18/09/2015 - 13:07

Connecting innovators with the big end of town

18/09/2015 - 13:07

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Australia's recent poor record in commercialising innovation received a boost late last year with the revival of the federal government’s Accelerating Commercialisation program.

COMMERCIAL TARGETS: Patrick Mooney (third from left) with business development specialists John Johnston (left) and Karen Dado, and WA advisers Allan Aaron (far right), Peter Clarke (second from right) and Sheryl Frame. Photo: Attila Csaszar

Australia's recent poor record in commercialising innovation received a boost late last year with the revival of the federal government’s Accelerating Commercialisation program.

Australia came 17th in the Global Innovation Index last year, with Switzerland, the UK, and Sweden occupying the top three positions. This represented a modest improvement for Australia on the 2013 result (19th), but highlights how far the nation has to go to compete on the world stage. The rankings for 2015 will be announced later this month.

Under Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who backs innovation, the Entrepreneur’s Program (of which Accelerating Commercialisation is part) may gain higher prominence.

According to Accelerating Commercialisation director Patrick Mooney, the program has a strategic funding model to improve Australia’s performance in this area.

“Our mandate is to address the innovation commercialisation gap in Australia,” Mr Mooney told Business News on a recent visit to Perth.

“We have a very poor rating globally in converting IP into successful businesses, so that’s what (the program) is designed to fix.”

The program does not only hand out matching funds (every dollar invested has to have another dollar raised by the company) but through its ‘expert network’ of 360 mentors, investors and corporates work with its 26 department advisers (three of whom work with companies in Western Australia).

“Our advisers have all come out of the tech sector, and aim to be catalysts,” Mr Mooney said.

“It’s a very competitive program. They act like a cross between a non-executive director and a venture capitalist, and work closely with the companies concerned.

“The new bit (of the program) is to help with business development and forge strategic relationships with large corporates; we can present a pipeline of companies that may be interesting to them.

“These corporates might become clients of these companies, or channel partners, or investors.”

This new component of the part of the Accelerating Commercialisation program has yet to be taken up by businesses in WA, although meetings were being held earlier this week with at least three large companies.

The program and its forerunner, Commercialisation Australia, have funded 74 WA companies over the past five years. So far this year, there have been two rounds of announced funding, with two WA companies benefitting – Tap into Safety and One Atmosphere. More rounds are in the works, which have yet to be announced, but do provide funding for more WA businesses.

“We can’t fund every SME that comes to us,” Mr Mooney said.

“We have to see a high level of technical innovation and potential to scale. We work with companies at the ‘valley of death’ stage – we’re the angels that try to fly them across, perhaps.

“We have to see a working prototype that is reasonably close to a commercial offering. We don’t fund research, there are other schemes like the R&D tax rebate for that; our focus is commercial risk, not technical risk.”

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