Linking WA’s Innovation Ecosystem with the emerging Asian Innovation Ecosystem – Community is the Key

“How can WA’s Innovation Ecosystem connect to the burgeoning opportunities presented by the emerging Asian Innovation Ecosystem?”

This was the theme of group and roundtable discussions at a recent Asia Discovery Workshop for WA’s Innovators jointly facilitated by the Asia Business Centre (ABC) and the Curtin Graduate School of Business (CGSB). The workshop was attended by over 25 participants from various Curtin University innovation/industry outreach services, Asia connected entrepreneurs + WA innovators and their advisors. It followed a successful breakfast event attended by over 200 businesspeople at the Perth Pan-Pacific titled “The Emerging Asian Innovation Ecosystem and How WA Companies Must Linkin”.

The three speakers and panellists from this breakfast event – entrepreneurs Azran Osman-Rani (CEO of South East Asian video streaming giant iFlix), Kirstin Horton (CEO and founder of Jack’s Labs and ICT incubator in Indonesia) and Kent Matla (CEO of Triangle Capital Partners – a China  oriented innovation fund) – attended the Asia Discovery Workshop. They led discussions by Curtin student group representatives,  innovators and academic/government participants.

Surprisingly, the final roundtable discussion settled on collaboration and community as the most important elements for integrating innovation ecosystems.  Developing mechanisms for increased collaboration, in general,  was a major theme across all break-out groups. The term ‘ecosystem’ was thought to be too ‘technical’ and innovation practitioners were keen to build a joint Asia-Australia ‘community’. The current spontaneous measures of ‘community building’ by start-ups and incubators need to be supported by other major players in the innovation space – including government funders, universities and the major corporates.

There was a definite role for universities in ‘igniting’ entrepreneurship, including offering shorter courses to international students on this theme. Student exchange and mobility, to pursue entrepreneurial initiatives, was also seen as a way forward. This included leveraging Curtin’s Asia based alumni in the search for opportunities to piggy-back WA innovators/Curtin students into the market. Alumni offer an attractive resource by which universities can incorporate themselves into innovation ecosystems.

More awareness needs to be  built around successful Curtin spin outs and innovations that could be connected into Asia or even provide a vehicle to piggy-back other start-ups. This extends to successful research projects and programs that Curtin is conducting across Asia. For example, the workshop was attended by leading Curtin Professor Li Chun-zhu, Director of The Australia-China Joint Research Centre for Energy, which collaborates with leading Chinese companies including Shenhua – a Fortune 500 resource/energy company with US$10 billion in profit. The network being developed by Professor Li, and other leading Curtin Asia connected researchers, could be a key mechanism for connecting the dots. As can Curtin’s offshore campuses in Dubai, Singapore and Malaysia.

There was also a note of caution amidst the enthusiasm. As one incubator manager observed… “We have been down this path of trying to collaborate with universities before. However, they are often too structured and live in a different world to us.” Let us hope that Curtin University can overcome this impression and add real value to building a WA-Asia innovation community.

There were calls for researchers to work with innovators to ‘Map the Emerging Asian Innovation Ecosystem’ and one industry participant actually volunteered their existing methodology that had been used to do so in the Australian context. The workshop was part of a series of events aimed at engaging with local innovators and their advisors to win support for a new Asia Business Centre sponsored research project around “Pathways to Innovation in Asia”. Please contact the ABC if you would like to participate in, or support, this research program.

Richard Francis

Director, Asia Business Centre