Uni defends iAccelerate centre grant

The University of Wollongong's iAccelerate centre, which last week received more than $16 million in government funding, is much more than just a building, according to Vice-Chancellor Paul Wellings.

After last week's announcement of the successful applicants for a share of the $100 million Illawarra Infrastructure Fund, some have suggested the $16.5 million UOW received for its iAccelerate centre is a waste of money.

However, Prof Wellings said the centre was shaping up to become a "formidable force in the Illawarra startup community".

The facility, inspired by a model in Waterloo, Canada, could help transform the region's economy, he said.

"The Illawarra is a region undergoing radical economic transition with the traditional manufacturing and heavy industrial base facing sharp employment declines," Prof Wellings said.

"iAccelerate consists of a unique set of programs built around entrepreneurship, innovation and the ICT technology skills of UOW graduates," Prof Wellings said.

The facility will continue the work started by the university's StartPad initiative by giving up to 300 high-tech start-up entrepreneurs office space, mentoring, guidance and assistance in finding investors.

The project is also aimed at keeping more of the university's information and communications technology graduates - the second highest number in the country - in the region.

In addition, the centre will feature a 3D-printing cafe that will be open to the public.

StartPad has already had success stories, including SafeZone, a smartphone app that can connect the user with security services in open locations such as university campuses.

The app is already in use in several places in Australia and has received global attention.

The UOW director of innovation and commercial research, Elizabeth Eastland, said the Waterloo centre had generated more than 680 jobs in five years, as part of a broader high-tech shift in the city.

She said the iAccelerate centre would take the best of ideas from Waterloo and Silicon Valley.

"We are just taking lessons from other regional innovation ecosystems such as Silicon Valley and Waterloo while making our own pathway that suits the Illawarra's needs," Ms Eastland said.

"Waterloo has grown 28,000 new jobs in 20 years. iAccelerate could put the Illawarra on the same growth trajectory."

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