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Professor Karen Reynolds

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: Professor Karen Reynolds, Flinders University, College of Science and Engineering

How did you come to work at Flinders?

I came to Flinders 25 years ago from the UK. I was on a short-term contract back in the UK and I saw a lecturer in biomedical engineering job advertised at Flinders University. One of the things that really attracted me was the fact that, firstly they taught biomedical engineering at an undergraduate level and secondly, it was sharing a campus with a teaching hospital. So, the ability to engage with the clinicians was really important to me.

So why is Flinders here at Tonsley?

Obviously, Mitsubishi had finished doing the manufacturing and the government were looking to take the Tonsley site. For Flinders, this was a massive opportunity. It’s a huge site, literally just on the doorstep of our current campus and really it was being established as an innovation district, and Flinders would’ve been very silly not to have been here. The opportunity for our research to be in the same area, the same district, the same facility as the industry was, I think, was really just too good an opportunity. Also, the opportunity for students to then be working alongside and in the same area as the industry is such a great opportunity.

I come into the building and on any day there might be a group of school kids, there might be a delegation from government or there might be some international visitors coming around. You go for coffee and you’re standing there next to an industry colleague, or someone from government, or just someone from another university, so there’s a huge buzz about the building and about the whole site. It’s fantastic.

Can you think of a particular example of the type of collaboration that happens at Tonsley?

We have a very successful startup medical device company called Micro-X, who are literally just down on our doorstep downstairs. What’s really good about that is some of our students get to go and look around their facility, and also do work experience. Some of our students then end up getting jobs there.

At the same time, the people who are in Micro-X come and help teach the students. They’re involved in lectures and in some of the classes. We have PhD students now who are employed by Micro-X while undertaking research here with the university. It’s a give and take relationship and it’s been fabulous.

Do you think the ‘triple helix’ partnership between government, university and industry at Tonsley could be replicated elsewhere?

It’s definitely transferrable, but you need to get all the right components together. From my own perspective, we have significant research, we have companies coming here and we have governments who are funding programs in the area in which I work. I think when you start to get all of those connections and still a very close connection into the clinical community, you’ve got a really vibrant area where things are possible.

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

I think South Australians should see Tonsley as really intriguing. There’s so much going on here, which perhaps people who drive past on South Road don’t actually know. People really should come down and explore, talk to people, have a coffee at the coffee shop and just find out what’s going on. There’s such a buzz about the place and there really are so many things that are going on that probably don’t reach the general public, so they really should come.


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