The Australian government has unleashed ‘the ideas boom’ – its innovation agenda for the nation. Kate Eriksson, Head of Disruption at PwC, shares her highlights from the statement.
The origin of ‘confidence’ lies in the Latin word meaning ‘firmly trusting, bold’. And ‘bold’ is something that the government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda – the innovation statement released by Malcolm Turnbull today – demands of us if we’re to confidently transition from the mining boom to what has been titled ‘the ideas boom’.
The innovation statement will, at its broadest level, lift and align a range of conversations that occur across the startup community, investors, businesses, government agencies and universities, around how collaboration occurs and the level of courage expected from us all.
Five years’ of visits to Silicon Valley or Israel by the business community, combined with the efforts of startups and investors as well as emerging sectors such as fintech, have contributed to Australia’s progress. Today though, with that acquired knowledge and confidence, we need to shift the baseline of our expectations higher; the goal is to lift Australia to a new place.
The changes to government policy will be but one facet of our success as a country. It demands further critical factors: our vision for solving meaningful problems and re-imagining the future, our ability to include entrepreneurial thinking and collaboration on the STEM agenda, and the continual evolution of government policies. The solution is not just to stimulate jobs, it is to inspire people to solve problems and rethink how they address challenges.
Disruptors, as we know, don’t set out to disrupt – they are driven by a healthy disrespect for how we previously thought about problems worth solving. Australia will prosper if we continue to strive to address a new level of problem, showing extraordinary ambition of the likes of, for example, Skybox (which aims to catalogue every inch of the planet), XJet (which plans to 3D print with liquid metal), Abra (an app that essentially turns a mobile phone into an ATM), Mars One (the mission to send humans permanently to Mars), and so on.
Some of the highlights of the Agenda, were, in my view:
Talent, STEM and female founders
Core to a country that innovates in business, science and technology is lifting the talent pool, which will happen by stimulating students and the education system as well as the 50% underrepresented females in technology.
The innovation statement addresses this issue through a new funding pool that encourages female founders, coding in schools, and connecting business and education initiatives to support teachers with skills development and offer real-world problems for students to address.
Research two days ago by StartupMuster shows that although things have improved slightly, the Australian startup community still has a stark gender gap, with only 24% of companies founded by women, up from 19% in 2013. Those initiatives include Australian female investors group Scale and GirlsInICT.org which saw 66,000 girls in 130 countries participate in ICT this year.
Tech talent and the Australian brain drain
The offshore angle to startups has caused steady debate, from Australia’s brain drain (with startups relocating and listing offshore), to Australian talent targeted through incentives (for example by the Singapore government and the UK’s fintech scene), to collaboration opportunities with startup cultures such as Silicon Valley and Israel. Today, around 20,000 Australians are based in Silicon Valley and many will be reading Australia’s innovation statement with interest today.
A fairly new emergence is the conversation around Australian companies leveraging offshore skills and tech talent in components of development where we have a shortfall, and how to further attract international talent to relocate here. Israel attracted MassChallenge, for example, a startup accelerator, and Israeli companies have secured a new record for international funding.
Raising capital: incentives to nurture early-stage ideas
Tax breaks to encourage investment at seed and angel funding of startups will assist the rise of early-stage ideas to prove concepts and gain traction prior to accessing larger capital raising rounds. There will be a need for both more business and technical skills in startup initiatives and co-founders to ensure a strong foundation and greater success.
Commercialisation and lifting collaboration between academia and industry
There is an increased focus on combining research, industry and startup collaboration for the purposes of increasing business acumen and relevance, through centres and tax breaks for collaborative research. This will require a newly strengthened ecosystem of matching needs and objectives to opportunities. To some extent, the collaborations do already exist – however the outcomes must be sharper and more agile in both their delivery and market learning and testing.
Government procurement and open data as a role model
By offering up open data and making changes to process and procurement, this initiative will encourage business, government, startups and the community the opportunity to be deployed. Previously they were prevented from involvement by the lack of proven references, insurances or indemnity. This could reset the same policy changes for corporate-startup collaboration. It’s reasonable to expect there will be gaps in the intent and processes, related to cyber, scale, regulation compliance and delivery and support services, though these challenges are not insurmountable. The result may be large corporates pitching in open innovation forums with startups, as we have started to see the last three to four years.