How does an Innovation District work?

Innovation Districts constitute the interface between entrepreneurs and educational institutions, start-ups and schools, mixed-use development and medical innovations, bike-sharing and bankable investments, all connected by transit, powered by clean energy and wired for digital technology.

Globally, innovation districts contain economic, physical and networking assets. When these three assets combine with a supportive risk-taking culture they create an innovation ecosystem, a synergistic relationship between people, firms and place (the physical geography of the district) that facilitates idea generation and accelerates commercialisation.


An innovation ecosystem is; the combination of a number of assets such as firms, institutions and organisations that drive, cultivate or support an innovation rich environment. A key to the success of AEC Innovation District will be delivery of key anchor tenants. In legacy Science Parks this has generally been the core university – it is now the key industry partners.


Industry Themes within our Innovation District will have core anchor industry tenants, for example: IBM, Cisco and Honeywell will establish research centres at our Innovation District proposed for the East Werribee Employment Precinct site. Research focused industry activity will draw in research and teaching faculties from universities who can leverage off the innovation demands of industry and also provide highly skilled graduates and researchers for employment – within the ecosystem. Australian Education City’s industry themes will have major anchor tenants to drive the demand-pull of other industry players, universities and research institutes.


Innovation Drivers are research and medical institutions, large firms, start-ups and entrepreneurs focused on developing cutting-edge technologies, products and services for the market.


Innovation Cultivators are companies, organisations or groups that support the growth of individuals, firms and their ideas. They include incubators, accelerators, proof-of-concept centres, tech transfer offices, shared working spaces and local high schools, job training firms and community colleges advancing specific skill sets for the innovation-driven economy.


Neighbourhood Amenities provide important support services to residents and workers in the district. This ranges from medical offices to grocery stores, restaurants, coffee bars, small hotels and local retail (such as bookstores, clothing stores and sports shops).[i]


Physical Assets are the public and privately-owned spaces, buildings, open spaces, streets and other infrastructure, designed and organised to stimulate new and higher levels of connectivity, collaboration and innovation. Physical assets can also be divided into three categories:


  • Physical Assets in the public realm are the spaces accessible to the public, such as parks, plazas and streets that become locales of energy and activity. In innovation districts, public places are created or re-configured to be digitally-accessible (with high-speed internet, wireless networks, computers and digital displays embedded into spaces) and to encourage networking (where spaces encourage “people to crash into one another”)[ii].  Streets can also be transformed into living labs to flexibly test new innovations, such as in street lighting, waste collection, traffic management solutions and new digital technologies.


  • Physical Assets in the private realm are privately-owned buildings and spaces that stimulate innovation in new and creative ways. Office developments are increasingly configured with shared work and lab spaces and smaller, more affordable areas for start-ups. A new form of micro-housing is also emerging, with smaller private apartments that have access to larger public spaces, such as co-working areas, entertainment spaces and common eating areas.


  • Physical Assets that knit the district together and/or tie it to the broader metropolis are investments aimed to enhance relationship-building and connectivity. For some districts, knitting together the physical fabric requires remaking the campuses of advanced research institutions to remove fences, walls and other barriers and replace them with connecting elements such as bike paths, sidewalks, pedestrian-oriented streets and activated public spaces. Strategies to strengthen connectivity between the district, adjoining neighbourhoods and the broader metropolis includes infrastructure investments, such as broadband, transit and road improvements.


Networking Assets are the relationships between actors, such as individuals, firms and institutions that have the potential to generate, sharpen and accelerate the advancement of ideas. Networks fuel innovation because they strengthen trust and collaboration within and across companies and industry clusters, provide information for new discoveries and help firms acquire resources and enter new markets.[iii]


The inclusion of networking as its own asset category is supported by a growing body of research that reveals how networks are increasingly valuable and prolific within innovation-driven economic clusters. Scholars cite numerous advantages of networks: they are important sources of new or critical information for new discoveries; they encourage experimentation and are a testing ground for ideas; they help firms acquire resources; they strengthen trust and collaboration within and across sectors; and they help firms enter new markets including global markets.


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