​Australian universities bid for Sydney's 'Silicon Harbour'

Five of the country's universities have joined the CSIRO in a bid to convert Sydney's former coal-fired White Bay Power Station into an innovation hub.

A consortium of Australian universities have teamed up with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in a bid to shape Sydney's planned Silicon Valley-style tech hub.

A total of 13 proposals from Australian and international contenders were submitted to UrbanGrowth, the New South Wales government agency overseeing the redevelopment of the former coal-fired White Bay Power Station, which closed in 1983.

According to UrbanGrowth chief executive David Pitchford, the submissions will be assessed against criteria that include strategic objectives, development outcomes, and economic value, with the leading contender to be presented to the state government in June.

"The White Bay Power Station has been earmarked as the global hub for high tech jobs and innovation," he said in a statement on Tuesday. "Organisations [have had] the opportunity to demonstrate their vision and capability to transform this historic asset and its surrounds."

"Sydney has an exciting future as the home of a diversified and internationally competitive knowledge sector and the White Bay Power Station has the potential to be its hub."

The White Bay Power Station site is around 10 hectares in total. UrbanGrowth plans to subdivide the area into three lots, comprising the Power Station and an area intended to support the tech hub. The balance of the site will form part of the Bays Waterfront Promenade.

The redevelopment of the former coal-fired station was an extraordinary opportunity for Australian universities, a University of Sydney spokeswoman said.

"Universities are a vital part of the innovation ecosystem that is essential to foster in order to achieve the bold agenda that has been set by the federal and NSW governments," she said in a statement.

The four other universities that have joined Sydney Uni in the bid are UNSW, the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), Macquarie University, and Melbourne University.

Under the request for tender, the state government detailed requirements for protecting and maintaining the Power Station's significant heritage, and opening it up to the public.

The tech hub has been dubbed "Silicon Harbour" by the NSW government, which is keen to create a space for the country's booming startup and tech scene.

The Silicon Harbour initiative comes as the state government is readying its data-driven innovation policy, currently slated for May.

In December, the federal government unveiled its AU$1.1 billion National Innovation and Science Agenda, which covered over 20 measures that were centred on its 'Ideas Boom' rhetoric.

As part of that agenda, the Turnbull government established a AU$11 million startup landing pad initiative, designed to help Australian entrepreneurs bring their ideas to market and build high-growth and high-return enterprises.

The government expects these five landing pads to accelerate Australia's access to international business networks, entrepreneurial talent, business development, and investors by creating a unique ecosystem for innovation to thrive.

The first pad has kicked off in Silicon Valley at RocketSpace, which has been working with tech startups and corporate innovation professionals since 2011. The second space will be in Tel Aviv, the third is pencilled in for Shanghai, and the remaining two are expected to be positioned in Europe and in another capital city in Asia.

Previously, Assistant Minister for Innovation Wyatt Roy said Australia is yet to have the networking density that Silicon Valley has.

On a recent visit to Tel Aviv, the 25-year-old assistant minister said there was a strong cultural element in Israeli innovation that Australia can learn from.

"I've often said that we need to embrace the best elements of our culture -- that aspirational mindset, that 'have a go' mentality -- and support the underdog," Roy said at the time.

"Here in Israel, it's very much evident in every element of their society they embrace that Hebrew word, 'chutzpah', where they go out and they are prepared to take on an enormous amount of risk to have a go -- and they're not afraid of failure."

Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has also weighed in on the startup debate, proposing the set up of his own launching pad with the aspiration to help turn Silicon Valley into Kangaroo Valley.

The idea of the launch pad, Shorten said in December, is to get the Australians that are working in Silicon Valley to achieve on a bigger stage and give them the opportunity to come back and reinvest in Australia.

"As a nation we're pretty smart but the issue is that at the moment, we're good at publishing some of the very best research papers in the world, but quite often what we need to do is give people their good ideas a chance to commercialise," he said.

Last month, Data61, the University of New South Wales (UNSW), and Cisco Systems announced a partnership with the National Farmers' Federation, the NSW Farmers Association, the NSW Department of Primary Industries, and startup incubator ATP Innovations to bring technology to the agricultural world.

Known as Innovation Central Sydney, this partnership will focus on developing new uses for Internet of Things (IoT) technologies within the agricultural sector, as well as extending these solutions into implementing smart cities and smarter transport solutions.

With AAP

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