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Monday, May 17, 2021

2021 Hunter Innovation Festival back with a bang

A region that puts its money where its mouth is when it comes to innovation… that’s us.

Here in the Hunter, we don’t just talk the talk about making change for the better, investing in clean energies and finding new solutions to old problems.

We put cold hard cash behind those words and ideas.

Inspiring, supporting and funding concepts are certainly themes you’ll discover at the core of the 2021 Hunter Innovation Festival.

Event partner City of Newcastle kicked off the festival with an opening event, featuring pitches from the Youth Entrepreneurship Program dedicated to enhancing the skills and capacity of the next generation of innovators.

Newcastle is also supporting innovation inspiration financially with “no strings attached grant giveaways” for local people with good ideas.

Lake Macquarie City Council will give away a generous bounty of $20,000 on Saturday 15 May at its Innovator Support Program finalist pitch event.

The Hunter Angels will also open one of their pitch nights to the public on Monday 10 May, supported by the Port of Newcastle, giving entrepreneurs an insight into how to acquire angel investment backing.

Young Business Minds Awards will launch its 2021 program with $6,000 worth of prizemoney to be bestowed on students from primary up to university level.

It’s refreshing to see local government, industry, education and community coming together to support business, forward thinking and, ultimately, an improved quality of living across the Hunter being a long-term goal.

The theme of this year’s jam-packed festival is “Innovate to Regenerate”.

“One of the most important aspects is making innovation accessible and actionable to all,” coordinator and innovation consultant Claire Quigley said.

Making good on this promise, the festival features physical events all the way from Lake Macquarie, throughout Newcastle, a Business Boot Camp in Cessnock, the Inspirations Conference in Muswellbrook, Success x Design hosted in the Upper Hunter, and an Innovation in Equine event in Scone. 

Live-streamed and hybrid activations will also play a part in 2021, which will expand its focus from tech all the way to agriculture, education, health and renewable energies.

With the aim of educating, connecting and inspiring, there are events for people of all ages and interests. 

The Internet of Things (IoT) workshops, taking place a number of times across the Lake Macquarie libraries, are sure to be very popular with teens and adults alike, even providing the chance to build and program your own sensors.

The possibilities of what you can achieve through the connection of devices in the physical world to the virtual world is virtually limitless.

And, Lake Macquarie City Council wants everyone, from innovators, entrepreneurs and hobbyists to small businesses, community groups and students to get involved in IoT.

For the younger kiddos, Tech Play is a free activity to get them entangled in the fun; coding Ozbots, engineering with Snap Circuits and exploring the digital world.

If you’d like a more coding focused experience, there’s a three evening Hack-a-thon workshop catering to all skill levels.

Play a part in programming Pepper the Robot at Newcastle Digital Library, or for a more relaxed coding event, Wine and Code, might be just the ticket if you’re over 18.

The festival also provides some fantastic opportunities for upcoming entrepreneurs to connect with support and funding pathways.

The University of Newcastle’s I2N is delivering a range of enterprise skill-building events and programs that develop ideas into sustainable global businesses. 

During proceedings, they’ll host Startup Stories and Students and Startups, offering invaluable inspiration and guidance, along with stories of the highs, lows, wins, victories and mistakes of those who’ve previously walked the path of innovation and succeeded. 

The two-day hands-on Initiate 48 program will make its debut in the area, giving high school students with ideas the chance to build a business in just 48 hours.

Funding Roadmap on 3 May, presented by Ausindustry at I2N, is the perfect way to connect entrepreneurs and businesses with government support.

There will also be an AusIndustry Business Boot Camp in Cessnock.

Innovation help for individuals and businesses of all ages is available through Lake Macquarie City Council’s Innovator Support Program and there will be an information session on how to be involved in the Young Business Minds Awards, including capacity skill-building and mentoring thanks to Hunter Futurepreneurs.

For those who are interested in using innovation towards a more environmental existence, or disrupting their current business practices, there are some fantastic events updating you on the possibilities of clean energy, modernised manufacturing, circular economies, driving changes and even a think tank. 

Beyond Zero Emissions is staging a showcase on Repowering Australian Manufacturing, providing a fantastic chance to become informed on the national pilot program currently underway in Newcastle. 

Believe it or not, even the education system is in for a shake-up and we’ve got a sneak peek of what Developing the Skills of Tomorrow looks like at St Phillip’s Cessnock.

Head to the campus for a tour of their cutting-edge senior school facility and learn about a pedagogical approach to education. 

For those who like to learn by example and have a good old sticky beak at how the other half operate, two fantastic innovative Hunter businesses have kindly opened their doors for the festival. 

Hedweld at Mount Thorley are synonymous with innovation in the mining sector and, on Tuesday 11 May, those with a (free) ticket will get a rare insight into their expanded, state-of-the-art facility and hear how it all came to fruition.

Robotic Systems, contract innovators across several industry sectors, will not just give you a snapshot at how things work, they’ll also send you away with a workbook and roadmap on “how to turn your practical experience into a profitable product”.

Tours of Newcastle Men’s Shed are also spotted throughout the program showcasing their community.

It’s just possible that they have the tools to help with your prototype.

The festival won’t be all brain-straining thinking; there’s some fun networking events where you can meet mentors, investors and obtain general legal advice to protect your IP.

The Innovation Bar Hop on Thursday 6 May will certainly be an enjoyable way of connecting those with questions to some answers.

Wind down toward the end of the festival with entertainment.

Heart Open will explore regeneration through music, dance and performance while, on Saturday 15 May, you can Check the Tech in Pearson Street Mall while enjoying music, food, art and interactive furniture.

The Hunter Innovation Festival is being brought to you by the Hunter iF and wouldn’t be possible without the support of event partner City of Newcastle and sponsors Lake Macquarie City Council, University of Newcastle, AusIndusty, the Port of Newcastle and the Garis Group.

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