Melbourne: an Ideal Hub for Collaboration, Innovation and Growth

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Digital technology, innovation are fast becoming a big driving force for Victoria’s economic growth and productivity

At the backdrop of recently held CommunicAsia 2019 in Singapore – Brett Stevens, Commissioner to South East Asia, Government of Victoria, Australia interacts with Zia Askari from about the way Victoria is driving innovation ahead and how the state is attracting global talent.  

What are the broad areas of focus for state of Victoria when it comes to driving the spirit of Innovation?

Digital technology and innovation are a driving force for Victoria’s economic growth and productivity. Melbourne is home to more than half of Australia’s top 20 technology companies and our digital technology industry has over 8000 companies including a range of international firms such as IBM, NEC, Slack and Zendesk.

Melbourne is fast establishing itself as an international hub for digital technology companies and start-ups producing more digital technology graduates than any other city in Australia.

We have world class universities and R&D hubs. In 2017, 200,000 international students across 170 countries came to Victoria to study, attracted by our innovation and multifaceted educational system.

We are home to over 40 food research centres which focus on boosting productivity in our world-class food and fibre sector, managing our natural resources, protecting our environment and responding to fire, flood and biosecurity emergencies.

We are proud of our digital expertise in the areas of cyber security, the Industrial Internet of Things, emergency service solutions, intelligent transport solutions, sports technologies, digital games, fintech and cloud technology.

Please share details on some of your initiatives in this direction.

Victoria has one of the largest R&D clusters in the southern hemisphere providing world-leading, commercially focused digital technology research. Data61 for example, is a cyber security innovation hub, with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) as a major partner.

The centre works on national research projects and is a focal point for collaboration by key players across Australia’s cybersecurity innovation ecosystem. Data61 has a strong delivery focus, underpinned by excellence in engineering, technology development, user experience, and commercialising data-centric solutions.

As part of our commitment to innovation, the Victorian Government funds an annual Digital Innovation Festival held over two weeks, which celebrates Victoria’s digital technology capabilities and community.

Another example is LaunchVic; established in 2016 by the Victorian Government, LaunchVic is an independent agency responsible for developing Victoria’s startup ecosystem. The agency holds funding rounds designed to support specialists who deliver programs and supports Victorian start-ups through incubators, accelerators, mentoring, and professional development.

Brett Stevens, Commissioner to South East Asia, Government of Victoria, Australia

How do you look at nurturing and eventual development of global innovation hubs within the State of Victoria?

Melbourne’s position as a hub for collaboration in cyber security offers the ideal conditions for growth. The State Government of Victoria has established a hub of cyber security infrastructure based in the heart of Melbourne’s financial services district, Docklands.

Responsible for developing the national strategy for cyber security, the A$30 million Cyber Security Growth Centre (CSGC) has a node in the Docklands-based cyber security cluster. The CSGC will coordinate cyber security research and innovation to reduce overlap and maximise impact. It will improve engagement between research and business and develop cyber security management and workforce skills.

The CSIRO digital research unit Data61 has opened its new national cyber security centre in Melbourne. The Centre works on national research projects and is a focal point for collaboration by key players across Australia’s cybersecurity innovation ecosystem. Data61 has a strong delivery focus, underpinned by excellence in engineering, technology development, user experience, and commercialising data-centric solutions.

Oceania Cyber Security Centre (OCSC) will connect eight Victorian universities and major private sector partners to advance our capabilities in cyber security training, education, research, policy, and entrepreneurship. OCSC enables industry to access the nation’s talent in cyber security academia and training. OCSC carry out research, and work with private sector partners to reduce security risks.

How does Victorian government help local companies’ eye global market opportunities?

We have 22 Victorian trade and investment offices around the globe covering different regional territories and markets. Our talented people are tasked with identifying global market opportunities and work closely with colleagues in Victoria to facilitate both trade and investment opportunities.

I head up the region for Southeast Asia from my office in Jakarta where I have six staff across international education, trade and investment.  I also have offices in Malaysia and Singapore that are responsible for identify market opportunities and relay these to Victoria.

What are some of the big advantages of setting up office in Victoria?

Victoria is recognised as technological hub of Australia with a solid base of medium size businesses, world class local companies, and a strong representation of both large and international companies.

We produce more ICT University graduates than any other state, so access to talent is a significant benefit.

Melbourne is home to a world-class cyber security hub, including Data61 Cyber Security Centre and Oxford University’s Global Cyber Security Capacity Centre.

How do you make sure that local academic institutions are also equally involved in driving innovation ahead? Please share any academic initiatives undertaken by Victoria in this direction.

Last year Johnson & Johnson Innovation, the external innovation arm of the pharmaceutical giant teamed up with one of Victoria’s top research institutions, Monash University.

Johnson & Johnson is the world’s largest healthcare company with more than US$70 billion in annual revenue and some 250 subsidiaries operating in over 60 countries.

The Johnson & Johnson Innovation team have previously worked with other local academic institutions including the Walter & Eliza Hall Institute, the University of MelbourneRMIT and St Vincent’s Institute, but the 2018 initiative provided an opportunity to upskill the Victorian life science community and develop programs to turbo-charge connectivity at both a state and global level. This included connecting Victorian researchers with leading minds at Johnson & Johnson Innovation’s Centre for Device Innovation at Texas Medical Centre and FutuRx in Israel.

It’s a strong an indicator of the State Government’s commitment to grow the state’s medtech, biotech and pharma industry. The city’s medical research and tertiary education business is so strong that it attracts more than 40 per cent of Australia’s total competitive medical research funding. Melbourne is one of only three cities worldwide to have two universities in the global top 20 biomedical rankings with Monash University ranked second only to Harvard University in pharmaceutical sciences. They are working in life science community and develop programs in specific areas.

Please name few successful companies and their areas of focus from State of Victoria?

Victoria is particularly proud of Whispir, a cloud-based communication platform and workflow software. Whispir is a software platform that makes it easy for businesses to send messages to people’s mobile phones – unifying various messaging systems such as SMS, voice, email, social media and the like. With around 500 clients globally it expects to break even at the earnings line on a run-rate basis by the end of the 2020 financial year.

In 2016, it concluded a A$11.75 million Series A round from a range of global investors as it looks to accelerate its international expansion plans.

The large funding round was led by Telstra Ventures, Singapore funds NSI Ventures and Rippledot Capital, along with a range of private investors and Whispir co-founder and CEO Jeromy Wells.

In 2019, it raised A$47 million for its initial public offering, which means it will list with a A$163 million market capitalisation.