Dr Sarah Pearson appointed The University of Newcastle’s Pro Vice Chancellor Industry Engagement and Innovation

Look ahead: "There's a lot of optimism, energy and excitement around what's happening in the innovation space," Dr Sarah Pearson said. Picture: Murray McKean.
Look ahead: "There's a lot of optimism, energy and excitement around what's happening in the innovation space," Dr Sarah Pearson said. Picture: Murray McKean.

NEWCASTLE has the potential to become a global centre of innovation, if energy is channelled into fostering collaboration across different sectors and helping researchers learn how to commercialise their findings.

The University of Newcastle’s (UON) inaugural Pro Vice Chancellor Industry Engagement and Innovation Dr Sarah Pearson said the city was “on the cusp of doing something big”.

“Innovation is not just about tech start ups, it can be about a new business model, a new manufacturing approach, innovation in terms of how a government delivers its services, it can be very broad and touch all parts of the city,” Dr Pearson said.

“If we look at the stats 75 per cent of future high growth jobs are in science, technology, engineering and maths and 65 per cent of high growth jobs don’t exist yet.

“If we’re going to provide future economies we’re going to have to take on those skills and try to build those businesses – that’s the future. We can pretend it’s not going to happen, but we’ll just go backwards.”

Dr Pearson said Newcastle’s climate, lifestyle, affordability and proximity to Sydney made it an ideal centre of innovation.

“The building blocks are here,” she said. “We’ve got investors who are really interested, venture capital in Australia has grown substantially in the past 12 months, there’s a lot more government programs to support investment in start ups, we’ve got innovation hubs [where researchers, students, developers, entrepreneurs, investors, technical specialists and business advisors come together for networking, workshops, presentations and events], so there’s a lot of activity and a lot of what seems to be ‘What do we do with this, how do we make something of this?’ “

UON approached the Surrey-raised former chief executive of the CBR Innovation Network to take the new role, which involves building industry partnerships; accelerating innovation and entrepreneurship through innovation hubs; and translating and commercialising research. “There are ideas that currently researchers don’t know could be commercially viable,” she said. “What you do there is help them to see what that means. In Canberra we were running start-up workshops for academics so they could understand who is the consumer or customer; what the business model could be, what’s the market. Part of it is familiarising researchers with the possibilities.”

Dr Pearson said in five years she would like Newcastle to be known at least nationally as an innovation hub and for the physical hubs to have borne some “really big success stories, high growth global companies”.