Aimee Chanthadavong
November 8, 2017

Renewal nears for Platypus base

Renewal nears for Platypus base

HMAS Platypus: Is there an innovation precinct in its future?

Most Sydneysiders joke that going over the Sydney Harbour Bridge to the north shore requires a passport, even though to travel by car from one side of the bridge to the other is less than two kilometres.

Jokes aside, the chairman of the North Sydney Innovation Network (NSIN) Jonathon Herrman says there is a “real bias” impacting on the north shore’s ability to be recognised as a suitable precinct for innovation.

“It’s all funny and we have north, south biases, but when Jobs for NSW told me earlier this year after we discussed supporting precincts north of the bridge, [that] ‘sorry we’ve been told no serious consideration on anything north of the bridge until the city is fixed’ [it’s a problem]” he said.

Mr Herrman said like everyone, he appreciates the city is “running too hot” with so many accelerator hubs packing themselves into the central business district, and agrees there needs to be a solution to spread that out more evenly across Sydney. However going out to western Sydney first – Penrith, Parramatta, Campbelltown, Liverpool, Parramatta – is not the right solution.

He points to the plethora of existing assets based in the north shore which he says are under-utilised, and questions why the government is spending more funds to build precincts in western Sydney that will nearly identical resources that already exists.

These resources based in the north shore include global technology companies from Microsoft, Fujitsu, NetApp, and Vodafone being based in North Sydney, Chatswood, St Leonards, Ryde, and Macquarie Park; the CSIRO in Lindfield, Marsfield and North Ryde; the Northern Beaches hospital district; and the Royal North Shore that is leading in MedTech.

“I agree jobs are important for politicians out west. However, if you really want to drive a business well, you use the assets you’ve got first,” Mr Herrman said.

“You don’t have a coffee shop with a coffee machine and say what we really need to be doing is making tea,” he said. If you’ve already go a coffee machine, you may as well be using it.

“Yes, they might not need the socio-economic leg up, that’s the perception and it’s very damaging. It’s the coffee machine of Sydney’s innovation that is not being utilised.”

In a personal effort to show-off what the north shore could potentially be, Mr Herrman recently established a company, Platypus Innovation Precinct, which is currently involved in a commercial bid to lease the whole Sub Base Platypus, the former HMAS Platypus submarine site in North Sydney.

The Sub Base Platypus is currently undergoing a $23.8 million renewal project plan, in which the federal government is investing $20 million into and Harbour Trust is supplementing it by a further $3.8 million, to transform Platypus into a public park, after a six-year $46 million remediation project that finished up in 2016.

With his NSIN chairman hat on, Mr Herrman emphasised the importance to develop the HMAS Platypus site that has been vacant for the last 21 years into a “local innovation precinct”, an idea that is outlined in The NSIN - A Vision & Plan for North Sydney's Innovative Future paper.

“There is an opportunity in many of the smaller startup / fast-growth / Innovation-driven enterprises of the area to be more productive and grow faster if there are places where small business innovators could come together,” the paper said.

“To encourage precincts where such an opportunity can be taken up is in accordance with the first recommendation from the Crossroads 2016 industry report that recommended the creation of geographically concentrated innovation precincts of significant scale and density in each region.”

But the geographic bias is not the only gripe Mr Herrman has. He thinks the way Australia approaches commercialisation can also be improved.

“Everyone knows we do damn good tech, but we suck at commercialisation. When we do really good tech, we give it away, like Wi-Fi.”

Although Mr Herrman believes it’s starting to change.

“I see the ship changing. I see it in the language and I see it in the action. My three legacy stool for why this is changing is: [CSIRO chief executive] Larry Marshall, the CSIRO On programs, and for the first time in Australian history, we have government and CSIRO money on the table in VC land. The government is actually going to make a buck off its own tech,” he said.

“They’re three legs to a commercialisation stool that I think will actually last.”

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