Newly-appointed CEO of the centre, Omar Khalifa, says iAccelerate is the first business incubator of its kind in Australia. Picture: Robert Peet.Withrusted steel casings, protruding shipping container office pods and an interior which exposes its inner workings, the University of Wollongong’s new iAccelerate Centre looks like something straight out of a Port Kembla shipping yard.
Butthe new $18.5 million Innovation Campus building – part funded from the NSW Government’s long term lease of the port –marks a big departure from the Illawarra’s industrial past.
At its opening on Tuesday, the new start-up incubator was hailed as a way for the region to create jobs in new industriesin the wake of a downturn in manufacturing and mining sectors.
Newly-appointed CEO of the centre, Omar Khalifa, said the incubator was the first of its kind in Australia, as it allowed companies just starting to work alongsidemore advanced businesses.
He said iAccelerate–which essentiallyhelps emerging companies hone their ideas and quickly develop into tech-focused businesses through a series of different programs–was “much more than a building”, describing it as a “bold initiative that seeks to embrace the future and prepare the entire Illawarra region for it.”
“We are facing unprecedented challenges, because the change in the workforce is going to be accelerating like never before,” Mr Khalifa said.
“It is estimated that over the next 20 years, 40 per cent of the jobs that exist today will no longer exist. Or to think of it another way, we have to invent 40 per cent of new jobs.”
NSW Industry Minister Anthony Roberts, charged with official opening honours, said the government had been keen to contribute $16.5 million to the building as it would help to rebuild the Illawarra economy.
Likewise, Vice Chancellor Professor PaulWellings said the building was a “milestone” to helpgenerate 500 direct and 1000 indirectjobsby the end of the decade and addan extra $70 million to the Illawarra.
“In these uncertain economic times, the university has a very strong role to play in driving innovation, and in doing so continued to make investments into the people of the Illawarra,” he said.
“iAccelerate is a major investment to help create those technologies and jobs of tomorrow.”
He also said the “striking”building had been designed to reflect a region shaped by Port Kembla and steelmaking, but would “open the door for Wollongong to be thrust onto the global technology stage”.
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