A talk on the economic prospects of the Wollongong region by futurist and KPMG partner Bernard Salt attracted an audience of over 300 business, industry and university leaders to the inaugural Advantage SME event.

Advantage SME, based at Innovation Campus, is funded by UOW and the NSW State Government’s Boosting Business Innovation Program, and is a two-year initiative supporting greater collaboration between research organisations and local businesses.

At the event, on March 7, Mr Salt posed the question: why would you have faith in the region to invest in it? “Australia, and Wollongong, has what the rest of world wants,” he said.

“We have lifestyle, we have commodities, we have quality of life, we have institutions, we have a sovereign state and secure well-organised society.”

The number of small businesses in the Illawarra grew by six per cent between 2014 and 2016, compared with five per cent nationally, which he described as the “the right environment for us to create our own future, our own prosperity”.

Yet Mr Salt echoed the now well-understood fact that the nation has a poor track record in turning ideas into enterprises.

“We have had complacent prosperity for 100 years. We handed out franchises 100 years ago in mining, in banking, in [telecommunications] and we have not moved on,” he said.

“We like to think of ourselves as agile, entrepreneurial, enterprising… we are not that good at monetising innovation. Maybe our innovation isn’t at [the US] level. Maybe our innovation is at a grassroots level in places like the Illawarra and Wollongong.”

Programs such as Advantage SME were a critical part of creating and celebrating an entrepreneurial spirit, Mr Salt said.

Advantage SME is focused on assisting small to medium-sized enterprises grow and thrive in the global economy across industries such as advanced manufacturing, engineering technologies and services, ICT, shared and financial services, and health and aged care.

It provides businesses with access to the expertise and resources on offer at UOW, including its talented students, leading researchers and advanced laboratories, as well as funding and incentives, such as collaboration vouchers that provide dollar-for-dollar funding to subsidise the cost of commercial research.

At the event, UOW Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) Professor Judy Raper said Advantage SME was a one-stop shop for businesses wanting to engage with UOW.

“Through this program we can help businesses connect easily with the right research expertise and technology.

"Our research covers everything from materials engineering, medicinal chemistry and 3D biofabrication through to social transformation.

“By boosting connections between the university and the local business community we are going to see more innovation locally,” she said.

Learn more:  www.uow.edu.au/advantagesme