” he says.“We are actively encouraging our clients to join us here and create an innovation hub to leverage synergies and extend our collective potential.”

Resident profile: Enware

For Enware, an established Sydney-based manufacturer and marketer of plumbing and personal safety equipment, coming to iAccelerate was not about starting up – it was about intrapreneurship, and developing a new idea in a space where innovation could thrive.

“Part of the journey for Enware was for us to start thinking like a startup – stepping out of our usual mindset, taking risks and developing things we could test quickly,” explains Jason Hinds, Enware’s Research and Development Manager.

Enware’s primary focus is on plumbing products for the healthcare industry, and co-location at the Innovation Campus and access to iAccelerate’s networks have sparked collaboration opportunities offering significant competitive advantage. The company is working with the Intelligent Polymer Research Institute on a new material that reduces the risk of bacterial growth in plumbing systems, and with UOW’s School of Environmental Engineering to explore the microbiology elements of stagnation and bacterial growth.

“I think we would have struggled to make those connections if we weren’t iAccelerate residents,” he says. “We’re now exploring four research projects within the University that allow us to broaden our knowledge base to enhance our business.”

Embedding entrepreneurship in graduates

Earlier this year, 20 engineering students took up a 12-week residency at iAccelerate as part of their studies, gaining a unique opportunity to explore, develop and commercialise their end-of-year project ideas while developing entrepreneurial skills and mindset not gained through regular university course work.

Structured as a full-time work placement replacing traditional work experience positions, students learned how they could create their own pathways to job and businesses, turn ideas into compelling business cases and pitch them to management and investors – making them an instant and unique asset for existing companies as well.

Three of these student enterprises have since been accepted into the iAccelerate program to develop and commercialise their idea and are being considered for iAccelerate seed funding: InstaShred, a fully interactive smart guitar that teaches the user through LED lights embedded in the fretboard; eMotion Technology, whose wearable health technologies include an assistive rehabilitation glove for people affected by stroke, injury or disability; and V-DAQ, developing automated vehicle data acquisition technologies to reduce emergency service response times.

On the back of the successful pilot program, iAccelerate plans to double its program intake later this year, with the program getting recognition via course credit points.

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