Innovation and Entrepreneurship at UTS

The University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) is a GovHack sponsor this year and to find out more about their entrepreneurship program we spoke with Margaret Petty – Executive Director, Innovation and Entrepreneurship at UTS.

What is the Innovation & Entrepreneurship program at UTS?

The program is unique in Australia as it’s a whole of university initiative rather than sitting in, for example, a business or engineering faculty. Last year UTS created a new deputy vice chancellor for innovation and enterprise, Glenn Wightwick, who hired Margaret and together they’ve developed a strategy that can scale entrepreneurship and innovation in a sustainable way across all faculties and centres.

This approach was driven in part on research done on students at the university which found that an amazing 40% of them either wanted to start their own company as a founder or want to work at a startup. 

The question is how to deliver at scale? Most universities will have an incubator and an accelerator and have cohort based programs which might get fifty or sixty students a year through a ten or twelve week program. That approach doesn’t scale so UTS has focussed on coordinating all the great things that are happening whether it’s sitting in an elective on entrepreneurship or perhaps human centred innovation or hackathons and startup weekends.

What are the skills of a successful entrepreneur?

They’re really twenty-first century competencies including digital and technological fluency, the ability to apply subject area expertise to a range of challenges, the ability experiment – to iterate, to be collaborative, to demonstrate leadership, confidence, self reflection, resiliency, agility, personal management and UTS is particularly interested in the social and cultural competencies and the link back to their social justice framework.


The best way to acquire and develop these skills is through active, immersive, real world learning experiences is to go through a hackathon or startup weekend which gives you the “lived experience” including things like failure, working together under pressure, and networking with people. Anyone who’s done a hackathon makes a community of friends that lives long beyond the short duration of the event. 

How will work change in the future?

We know that graduates will have at least five career changes. The idea that you could leave university with a degree in accounting and do that for the rest of your life is no longer true. It’s hard to understand what the jobs of the future will be so we’re preparing students by making sure they have “translation” skills, technological depth and expertise, digital literacy, the ability to apply technology to humanity, so that no matter how jobs change in the future they’ll have competencies that will carry them. 

Students must learn to learn. Everything is changing, especially technology, but under the hood there’s some basics that don’t change. The skills of entrepreneurship don’t change. 

The role of design.

The thing about design is that you start with the human and look at what the solution; whether it’s software, a building, a car, or AI; is doing to improve the human experience and be environmentally sustainable. The thing about software is that while it’s changing the way we work, we purchase, (including things like Uber and AirBNB), we as humans design software and we mustn’t let it get ahead of the human condition and the needs of the planet. 

The Open Government data movement is important, it says “we’ve got data, we’ve got tools” but what are we actually doing that’s not just about shareholder return?

We need to give the power back to the people who know the problem best and that’s the thing about the entrepreneurial way because the most successful solution will be the one that really solves an honest problem that lots of people share. 

Sometimes government, (and universities can be the same), think they know the answers because “we know best” but really it’s the person who’s experiencing a problem who’s going to have the better view. 

It’s possible to develop a product that’s really amazing but doesn’t solve a real problem. What a designer can do, with their human centric approach, is understand the need and translate across the technical to help everything gel together. It’s not about making something look pretty, or doing the branding, or a logo – (although that’s part of the process).

In the StartupAus startup talent gap report that came out recently, one of the four areas that they identified as being most in demand in the startup community in Australia is user experience design. (Of course we also need data scientists, marketing and others). 

Our thanks to Margaret Petty for her insights and thanks to UTS for sponsoring GovHack 2018.

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Written by Peter Marks for GovHack.
Peter Marks is a software developer and technology analyst.
He is a regular contributor to ABC Radio National and blogs at