Australia's Blueprint for Success: A Case Study of A Research and Innovation Precinct Strategy

Australia's innovation and research precincts are supposed to serve as the beating heart of a knowledge economy, where academia, industry, and research merge to create dynamic ecosystems that not only propel economic growth but also foster the development of cutting-edge technologies and services. With over 100 precincts across the nation, Australia is positioning itself as a leader in the global knowledge economy.

In this article we examine some of the challenges of starting a precinct, and take a deep dive into a case study to see how a leading Australian university overcame many of these challenges to attract significant anchor tenants. Working with Research Strategies Australia the university made a strategic pivot towards leveraging the university's unique strengths and fostering niche industry partnerships transforming lots of potential into tangible outcomes.

Role of Innovation and Research Precincts in Australia

Innovation and research precincts in Australia have evolved as a response to the global shift towards knowledge-based economies. They are concentrated areas where universities, research institutions, businesses, and startups coalesce to foster collaboration and innovation.

Australia's history of innovation precincts is intertwined with its economic development and the strategic positioning of its universities and research institutions as drivers of market-led growth. Precincts are important for may reasons:

  • Economic Growth: They can act as engines for economic growth by attracting investment, creating jobs, and fostering the development of new industries.
  • Collaboration: They can encourage collaboration between researchers, industry, and government, leading to the commercialisation of research and the development of innovative products and services.
  • Talent Attraction: They can help attract and retain top talent by offering vibrant communities where people can work, live, and play.
  • Global Competitiveness: By focusing precincts in high-growth sectors such as biotechnology and health services, Australia is attempting to position itself as a competitive player in these global markets.
  • Research and Development: Precincts provide a supportive environment for R&D activities, which are crucial for innovation and the advancement of knowledge.

There are more than 100 innovation precincts and industry clusters in Australia, which have been seen as instrumental in the country's innovation landscape. For instance, the University of Melbourne has spearheaded successful innovation precincts, such as the biomedical precinct, which is home to over 10,000 scientists and clinicians and has led to significant commercial deals. Other examples include the Westmead Health Precinct and Sydney Biomedical Accelerator, which are transforming the patient experience and supercharging research and clinical care.

The Australian government has recognised the importance of these precincts and has implemented strategies to support their development. This includes the National Innovation Science Agenda (NISA), which aimed to incentivise activities that foster collaboration and placemaking within university precincts, and the government's Statement of principles for precincts which outlines the need for a collaborative approach involving government, business, and community.

The Challenges of Starting an Innovation and Research Precinct

Starting a precinct involves a complex series of challenges. These are not unique to Australia but are common in the development of innovation precincts worldwide. The issues associated with starting an innovation precinct can be broadly categorised into key areas as follows:

  • Finding a Common Purpose: One of the primary challenges is establishing a common purpose among the diverse stakeholders involved in an innovation precinct. This includes aligning the goals of universities, research institutions, businesses, startups, and government entities. A successful precinct is more than just a collection of independently operating businesses; it requires a collaborative environment where all participants are committed to innovation and working together towards shared objectives.
  • Governance and Collaboration: The governance structure of an innovation precinct is crucial for its success. Precincts need a governance framework that promotes collaboration and facilitates the commercialisation of research. However, creating such a structure can be challenging, as it needs to balance the interests of various stakeholders while also being flexible enough to adapt to changing needs and opportunities.
  • Economic and Social Integration: Precincts are often situated in economically and socially disadvantaged areas with the expectation that they will stimulate local development. However, precincts can sometimes become disconnected from the surrounding community and failing to have a meaningful impact on local economic and social conditions. Ensuring that innovation precincts contribute to broader community development therefore is a significant challenge.
  • Talent Attraction and Retention: For an innovation precinct to thrive, it must attract and retain top talent. This requires creating a vibrant community where people want to work and live. However, developing such an environment involves more than just providing workspace; it requires things like affordable housing, amenities, and a supportive culture of innovation. Achieving these is not an small feat.
  • Infrastructure and Services: The physical infrastructure and services within an innovation precinct, such as workspace, communications infrastructure, and shared technology platforms, need to be designed to promote collaboration and innovation. This infrastructure must be complemented by things like networking events, mentorship programs, and access to funding opportunities. Balancing the development of both can be challenging.
  • Economic Sustainability: While innovation precincts are intended to be engines of economic growth, there are questions about the net economic benefit they bring. This includes whether the jobs created are new or merely relocated from elsewhere and whether the precinct genuinely contributes to the local economy or primarily benefits its internal ecosystem.
  • Adapting to Change: Innovation precincts must be dynamic and adaptable to changes in technology, market demands, and global economic conditions. This requires a flexible approach to governance, infrastructure development, and stakeholder engagement, which can be challenging to maintain over time.
  • Know how and capacity: Moreover, addressing these challenges often falls on the shoulders of universities who may not have the capability and capacity to provide such an expansive set of services to the precinct.

Case study of an Australian Precinct

Our client, a leading Australian university with a strong legacy in research and innovation, aimed to develop a state-of-the-art research and innovation precinct. The precinct was envisioned as a collaborative ecosystem, bringing together academia, industry, and research to foster innovation and drive economic growth. However, the university's efforts to tenant the precinct had been met with limited success.

Prior consultancy engagements had delivered high-level advice, focusing on broad sectors such as the biomedical field. While there was a series of dialogues and interest from several smaller entities, the university struggled to make a significant breakthrough in terms of an anchor tenant. The need was to convert these preliminary discussions and the presence of some legacy tenants into solid, substantial partnerships, particularly with large anchor tenants who could serve as catalysts for the precinct's growth and reputation.

The primary challenge lay in the transition from potential to actualisation. Despite the university's reputation and the precinct's touted facilities and opportunity, the pathway to securing large, influential anchor tenants remained unclear. The conversations, while numerous and promising, lacked the momentum to materialise into concrete agreements. The existing approach, though identifying high-potential sectors like the biomedical industry, fell short in addressing the specific, actionable steps needed to attract and secure key players.

The challenge was not just to attract any tenant but to strategically identify and secure anchor tenants whose presence would be instrumental in shaping the precinct's identity and future. These tenants needed to be not just occupants of the space but pivotal partners in creating a dynamic, collaborative ecosystem that aligned with the university's vision of innovation and excellence.

Our Approach

The first thing we did was go deep into the university's strengths and potential industry partnerships, conducting a comprehensive analysis that unearthed unique opportunities in niche sectors. Recognising the intricacies of these fields, we reoriented the university's strategy towards a problem-based approach, dissecting the ecosystem to understand and address potential barriers and enablers. Our strategy was about curating an environment where every participant, from tenants to partners, played a pivotal role in creating a thriving, interconnected community.

We aimed to transform the precinct into a magnet for innovation, attracting not just tenants but pioneers and industry leaders. Our approach was not merely a solution but a transformation, turning the university's vision into a dynamic and prosperous reality.

  1. In-depth Research Analysis using proprietary methods: We conducted a comprehensive analysis using our proprietary bibliometric approaches to pinpoint the university's unique value propositions within the research sector. Our findings highlighted niche areas with significant potential for example regenerative medicine drug delivery platforms.
  2. Problem-based Strategic Reorientation: Adopting a problem-based approach, we shifted the focus from mere industry engagement to actualising tenancy agreements. This involved a critical assessment of what would be necessary to turn potential opportunities into reality, particularly in the biotech sector.
  3. Identifying Key Challenges and Solutions: We recognised the specific challenges in this sector, such as the limited patient population in Australia for regenerative therapies, necessitating an export-driven strategy, for example. This, in turn, called for a comprehensive partnership network encompassing transportation, cold supply chain companies, and IoT device firms to ensure product integrity throughout the supply chain.
  4. Anchor Tenant Strategy Development: Our strategy was to establish a precinct not just as a physical space but as a virtual value chain ecosystem for the discovery, production, and export of regenerative medicines. This involved orchestrating introductions and facilitating negotiations between the university, potential tenants, and real estate teams, providing advice on various aspects, including debt structuring and board member engagement.

The results

Working with us the university's precinct strategy has yielded remarkable outcomes across multiple dimensions, significantly enhancing its profile and prospects:

  • Securing Key Tenants: Our strategy has helped the university secure a major international biotech as an anchor tenant, alongside ongoing discussions with manufacturing, transport and technology partners. Additional bio-manufacturing entities are poised to join the precinct, further bolstering its stature.
  • Financial and Investment Milestones: The project has not only attracted internal funding but has also garnered external investments exceeding $10 million. We anticipate returns from tenancy alone are projected to surpass $100 million revenue, marking a significant financial milestone for the precinct.
  • Unlocking Additional Opportunities: The initiative has paved the way for significant commercial training prospects, which are currently in development. These opportunities promise to extend the precinct's offering and reputation further, training the future workforce to staff the precinct partners' operations.
  • Creating sustainable competitive advantage: The precinct strategy has now also trickled down to bring sharp focus to other strategic thinking throughout the university, including faculties and research centres. The opportunities are now mutually-reinforcing one another and driving a competitive differentiation for the client.


The challenges of a precinct are huge and the terrain is largely unknown for Australian organisations. In our work designing a strategy for attracting anchor tenants we have helped our clients to adapt their mindset and approach to better position for success. The strength of unique value proposition, a strong focus on adaptability and the power of a focused, problem-solving approach in the face of complex, multi-stakeholder environments have all been key lessons. This serves as a microcosm of the broader narrative that underpins Australia's innovation landscape, reflecting the critical importance of fostering niche partnerships, aligning with industry needs, and creating multifaceted value propositions to attract and retain partners and top talent .

A precinct must have a dynamic governance structure, and integrate economic and social ambitions with the local community. At the same time, they must have unrelenting commitment to creating environments that are conducive to collaboration and innovation.

As Australia continues to navigate the challenges and opportunities presented by these precincts, the lessons above offer a blueprint for others. We need our strategies to move beyond vision statements, and outline viable paths toward transforming the vision of collaborative innovation ecosystems into reality, emphasising strategic, actionable approaches in achieving sustainable growth and competitive advantage.