Australia-China Innovation in Industry Engagement: Torch Innovation Precinct @ UNSW

Warwick Dawson
The University of New South Wales

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Laurie Pearcey
The University of New South Wales

Jim Henderson
The University of New South Wales

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UNSW Australia is Australia’s Global University, established in 1949, the same year as the People’s Republic of China. UNSW has a long and proud history of successful engagement with China in research and education. The Torch High Technology Industry Development Centre was established by the Ministry of Science and Technology of the People’s Republic of China in 1988 with the overall mission to promote the environment for technology innovation and high technology industrialization. There are now over 150 Torch high tech zones and science parks across China representing one of the world’s largest and most successful experiments in innovation and entrepreneurship.

In November 2015 the Australian Government launched the National Innovation and Science Agenda recognizing that the transition to a new economy will require innovative science and technology to drive further economic and social growth, employment and prosperity. The central government in China has similarly embarked on transitioning their economy to one based on innovation, entrepreneurship and global engagement. UNSW Australia launched its 2025 strategy in October 2015 together with its own innovation statement. One of the flagship initiatives under the 2025 strategy is the Torch Innovation Precinct at UNSW – the first Torch park outside of China - which brings together current international, national and institutional priorities in university-industry engagement.


The high level strategy behind the Torch Innovation Precinct at UNSW is to connect UNSW technology with Chinese industry enabling research collaboration and a target of over AUD$100m investment in R&D at UNSW, and scale up and production of new products in China. The initial phase of the Precinct will focus on investment in contract R&D, closely followed by phase two with a broader emphasis on the entire innovation ecosystem including student and staff start ups, venture capital, incubators/accelerators, policy makers and entrepreneurship training and mentoring.

Approach and activities to date include:
• Meeting between with Vice Minister of MOST and UNSW President in September 2015, with a follow up in January 2016.
• UNSW delegation to Beijing in February to meet 40 companies identified by the Torch Centre as interested in collaboration
• A target of AUD$5-10m in committed Chinese industry investment was set to be achieved by April 2016 (for China launch of the Torch Innovation Precinct @ UNSW)
• By the time of the China launch over AUD$30m of committed R&D investment was secured
• UNSW delegation to Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Shijiazhuang in May-June 2016 to follow up and meet with more Torch park companies and potential partners, including some of the largest pharmaceutical companies in China.
• Establishment of Torch governance arrangements and operations at UNSW including new staff appointments (April – August)
• Commissioning of an analysis of the strengths of each Torch Park in China so we can align with UNSW research strengths and better target potential R&D investment
• Visit to UNSW by TUSHoldings – owner and operator of Tsinghua University Science (TUS) parks – more than 50 across China. TUSHoldings will work with UNSW to identify opportunities for Phase 2 of the Torch park @ UNSW.
Results and Impact to date
• China launch of the Torch Innovation Precinct @ UNSW in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in April 2016, witnessed by Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and China’s Premier Li Keqiang, signalling highest level support for the Precinct from both governments
• Australia launch at UNSW in August 2016 witnessed by NSW Minister for Industry Anthony Roberts and Torch Director General Zhang Zhihong. In attendance was a 50 strong delegation of current and potential industry partners from China.
• 8 R&D projects signed and commenced for a total value exceeding AUD$30m, focused on new materials and new energy
• 5 R&D projects currently under negotiation for a total value exceeding AUD$20m, broadening into biomedical fields and medical devices
• Joint R&D facilities established at UNSW and Hangzhou for one of the foundation projects. The Hangzhou facility was opened on the sidelines of the G20 summit in September 2016 and witnessed by Australian Finance Minister Mathias Cormann. This project will generate massive economic and social impact. Deliverables will include new generation power cables with potential efficiency saving in China equal to the current entire power consumption of Australia. Total projected R&D investment will exceed AUD$20m over 4 years. This will be delivered via a newly established Sino Equity JV company with equity shared between UNSW and the Chinese industry partner, another first for UNSW and our Chinese partner.
• Engagement of TUS Holdings to assess the feasibility of Phase 2 of the Precinct. This will enable a significant expansion of activity particularly in student and staff start ups. UNSW Australia already has Australia’s largest student start up program and hosts the annual China Start up games.
• Deloitte Access Economics commissioned analysis forecasts the Torch Innovation Precinct will return up to AUD$1.1bn to the Australian economy
Conclusion and Learning Opportunities
The Torch Innovation Precinct @ UNSW will make a significant contribution to the Australian Federal Government’s National Innovation & Science Agenda and represents a transformational step forward in bi-lateral relations for Australia and China.
Practitioner learnings include:
* international government relations
* international industry engagement and knowledge exchange
* aligning research strengths of universities with potential industry partners
* cultural change in universities to recognise and reward industry engagement
* University wide coordination in delivering major initiatives with global impact
* joint laboratory and scale up facilities with international industry partners
* establishing Sino equity joint venture