Innovation & The City: Sydney’s date with destiny

James Mabbott, Head of Innovation Services
James Mabbott, Head of Innovation Services

When we look at how innovation eco-systems happen, physical and geographical factors should not be overlooked. Cities for example, play a key role as platforms for innovation eco-systems – as proximity of people breeds opportunities for collaboration across industries, sectors and cultural backgrounds.

What cities do you think are the most innovation friendly around the world?

Well, according to research from City Initiatives for Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CITIE) the leaders of the pack are New York, London, Helsinki, Barcelona and Amsterdam. Here in Australia, Sydney and Melbourne are a few steps behind the pace setters, categorised as Builders who are “actively investigating policies to enhance their budding ecosystems.”

So should we care about Australian cities being leaders in innovation?

Well, when it comes to our livelihood, innovation is going to play a major role in ensuring there are enough jobs for people to go to.

CEDA‘s Australia’s Future Workforce paper released in June this year predicts that up to five million jobs will be lost to automation in the next 10 to 15 years. We have already seen positions such as manufacturing line worker and supermarket cashier gradually replaced by automation. Artificial intelligence is also changing the game when it comes to processes once thought beyond the scope of automation, with software being used to create research reports and even draft articles.

Thanks to innovative technologies and digital disruption, the nature of work is constantly evolving. The truth is we don’t yet know what the future jobs will be. The increasing advances in automation and other technologies will create whole new industries, and along with them a host of new professional opportunities. Highly in-demand roles today, such as big data analyst, or mobile UX developer didn’t even exist 10 years ago and might not in 10 more.

If Australia is to take advantage of these opportunities, it cannot just sit back and talk about the changes happening. It needs to take action and play to its strengths. On a national level, we need to increase investment and focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education to give future and current generations the tools to build the jobs of the future.

And on a city level, we need to foster an ecosystem of innovation to allow Australian ideas to flourish and form into new businesses: to be on the front foot when it comes to developing the disruptive tech that will shape future industries. The internet is everywhere. The commercial battlefields of the future will be global. If Australia is to safeguard and grow its economy, and our jobs, we must be at the front of developing Intellectual Property and commercialising creativity – and it is in city eco-systems where much of this innovation will take place.

Let’s take Sydney as an example. Sydney is without doubt Australia’s Financial Services hub. The city’s financial services sector contributes 5 percent of our national GDP – and 80,000 jobs. The brains trust when it comes to finance is huge, as is the capital (both financial and intellectual) that flow through what is the beating heart of NSW’s economy.

That is why Sydney, with the launch of Stone & Chalk is delighted to be putting a foot forward towards creating a world leading fintech hub within: an initiative that will see startups and established industry players collaborating to create the jobs of the future.

Stone & Chalk will be both a physical hub and a wider industry community, providing the infrastructure to support generations of future fintech players. It is a living experiment in developing and driving a partnership between corporates, entrepreneurs, venture capital, university, government and regulators. The opportunity, and the demand, is huge. Before opening, it has already been necessary to relocate to expanded premises on Bridge Street.

It is still early days, with Stone & Chalk in the process of selecting its first cohort of startup residents. Initiatives such as Stone & Chalk should not be seen as the end game in transforming Australia’s cities into leading global innovation hubs. They are, however, a big step in the right direction. They help to lay the groundwork for the well-established innovation practices and entrepreneurial ecosystems that our cities need to become front runners in the global race for economic success.

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