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Queensland Connects – regional innovators tackling local challenges and building on local opportunities

06 January 2022

Stemming population decline in the Maranoa region of western Queensland and looking to make the Gold Coast Australia’s health tech capital are just two of the four regional economic projects set to benefit from a Queensland Government regional innovation initiative.

Teams from the Wide Bay Burnett, Goondiwindi, Roma and the Gold Coast have scored places in the Queensland Connects program, run by the Queensland Government in collaboration with the Queensland University of Technology (QUT).

Queensland Connects leverages the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) regional entrepreneurship development model to help drive innovation-led entrepreneurship in our regions, tapping into local expertise, knowledge and building on local industrial strengths.

Participating teams in the Queensland Connects program include members from local government, universities, business as well as local entrepreneurs. Working collaboratively in conjunction with QUT entrepreneurship educators, each team sets out a ‘must-win’ goal for itself – whether that’s building on a local competitive advantage or finding a tangible solution to a local economic challenge.

The Roma team is looking to address liveability issues that they believe impact on population decline in the Maranoa region.

According to the Queensland Government Statistician’s Office, the region’s population has declined by 5.36 per cent since 2013. The current population is about 13,000 residents. Without improvements in liveability, population decline is likely to continue.

Maranoa Regional Council is aiming for a population of between 20,000 and 30,000 residents at which point, according to Australian Electoral Commission research, population growth is likely to become self-driven.

Roma Team Co-Chair and President of Roma Commerce and Tourism Charlie Eames said Roma was a great place to live, work, play and do business.

“Our unemployment rate is 3.2 per cent – well below the national average. The issue is that we have plenty of jobs on offer, but not enough people, particularly skilled people, which is impacting on business profitability and regional productivity.

“A key objective is to leverage the lifestyle and excellent facilities in the region and provide an avenue to address our short-, medium- and long-term liveability issues to ensure Roma continues to grow as a great place to live, work, play, visit and do business,” Mr Eames said.

The Gold Coast team is looking to boost the city’s credentials as a health tech hub.

Gold Coast Team Champion and MedTech Manager at the Queensland AI Hub Dr Stephanie Chaousis said COVID-19 created an unprecedented spotlight on the health care industry.

“The pandemic not only brought the global economy to a standstill, it exposed significant opportunities for improvement of the world’s healthcare systems, becoming a catalyst for innovative thinking and triggering rapid and large-scale change across the industry,” Dr Chaousis said.

“Health tech is the fastest growing vertical within the healthcare sector, and the Gold Coast Health and Knowledge Precinct is Queensland’s home for health tech, with Australia’s leading health tech accelerator – LuminaX – attracting founders from around the world to do business on the Gold Coast.

“The Gold Coast Health and Knowledge Precinct is working to map a path forward to harness the incredible opportunity that AI offers to create an advanced, leading-edge healthcare system for Australians and thriving local health tech capability.

“We want to position ourselves to be a major centre for AI enabled medical research and innovation, supporting the development and manufacture of medical devices, including medical wearables, as well as biomedical engineering.”

The Wide Bay Burnett team is looking at how the region can capitalise on the de-centralisation underway within Australia and across the globe due to the pandemic and ways to engage young people in the region.

The Goondiwindi team will look at how to take advantage of the considerable opportunities offered by the development of the Commonwealth Government’s Inland Rail project and leading innovation in agriculture, health and tourism to identify growth opportunities and market the region to attract and retain talent.

The four teams are part of the second cohort of the Queensland Connects program.

The first cohort involved teams from Mackay, Gladstone and Toowoomba.