Advance Queensland will soon say goodbye to one of our fierce advocates for Queensland innovation with the retirement of Innovation Programs Executive Director, Paul Russell.
With a long and successful career with the Queensland Government, Paul leaves behind a great legacy and will be missed equally for his unrelenting passion and enthusiasm for championing innovation and the digital economy across the state.
Joining the government in August 2003, Paul has been responsible for leading the development and implementation of strategic development and service delivery in areas including international trade, advanced manufacturing, development of the State’s ICT and other enabling technology sectors such as nanotechnology, clean technologies and the creative industries.
In September 2016, as the government’s investment in the Advance Queensland initiative ramped up, Paul was selected to move into the Innovation Division of DSITI — now part of the Department of Innovation and Tourism Industry Development — and was responsible for the design and delivery of a range of startup, business innovation and commercialisation grants programs.
Around the Department of Innovation ranks, Paul is widely acknowledged as being the ‘voice of the regions’ in Brisbane for his tireless commitment and passion he holds for developing innovation in our Queensland regions.
During his time with the department, he has assumed responsibility for the design and delivery of many of Advance Queensland’s regional innovation support programs and projects, including the Advancing Regional Innovation program (ARIP) — an Australian-first program to nurture the development of more robust and sustainable innovation ecosystems in Queensland’s diverse regions.
With the move of the Science Funding team from the Department of Environment and Science (DES) into DITID Innovation in July 2018, Paul also assumed responsibility for several Advance Queensland university and research sector facing programs. These have included Industry Research Fellowships, Innovation Partnerships and grants to several of Queensland’s leading institutes such as the Queensland Brain Institute and the Translational Research Institute.
A particular highlight of his time with Advance Queensland has been his leadership in delivering the Queensland Government’s flagship innovation hub and one of Australia’s pre-eminent innovation spaces — The Precinct in the historic TC Bierne building in Fortitude Valley — where Paul had the honour, in August this year, of escorting His Excellency General, the Honourable David Hurley AC DSC (Retd), Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia and Mrs Hurley, on a visit to The Precinct.
To realise how much of a legacy Paul leaves behind, you only have to look at the statistics. During his three year association with Advance Queensland, he has been responsible for managing a portfolio of 27 separate grants programs and initiatives with total funding commitments of more than $165 million — out of Advance Queensland’s total funding of $755 million.
We caught up with Paul to discuss his unique career and what he plans to do next…
What has been the biggest highlight of your career in the government innovation sector?
I have been constantly amazed by the high calibre of ideas and creativity we have here in Queensland. I was heavily involved in the Smart State years and they certainly laid a solid foundation, but Advance Queensland has taken it to a new level.
Advance Queensland has touched and engaged many segments of our population and regions. From our school education and university sectors, through to small business in rural and remote parts of the state. Queensland has always been an entrepreneurial place, and Advance Queensland has elevated the importance and imperative of entrepreneurship in modern economies.
For me, it has been important that our focus and efforts have been state-wide, not just in Brisbane or South East Queensland. Queensland is a big place — and there is no state government that has come close to what we have achieved over the past 10 years.
What are you most proud of when you look at Queensland’s innovation journey/sector?
The extent to which our ecosystem has developed and grown over the past 10 years, particularly under Advance Queensland.
The Office of the Queensland Chief Entrepreneur publishes a map of our state-wide innovation system. Looking back over this map each year, for the past five years, you clearly see just how rapidly our innovation ecosystem has grown across the entire state and how we lead Australia in this space.
In recent years, I have been very pleased to see the number of leading corporations, financial institutions, councils and private investors, including business angels, entering our innovation ecosystem. It is still a work in progress, but I am very proud of what has been achieved so far.
I am also proud of the sheer number of innovators we have been able to help advance with their great business ideas and technologies into market, as well our ability to attract investment and create jobs of the future.
What has inspired and challenged you the most during your career?
I was always inspired by my parents who operated a small business together for more than 40 years — they instilled in me, my love of business and competitive but fair play.
Over the course of an almost a 40 year career, I have been lucky to have had the opportunity to interact, advise and help more than 2000 Queensland businesses and innovators. I have seen many startups and small businesses grow to become mid-sized companies and several go onto list on the ASX. I have also seen so many of them take out significant business and export awards.
As far as challenging, I would say, it’s not always easy working in government and trying to help our innovators gain traction with government departments and large corporations. I have worked with technology businesses throughout my 17 years in the government and it has been a battle to help them access business opportunities. Advance Queensland had definitely helped more local businesses to crack the government market but there is still more to be done before we can be completely satisfied.
You have been a key driver for Advance Queensland — what do you think has been the key to the initiative’s ongoing success?
Advance Queensland has been a diverse initiative, reaching out to and supporting important segments of our population — from schools, universities, teachers and students, to researchers, innovators, farmers, councils, regional development and industry bodies, investors, business mentors and importantly; Indigenous youth, entrepreneurs and communities.
In its early years, Advance Queensland rolled out a number of important, early stage support programs aimed at inspiring and engaging key segments of our population, particularly school students, teachers, startups and small business. We have constantly reviewed our progress and our impacts, and re-calibrated our programs — pivoting ourselves several times.
The feedback we continually receive from our funding recipients has played a key role in our ongoing success. Even those applicants that have not been successful in receiving funding and grants, have complemented us on the standard of the feedback they receive — for them, this has allowed them to improve their future Advance Queensland applications or indeed their funding applications to the Australian Government or business contracts.
We have also several programs that have helped build innovation and entrepreneurial capabilities and networks across the 12 regions of Queensland. No other state government offers such support. We were the first Australian State Government to recognise the importance of entrepreneurship, creating a role of the Queensland Chief Entrepreneur. Our three Chief Entrepreneurs have all been different and each have made their mark on our innovation system.
How do you see, or hope to see, the future of innovation in Queensland?
I look forward to seeing Queensland’s innovation ecosystem progress strongly over the next five years, from the strong foundations already laid. There are many emerging companies that have received Advance Queensland funding that are likely to create significant numbers of knowledge jobs over the next two to three years. I hope several of these go on to become leading Australian businesses and maybe even see a few of them become unicorns.
I expect Queensland to consolidate its growing reputation as the ‘Startup State.’ I also see more seasoned business and professional people, and business families, becoming active investors in Queensland innovation.
There are a number of world-class research projects being incubated in our universities too that hopefully will be spun-out into the business world.
Finally, I also look forward to seeing a number of our regional cities emerge as hotspots for innovation in specific areas such as artificial intelligence, robotics, agtech, METS, bio industries, tourism and sportstech.
Do you have any parting words of wisdom for Queensland’s innovation ecosystem?
Yes! Let’s double-down on our efforts, raise the bar and be much more focused on the ASEAN region and; lets never forget the importance of our regions — as many of our world-class innovations come from there.
Do you have any exciting plans for your retirement that you wish to share?
I am taking this as a semi-retirement and I will not be resting on my laurels too much! My wife and I have just become first-time grandparents and we look forward to enjoying that.
I love my cricket and I will continue umpiring in the Brisbane Premier grade competition and I am keen to umpire in England for a few months either next year or in 2021.
I am also keen to join a couple of boards or advisory boards, where I can add value. I will look to support some of our regional innovation partners, and mentor at some of the hubs across the state.
Lastly, my wife and I have plans to travel. We have planned a road trip to Western Australia and are tossing up between Southern Africa, Japan and Route 66.
Paul would like to extend his gratitude to the Queensland innovation ecosystem and offer his sincere thanks to the many staff and colleagues in government who have contributed to the great success of Advance Queensland.
Advance Queensland wishes Paul all the best with his future endeavours, he is an extraordinary talent that will remain tightly stitched into the fabric of Advance Queensland. We are incredibly grateful that he has been part of our innovation journey.