If it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it: This is the most important but absent principle when it comes to Australian government innovation policy.
With this principle in mind, it will be a tragedy for Australian startups if either the Accelerating Commercialization (AC) or the Business Research and Innovation Initiative (BRII) are harmed by the recent announcement that $197 million will be cut from the Entrepreneurs’ Program. .
The AC grant provides matched funding to startups of up to $1 million to help cover the costs of pre-revenue commercialization. At UNSW, we’ve seen the AC grant is critical to the survival of several startups – companies that have since raised significant venture capital using the customer evidence generated by an AC-funded project.
Australian innovation policy has fallen victim to a revolving door of ministers who have prioritized cutting ribbons on shiny new objects rather than supporting existing programmes.
The main impact of this revolving door has been the complete lack of policy consistency – urged earlier this year by the Australia Committee for Economic Development (CEDA) report on Using science and technology to drive Australian innovation and growth.
This report is a clear overview of how Australia has suffered from the lack of an impartial, long-term innovation policy agenda.
As the CEDA report points out, “the average time between the publication of academic research and its effects on productivity growth in the relevant industry is approximately 20 years. In the past 20 years, Australia has had eight elections, seven prime ministers and three changes of government. Nine ministers have been responsible for innovation in the last nine years… the lack of clarity and prioritization of these topics on the national agenda has contributed to a lack of leadership.”
Inconsistent policies create uncertainty – and uncertainty is poison to startups.
Contrary to the Australian approach, the US equivalent of the BRII program has survived seven presidential administrations.
The United States’ Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program has remained largely unchanged since its introduction in 1982, giving American startups the confidence to rely on it as a tool.
The Australian government’s lack of captaincy means that startups seeking support are constantly having to relearn how to navigate the bureaucratic maze between them and government funds.
Creating such a constantly shifting path for distributing money is not an efficient use of one’s time.
We need the government to embrace their leadership role and create a stable industrial policy.