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Andrew Downs

For more than 10 years, Tonsley Innovation District has been a leader in innovation for South Australia. To mark Tonsley’s first decade of success, Renewal SA sat down with some of the District’s greatest champions, those who have actively contributed to its collaborative ecosystem and influenced the exemplar incubator it has become. 

Full interview: Andrew Downs, Founder and Executive Director, SAGE Group

What is your connection to this place?

SAGE is a company I founded in 1994 and I started the business in my backyard shed. I had to then go to Melrose Park and progressively grew the business from one man to 730 staff today. We have offices nationally in Australia, with a facility in India in Pune.

When SAGE began it was a control system integration company which specialised in automation and electrical control systems. We have since branched out and diversified quite a lot into other areas such as IT, software, SaaS software development and training.

How did SAGE Group come to be located at Tonsley?

I was first invited down in 2015 by Len Piro to see if SAGE would be a suitable fit for Tonsley. We had grown out of our previous facility and we needed an area to grow but at a location not too far from where we were currently located.

I remember the day I came down there were gale force wind blowing from the west. There were buckets everywhere with water dripping in it and I said, “You have to be a visionary, but I can see it. I think this might do.”

It was sold to us as an innovation precinct, with Flinders setting up down one end, a TAFE college was in the old press shop, so there were remnants of infrastructure and you could start to see this was going to be an exciting place for SAGE to be. It certainly took a couple of years for us to work out our own plans and get budgets, but we cut the ribbon in 2017 and SAGE’s global headquarters has been based here since.

Why was Tonsley the ideal location for SAGE Group?

As a place to attract people it was perfect because it was closely aligned to where we were before at Melrose Park. It was new, so there’s an aura of excitement and we have that whole culture of collaboration, whether it’s with the university, TAFE, or other businesses that are here located at Tonsley. And the whole vibe about an innovation precinct is very attractive, not only to me but also to the people that work for us.

What is an example of a collaboration that has happened for SAGE while you've been at Tonsley?

Since we have been at Tonsley we have had the opportunity to work with many people and organisations. Some of our vendor suppliers are located here, we have done work with (medical technology company) Micro-X and there’s a new tenant in the mining industry that we’re very excited to be working with.

How do you think South Australians should feel about Tonsley 10 years on?

I think South Australians should be very proud of Tonsley and what it represents. There’s nothing like it in Australia and I believe it represents as one of the best innovation hubs in the world. I think get people down here, have a look, come around, show your kids – it’s just an exciting place to be.


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