The University of Sydney Business School has set up a ‘social innovation hub’ to connect student start-ups with academic and financial support.

The hub’s head James Meade said the aim of the new facility was to “attract “innovators, change makers and visionaries from across the university”.

“Innovation and entrepreneurship requires enthusiasm and we have lots of that, but it also requires targeted support,” Meade said.

“By leveraging informal knowledge networks within the university we can enable successful student innovation outcomes.”

The Sydney Social Innovation Hub will be a “one-stop-shop for innovators”, Meade said.

It will offer them “industry links, access to academics, team work, ongoing education, incubation programs, prototype development, opportunities to road test and start-up development.”

“It will provide a central facility for students of all faculties to co-create and innovate with academics, community and industry,” Meade said.

However, all projects wanting entry into the hub “would need to demonstrate their ‘social benefit’ in order to qualify for support.”

The hub begins life with a flagship program called Hatch at Sydney.

“It will provide early stage cross disciplinary projects with enabling knowledge resources, physical infrastructure and financial support to develop high-impact innovations and create high-growth enterprises,” Meade said.

It will also employ an 'Expert-in-Residence'; the first is former IBM CFO and COO Cameron Barnes.

Barnes believed the hub would “augment traditional institutional learning with hands on support for idea development and innovation”.

“Passionate young innovators and entrepreneurs need more than an education in their chosen field – they need mentoring, guidance and support to materialise new ideas and solutions for a new and rapidly evolving world,” Barnes said.

“In the innovation hub we are seeking to provide that support with access to industry leading expertise and a development environment to fast track development of their innovations.”

A number of other Australian universities have already set up similar spaces.

UNSW last year opened its Michael Crouch Innovation Centre (MCIC), described as “a creative space where the next generation of innovators can experiment, connect and showcase their ideas to corporate and industry partners.”

The University of Western Australia (UWA) also similarly set up an innovation hub in April last year to “provide students with a space to start-up and grow their own business ventures.”

Macquarie University has a teaching innovation hub (though for internal rather than student ideation), and is also in the process of trying to establish an innovation district in Sydney’s north-west.

QUT urban informatics Professor Marcus Foth last year argued that Australia needed more “skunkworks” spaces to “attract, house, support and unleash innovators, makers, thinkers and doers to stand up.”

“The skunkworks spaces in Australia’s innovation system should avoid entrepreneurial gatekeepers and one-track tech minds, encourage interdisciplinary contributions from outside STEM, and embrace the experimental messiness of the creative imagination that is the backbone of innovation,” he opined.

“These spaces should be free, open and ubiquitous.

“And they should recognise and support other forms of innovation that may not lead to a conventional start-up, such as social innovation, civic innovation, and change for good.”