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Back to News 11 April 2023

Tonsley Innovation District receives rousing endorsement from global thought leader

Tonsley Innovation District is worthy of replication globally according to Julie Wagner, one of the world’s leading experts on innovation districts and what makes them successful.

Ms Wagner, president and founder of The Global Institute on Innovation Districts (GIID), an independent research organisation, described Tonsley is a “phenomenal example” of a thriving innovation district during her first tour of the 61-hectare District on 21 March.

She specifically called out Tonsley’s showpiece Main Assembly Building (MAB) as a “centre of gravity” – a magnetic and accessible place where deep research and development activities mash together with workforce training, eateries, and cool prototyping spaces – and one of the strongest models she had seen anywhere in the world.

“You are worth studying. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the magic be this powerful… it’s actually taken my breath away,” Ms Wagner told business leaders during the District’s quarterly networking event, Tonsley Connections.

"Tonsley is a powerful example of an innovation district rooted in advanced manufacturing, highly technical sophistication and robotics, additive manufacturing and a diversity of disciplines converging together to create a true innovative economy, and you see it within footsteps of each other. There’s a really beautiful combination of both innovation, placemaking and a really inviting set of spaces to pull together people in different ways."

Ms Julie Wagner, president and founder of The Global Institute on Innovation Districts (GIID)

Ms Julie Wagner delivering a speech to guests at Tonsley Connections, held La Loft Hotel.

Ms Wagner said Tonsley’s unique value proposition – a convergence of assets and brain power to drive new discoveries and push critical mass R&D solutions and technologies into the market – signals it a powerhouse in the making.

The US-born academic, whose research on innovation districts began as a senior fellow at the renowned Brookings Institution, has received critical acclaim for her co-authored research paper, The Rise of Innovation Districts.

She leads GIID in its study of upper echelon innovation districts, providing deep empirical analysis and strategic advice in a bid to advance districts worldwide. Tonsley Innovation District is an inaugural member of GIID’s Global Network of Innovation Districts and one of just four districts across Australia handpicked to participate.

Ten years into its 20-year masterplan, Ms Wagner challenged Renewal SA – Tonsley’s delivery lead – as well as the District’s anchor academic institutions and key business leaders to develop a creative governance structure that organised the District for ongoing success. To do this, she argued there needs to be a mission-orientated guardian of the district to keep the momentum of collaboration and success alive by curating program and place activation and supporting cross pollination of research, business, government and education. This, she says, will prevent Tonsley from transforming into a static technology park.

"You’ve managed to create that important mix where you have combined art and architecture, engineering prowess, manufacturing, and then retail with an openness for a diversity of workers and people to come together. You are creating these really intimate spaces that don’t in any way feel forced. You are enabling the organic networking that needs to happen."

Ms Julie Wagner, president and founder of The Global Institute on Innovation Districts (GIID)

Ms Julie Wagner (left) speaking to guests at Tonsley Connections, held at La Loft Hotel.

“But how do you ensure this district is sustained with horizontal infrastructure and governance for the long term?” she asked while at Tonsley.

“It’s the innovation behind the innovation and how you organise to create and sustain the things that make a district thrive and grow. It’s people-centred design and how you create those networks; it’s how you ensure the placemaking is sustained and doesn’t run ragged, so people don’t feel like this is a place they are no longer connected to; it’s drawing and connecting to people outside of the district. Real intentional moves is what you have to focus on to ensure continued return on investment and to help become a true multiplier of growth.”

Ms Wagner’s visit preceded the state government’s announcement that it will introduce a new state-wide innovation model to strategically connect the state’s growing innovation districts including Lot Fourteen, Tonsley Innovation District and Adelaide BioMed City, along with other knowledge and manufacturing hubs including the Osborne Naval Shipyard, the Edinburgh Defence Precinct, and the future Australian Space Park to capitalise on the opportunities presented by the AUKUS submarine deal.

The framework will bring together all Economic Activity Zones and innovation assets under a centralised strategic vision to drive new clusters of economic activity and job creation, and maximise South Australia’s competitive advantage in defence, space, advanced manufacturing and critical technologies industries like renewable energy, cyber, information warfare, quantum computing and artificial intelligence.

Renewal SA General Manager, Project Delivery and Property Todd Perry said as Tonsley moved into this next important phase of its growth and evolution, it was pleasing to hear the District has got its foundation right and compared favourably at a global level.

“Renewal SA is proud to have played its part in that ‘organisation of success’ and to have found the correct mix and intersection between the physical, economic and networking assets,” Mr Perry said.

"Julie’s visit prompted significant discussion about the continuation of the program beyond the project’s physical completion and how crafted governance arrangements specific to each precinct need to be developed to ensure enduring success. We need to have an intentional program going forward."

Renewal SA General Manager, Project Delivery and Property Todd Perry

Tonsley’s membership with GIID is funded jointly by Renewal SA and the Office of the Chief Scientist.

Tonsley Innovation District is Australia’s most awarded innovation district. Already home to businesses such as Tesla, ZEISS, Siemens Energy, Micro-X, SAGE Automation, AZZO, Flinders University and many others, Tonsley is creating high-value jobs by co-locating world-class research and education institutions with innovative businesses alongside vibrant, modern residential living and retail space.

More than 2,000 people now work out of Tonsley with 8,500-plus students educated onsite every year. Private sector investment in the precinct to date totals $395 million with a diverse mix of 150 organisations established across the Tonsley community.


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