The Community comes together for ICDP’s Ideas Exchange

Celebrating the depth and successes of initiatives undertaken in the last year and gaining new connections were the key features of ICDP’s most successful event thus far, the Pacific Connect Ideas Exchange. Over three days, 63 current and emerging leaders from Australia, Fiji, PNG, Solomon Islands, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu engaged in project pitch workshops, study tour visits to Sydney’s premier innovation hubs and networking events, culminating with the Ideas Exchange Dinner and Plenary on Wednesday 18 and Thursday 19 September.

Rainy Sydney weather couldn’t dampen the spirits of the Pacific participants who kick-started the proceedings with a visit to incubator hubs on Tuesday 17 September. The first stop was the Sydney Startup Hub, a globally significant innovation centre that hosts world-renowned hubs such as Fishburners, Stone & Chalk, The Studio and Microsoft. Sydney Startup Hub offers more than 17,000sqm and can house over 2,500 people.

After an informative introductory presentation from Michelle Long, Acting Director of Sydney Startup Hub, our Pacific and Australian entrepreneurs made their way to The Studio, a creative media and tech incubator that supports 40 startups using advanced technologies such as VR and AR, AI and wearable computing. Pacific Connect participants discussed opportunities for Pacific tech entrepreneurs at The Studio with Chantal Abouchar, CEO and Founder, and Carol Friel-Evans, Community Manager. Spurred on by the opportunities in this incubator, a VR demonstration from the team at ImmersifAI was gladly taken up by the participants – what better way to finish off a study tour than by rescuing a cat high up on a crane!

The study tour didn’t stop there, with twenty-four participants given a tour of Fisbhurners, one of Australia’s largest coworking spaces for technology-focused startups, with more than 274 companies operating in the space. Georgie Marshall, the Sydney Community Manager, gave a tour of the facilities and services available to members.

The final innovation hub tour took place at the University of Sydney with INCUBATE, a startup program that enables students and researches to launch high-potential startups through community activities.

The action-packed Tuesday concluded with networking drinks, with more than 40 attendees utilising the opportunity to re-unite and meet other members of the Community from Australia and abroad, catch up on projects and make new connections.

The second day of the Ideas Exchange on Wednesday 18 September saw a new concept trialled, as participants floated between meetings with mentors, project development sessions and networking activities tailored by the ICDP organising committee to suit the participants’ needs, experience and interests. To provide avenues for professional development, ICDP partnered with Common Code to present the Pacific Connect Pitch Development Workshop. Cameron Neil and Tom Williamson from Common Code facilitated the hands-on experience which helped our entrepreneurs develop succinct and captivating pitches before the Ideas Exchange plenary.

With the Community now buzzing with new connections made and pitches fine-tuned, the formal side of proceedings got underway as participants mingled with current leaders from Australian business, government, technology and academic fields for the Ideas Exchange Opening Dinner, which was held in the Strangers Function Room at New South Wales Parliament House. Pacific Connect was delighted to host Ms Liesl Tesch AM, MP, Member of the NSW Legislative Assembly representing the people of Gosford. Overcoming a mountain bike accident at the age of 19 which left her an incomplete paraplegic, Lieslove for sport endured, enabling her to represent Australia in seven Paralympic Games. A triple-medallist in women’s wheelchair basketball (two Silver medals, Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004, and a Bronze medal in Beijing 2008) and two-time Gold medallist for Sailing (2012 and 2016 Paralympic Games), Liesl gave an inspiring speech about her personal story, her rise to Australian sporting fame and her teaching and community service career which drove her ascent into politics.

Her rocky introduction to wheelchair basketball – where wheelchairs and jerseys were shared between athletes and women’s competitions in Europe just didn’t exist – was a driving force behind her idea to establish Sport Matters, a not-for-profit that helps community development for people with disabilities in Australia, the Pacific and Africa through sport. Not only did Liesl share her success and her determination with the Pacific Connect Community, she also provided a memorable ‘show and tell’ – her medals!

It was hard to top Ms Tesch’s keynote address, however, the Plenary on Thursday 19 September came close! Taulapapa Brenda Heather Latu, Special Advisor to ICDP, and Michael Pilbrow, Founder and Partner of Strategic Development Group, co-facilitated proceedings. The Hon. John Ajaka MLC, President of the NSW Legislative Council and Hosting Member of the Ideas Exchange, gave the opening address. The Chair of ICDP, Dr Ian Watt AC, gave an overview of ICDP’s activities over the last twelve months, highlighting the organisation’s extensive work since the 2018 Forum, including nine dialogues, five workshops and numerous strategic visits to the region.

Former Australian Defence Minister and now ICDP Ambassador, Hon. Christopher Pyne brought a different track to proceedings with a timely and through-provoking keynote address on ‘Pacific Island Nations and the changing geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific’, before engaging in a Q&A session with participants on the details of the Australian Government’s Pacific Step-Up.

Exemplary projects from Pacific Connect Community members were highlighted throughout the day, with presentations from Every Building Is a Classroom leaders Cameron Neil and Robertson Szetu, and Global Shapers Hub’s representative James Fraser. Following these presentations. Insights into entrepreneurial approaches and thoughts were then solicited through a panel q & a session with current and emerging leaders comprising an all-star team of Pacific Connect Community panellists: Zha Agabe-Granfar, Molly Benjamin, James Kana and Georgina Naigulevu.

2019 Pacific Connect Dialogues were all about projects, and what better way to end our time in Sydney with seven project pitches! Ranging from VR cultural education initiatives to shipping solutions, disability access, healthy food and innovation hub programs, participants presented their ideas to our ‘business sharks’ and sought crowd-funding support and increased connections from the wider Community present.

ICDP would like to thank all 63 current and emerging leaders for their attendance at the 2019 Ideas Exchange. It was fantastic to have the Community come together in Sydney for a series of networking, entrepreneurial and professional development activities culminating with the Plenary session at NSW Parliament House. We look forward to hearing your stories of the event and working with you well into the future!