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Charlie Bass says his desire to be involved in philanthropic initiatives formed in the early 2000s. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira

Bass highlights WA growth opportunities

Mining and technology entrepreneur Charlie Bass has flagged six industries, including medicine, agriculture and the arts, that offer Western Australia the opportunity to forge a more sustainable economy.

Mr Bass, who founded and chairs the Centre for Entrepreneurial Research and Innovation (Ceri) in Nedlands, told a Business News Success & Leadership breakfast this morning he believes these sectors can help lead the state's transition from a reliance on the resources industry.

“These are industries that are high-knowledge, high-value and export-oriented, that stay here (and) aren’t designed to go ‘how do we make a billion dollars or sell out here’, that stay and drive our economy well in to the future,” Mr Bass said.

“And the industry isn’t one company, we need to develop it.

“The medical side is certainly one that stands out to me; we’ve got agriculture, we’ve got power, aquaculture, we’ve got the cyber centre up at Joondalup.”

Mr Bass also highlighted the importance of the local arts industry.

“We have the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, which is unique in the world because it’s not just actors and musicians, it's staging and lighting, and nobody else is doing this and they create amazing things there,” Mr Bass said.

“Yet we don’t see anything coming out of it.

“We have nanotechnology here that’s as good as anywhere, and little bits are coming out, but not industry-scale things; it’ll happen.

“The young ones – they’re more doing apps, they’re more doing software.

“It’s a different direction to what my vision is.”

Philanthropy

Ceri provides local researchers with mentors, business advice and potential investors.

The organisation was set up in 2015, however, Mr Bass said his desire to be involved in philanthropic initiatives emerged in the early 2000s.

“As a family we realised education is the greatest gift you can give,” he said.

“Small towns don’t have the advantages we have, and the kids don’t have the advantages we have.

“So we’ve got to break that cycle that happens out there.”

One of Mr Bass’s philanthropic projects has been his involvement with an indigenous education program at Wesley College.

“They bring kids in from all over WA, and they give them pride in themselves,” Mr Bass told the forum.

“They’re graduating and they’re going to universities, they’re really changing things.

“When they go back to their communities, they’re telling the other kids ‘you’ve got to get an education’.”

Mr Bass said his focus within philanthropy had been to provide long-term funding.

“The desire was always to give, but to give not as a once-off,” he said

“To be able to make a long-term commitment ... you want to be able to make sure there is enough there for five years.”

Mr Bass said there were a number of dimensions that motivated him when he established Ceri.

“One was thinking about the education for disadvantaged kids; I thought 'what’s education at the other end of the spectrum?',” he said.

“The other was all these boom, busts and especially that places like WA suffer.

“It doesn’t matter what colour of government we have, we keep depending on our iron ore and oil and gas.

“And it’s not going to be there forever and I reckon probably within two generations that iron ore and oil and gas, we can’t live off.

“We’ve got to be able to build new industries.

“So I looked around and I thought 'well, what do we have here?'

“Well, we have a lot of smart people and we have amazing research facilities that are equal of any in the world.”

Mr Bass was critical of the current relationship between the state government and entrepreneurship.

“The sad thing out here (WA), is the short termism,” he said.

“The Queensland government has put in something like $500 million into their entrepreneurship and innovation sector, and we put in $20 million; it’s pretty sad.

“The system is broke; as an outsider working very closely with our universities and research institutes, you can see.

“There are better ways than the way we’ve been doing it.”    

Mining

Throughout his career, Mr Bass has been heavily involved in the resources industry, originally working for US mining company Amax, which sent him to Australia in the 1970s.

He then established mining software company Metech in 1980 in Perth, which he said gave him an insight into the mechanics of junior and mid-sized mining companies in WA.

While working at Metech, Mr Bass formed a friendship with Tony Poli, who would go on to become his business partner.

The pair set up gold miner Eagle Mining and later iron ore-focused Aquila Resources, with both companies sold at opportune times.

Eagle was subject to a hostile takeover in the early 1990s, with the gold price collapsing soon after the acquisition.

Aquila was sold for $1.4 billion in 2014 following a hostile takeover bid, with the state’s iron ore expansion boom coming to an end soon after.

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