Monash’s innovation incubator is green inside and out
Willow Aliento | 14 September 2017
Sustainable House day: City of Monash’s Eastern Innovation Business Centre is not just a sustainable building, it is also nurturing a whole new wave of entrepreneurs, innovators and green-minded enterprises.
City of Monash mayor Rebecca Paterson says Australia has a strong knowledge economy, with some of the best science, medical and technological ideas yet to be developed.
“Facilities like the EIBC provide small businesses with the support they need to develop and commercialise their ideas.”
Paterson says the centre is focused on accelerating the commercialisation of innovative ideas and the professional services that support them.
“It’s for people with great ideas who can benefit from a supportive, inspirational, collaborative environment and who can use our facilities to get the best out of their idea and attract the best people to work with their business.”
It is also in a strategic location within the Monash National Employment and Innovation Cluster.
Paterson says small businesses using the space and its services benefit from being “in the heart of Melbourne’s hi-tech scientific zone, near CSIRO, Monash University and the National Synchrotron, among others”.
The design has also helped the council to learn about sustainable design, and the facility is one of the only commercial properties participating in this year’s Sustainable House Day, being held on Sunday 17 September.
The council’s urban design department designed the building, with input from Monash University Cooperative Research Centre on water sensitive urban design.
It is surrounded by green walls, and features natural light and passive solar heating, natural ventilation, energy-efficient systems and solar PV.
Underneath the facility is a highly advanced biofiltration system invented by Monash University researchers for locally collected stormwater. This feeds the building’s grey water use as well as a large filtration pond and most of the facility’s plants and grasses.
It was designed to 5 Star NABERS, and council is currently reviewing the building’s operational data to measure its performance against the design, Paterson says.
While the building remains a council asset, its day-to-day operations and management are undertaken by an independent not-for-profit entity.
Sustainability means a great place to work
EIBC chief executive Danielle Storey says the sustainability aspects of the building make it a wonderful place to work.
“It is bright and engaging, and the furniture is all very comfortable.”
It is also affordable, and there are no energy bills or data costs for users. Free scanning is also offered to reduce the amount of printing people do.
Storey says her aim is to help people find ways to spend less money on costs, so they can invest more in their business.
Regular audits of the time, energy and money spent by people on their business are part of the package, so ways can be found to save on those resources.
This is a plus for entrepreneurs that had previously been working from home, and carrying the bill for their energy use in the home office.
Operational sustainability initiatives include having two bicycles in reception users can borrow, and switching from a coffee pod-based coffee machine to one that uses ground coffee.
A new compost bin is being installed for food scraps and coffee grounds, as well as a worm farm and a raised garden bed for growing communal vegetables.
“We are very focused on what we can do to help people feel good at work,” Storey says.
As well as having cycle parking and end-of-trip amenities for users, locals are also able to use the amenities.
The building’s grey water system needs people using the showers, she says, as Monash University is carrying out ongoing testing of its biofiltration system, with a view to commercialising the technology.
The building has also been a source of inspiration for other businesses.
When local company Supergardens’ factory burned down, their 15 staff temporarily relocated to the EIBC. The new facility they went on to build was based on what they saw here, Storey says.
Growing local talent
There are about 60 businesses operating from the site. They include entrepreneurs growing and accelerating new ventures, businesses making innovative products and services, and professional services firms that provide support, such as legal and accounting.
Actual products emerging from the EIBC include medical devices, apps, robots, automated transport innovations, Internet of Things technologies, new consulting models and prefabricated affordable housing.
Prefab company iBuild have a display home on a vacant lot adjacent to the centre, which will also be open for Sustainable House Day.
Since it opened, the incubator centre has had more than 800 businesses come through the doors, and it receives about 5000 visitors in a six-month period, Storey says.
Her role is to help the EIBC and its businesses thrive.
“It is very bottom-up driven.”
Services provided to businesses include mentoring, access to advice and funding avenues, and also regular events. These include monthly BBQs to bring everyone together and guest speakers.
Arrangements are extremely flexible, from renting a desk by the month to hiring a meeting room or desk for a short time.
It has also been a job creator, with many business founders reaching the point of employing staff or interns.
The development was financed with $4.75 million of federal funding from the Regional Development Australia Fund, and $245,000 from the state government’s $50 million Living Victoria Fund, as well as contributions from council.