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A large crowd of adults seated in an indoor foyer area looking towards a presentation area.

That’s the outlook from Canadian innovation leader, Dr Ilse Treurnicht, who was in Adelaide recently as a specialist thinker in residence for the Don Dunstan Foundation.

During her visit, she gave a talk on ‘Building the Future on Purpose’ to a sold-out crowd of 300 people in The Foyer of the former Royal Adelaide Hospital (FRAH) site, which was supported by Renewal SA.

The state government is transforming the site into a creation and innovation neighbourhood that will create high-value jobs and industries, positioning Adelaide as the start-up capital of Australia.

Key elements will be a start-up hub spanning across repurposed State Heritage listed buildings and the establishment of an Office of the Chief Entrepreneur.

When fully established in the next five years, more than 5000 people will work and stay within the FRAH and it will become the ideal environment for entrepreneurs to partner with industry, researchers, mentors and investors to help grow their start-up or existing businesses.

Renewal SA is managing all stages of the FRAH redevelopment, including site management and operation, tenant attraction and partnerships, curated site activation, the demolition program, and the delivery of new infrastructure, public realm, refurbishments and new builds.

Dr Treurnicht talked about how innovation districts could combine the twin purposes of innovation and social purpose.

She was formerly the chief executive of the MaRS Discovery District, an innovation hub in Toronto built on the site of a former hospital. She also serves on the Government of Canada’s Science, Technology and Innovation Council and the Advisory Council on Economic Growth.

Dr Treurnicht highlighted that there are many similarities between Canada and Australia.

“Our large geographies, small local markets and dependence on global trade, economies in transition from reliance on resources and traditional manufacturing, modest populations, but nonetheless strong talent base and strong educational institutions, attracting talent from all over the world, high quality of life, strong civil society institutions, economic and social stability,” she said.

There was an opportunity to reimagine and transform the FRAH, ‘this extraordinary place’, to play a catalytic role in shaping a forward – looking agenda for the whole state.

Dr Treurnicht said many cities and regions around the world were developing innovation districts to translate intangible knowledge into products and services that could fuel a new generation of businesses and social enterprises.

However, she said very few places had the combination of three factors at the FRAH:

1. Strong foundations, with clear strengths in industries such as water technology, creative industries, sustainable energy, health care and agriculture.

2. Compelling fundamentals, including excellent education, liveability and affordability in a creative and cultural city.

3. A site of magnitude and potential in the heart of the city, directly adjacent to its universities, creative sector, health infrastructure, business core with surrounding parkland as a bonus.

Dr Treurnicht’s talk was followed by a panel discussion with three South Australia women leading the push for innovation with social purpose – KiK Innovation founder and chief executive, Louise Nobes; Scope Global chief executive, Christine Molitor; and University of South Australia Research and Innovation Services acting director, Natalie Forde.

Watch Dr Treurnicht’s presentation on YouTube; the presentation is available on the Don Dunstan Foundation website along with a transcript.

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