Paul Thomas’ vision involved building a university for the region. In many ways, it could have been called University for the Sunshine Coast. There was no point building an ivory tower that popped out graduates who headed south to the capital cities for work. It had to help build new businesses and industries and make a significant impact on the economy. That’s where the Innovation Centre came in, and the focus on innovation and entrepreneurship.
In a forward-thinking and ambitious move, the University established the Innovation Centre Sunshine Coast Pty Ltd as a private company on campus in 2002 – only three years after the first cohort of graduates – to create new jobs in new industries for the region.
"The Innovation Centre had a good direct impact in its first decade, generating 83 businesses, about 350 jobs and $24 million in investment. (The 2015 figures were 140 businesses, 580 jobs and $32 million.) With the University, it also had an indirect effect on community perceptions of the labour market and economy. When we started talking about tech jobs in 2002, some people thought we were crazy. But Berkeley research in 2012 proved how influential they are – that every new high-tech, well-paid job stimulates another five jobs in the economy. (Enrico Moretti’s The New Geography of Jobs Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Paul Thomas says the decision to establish an innovation centre so early in the campus development sent an important signal to the wider community. "It sent a message that we were serious about economic job generation, however small-scale to start with. It told business people and our students that the University wanted to create jobs on the Coast and retain talent here. Of course some people would choose to leave, but we needed entrepreneurs here because small businesses at that time were collapsing at a rate of knots. "
The development of USC in connection with the region has impressed John Knaggs, the former chief executive officer of Sunshine Coast Council and now CEO of SunCentral Maroochydore Pty Ltd.
The University made an important decision about innovation, about the way business thinking could be propagated in this young region, and it recognised that people with fledgling ideas in business need some form of incubation and support. The Innovation Centre has done a great job and I think it will continue to be successful as it shows its wares more widely to the region."
In a forward-thinking and ambitious move, the University established the ICSC as a private company on campus in 2002 – only three years after the first cohort of graduates – to create new jobs in new industries for the region.