The path to a PhD topic: Community resiliency and regional innovation hubs


This week begins my two-year trek towards a PhD on my path to the difference I want to make. I invite you to join me on the journey.

Why a PhD?

A PhD seemed like the next logical step after completing my Masters in 2013. My initial desire was to legitimately wear the floppy hat that comes with the title, but a deeper and more practical motivator has been growing over the past few years.

My end goal is to contribute towards addressing systemic inequality and embedded poverty in a meaningful way on a global scale. This is the “difference I want to make” or “problem I want to help solve” in the time I have left on the planet. As I gain clarity on the end goal, the “how” I get there will emerge as I direct my attention and I meet others on a similar path.

I see a PhD as means to make an impact in one particular focus area towards this goal. The process of getting the PhD will facilitate conversations I would not otherwise be able to have. The resulting thesis will open doors to make a greater impact in areas where we collectively determine a difference needs to be made. Finally, the practical application of the research tied to my day job will result in measurable and transferable outcomes.

Through partnering with the University of Southern Queensland, I also want to connect formal university research with free-market entrepreneurship for commercial application. Established institutions of universities and rapidly emerging innovation hubs are trying new things to leverage each other’s strengths for collective outcomes. As Community Manager of the Fire Station 101 innovation hub, I see my PhD as one such experiment in collaboration between a university and a market-driven innovation hub.

My topic (or my pitch)

I have played with a few topics to achieve all this, and even my current topic will be refined as I move forward. What I am currently working with is:

The role of regional innovation hubs in developing resilience in individual entrepreneurs and communities

Regional communities can be significantly impacted by rapid technology advances and corresponding market disruptions.  Over 5 million Australian jobs have a moderate to likely chance of being gone in the next 10 to 15 years. Regional communities are especially susceptible to these changes, with factors including lower likelihood of industry diversity, lack of access to global career paths, limited access to investment and supply chain networks, and talent flow out of regional areas.

Regional innovation hubs play a key role in building local resiliency through capability by creating a “third space” focused on entrepreneurial activity. These hubs are more than just “four walls and wifi”. Hubs integrate the open innovation ecosystem of entrepreneurs, mentors, investors, commercial partners, universities, and volunteers through structured and ad hoc programs focused on the entrepreneur’s success.  These hubs create communities of trust that acknowledge the regional context in which the hub operates and help mitigate risks associated with innovation.

I grew up working in my family’s 80-staff printed circuit board manufacturing company. The industry’s peak of around 2,500 PCB shops in the United States has now declined to less than 250. The demise of our family business and contribution to this statistic left me with questions about what can be done to better prepare for the eventualities of industry shifts and market disruptions.

Specific questions that form my research include:

  • What is the purpose and function of a regional innovation hub?
  • What constitutes a regional innovation ecosystem (eg., investors, universities, mentors, members, volunteers, etc.)?
  • What is the role of innovation in developing community resiliency against broad market disruption?
  • What is the role of entrepreneurship in developing personal resiliency against professional disruption?
  • What are the different business models for innovation hubs (eg., venture capital, state or local government, university, education, corporate, etc.)?
  • What is the role of Local Government in supporting, or owning, regional innovation hubs?
  • How are outcomes of regional community hubs defined and measured?

The ask

My aim is to impact local and scale global.  I will focus on regional Australia and validate resulting models globally through a potential round-the-world trip towards the mid-to-end of the research.

My goal is bigger than me, and I look forward to collaborating with others who have already developed significant wisdom in the area. To this point, please reach out to me if:

  • My research can add value to your outcomes
    My aim is to help as many people as much as I can. If something in the above outline aligns with your work, let’s chat.
  • You know of existing research or others researching in the topic
    I am early days in my research. Introductions to existing research or those active in the topic would be appreciated.

I expect I will spin up a separate website to capture the journey and the outcomes of the research at some stage. For now, probably the best way to reach me in relation to the project is

Thank you for joining me on the journey as we collectively work towards making the world a better place.