Greater certainty needed for innovation funding

20/08/2009 - 00:00

COMPANY executives have called on the government to provide more certainty for public sector innovation funding.

Greater certainty needed for innovation funding

COMPANY executives have called on the government to provide more certainty for public sector innovation funding.

While all those at the WA Business News innovation forum spoke of the importance of government grants to early-stage companies, they also called on the government to provide a transparent view of its innovation funding intentions.

Most spoke of the need for solid, clear information regarding innovation funding following the cancellation of the federal government's Commercial Ready grant system last year.

Commercial Ready was a merit-based funds program that provided around $200 million each year to small-to-medium enterprises.

Sensear chief executive Justin Miller said he had previously been vocal in pushing for government support but was feeling scarred by the experience.

"The government has removed just about everything, and everybody has just got on with their business," he said.

Ipernica chief executive Graham Griffiths said it was the business community's responsibility to remain in front of the government, but the government needed to provide more certainty.

"The thing I hate is when they pull the plug on programs people have been planning for, and they have investors lined up. To me (there's a need for) consultation between business and government," Mr Griffiths told the forum.

"There are opportunities to be heard, we need to take those seriously and ultimately look for a government that supports innovation."

Antaria chairman Bruce Cameron was disappointed the Commercial Ready program had been scrapped.

"The ramifications of that will be felt in five to 10 years' time," he said.

Mr Cameron said he was not factoring any government support into his business plan.

Curtin University director of IP commercialisation Rohan McDougall said the recent introduction of the federal government' s research and development tax credit would more than replace Commercial Ready.

The initiative provides a tax rebate of 37.5 cents for every dollar spent on R&D for firms with turnover of less than $5 million.

"The R&D tax rebate is effectively a Commercial Ready grant for everyone, so you don't have to apply anymore, you just get almost 50 per cent of your money back that you spend on R&D," Mr McDougall said.

"There is also the Commonwealth Commercialisation Institute; they've announced $198 million that is specifically targeted at trying to generate innovative companies and transitioning technologies out of universities and other public research institutions to the commercial arena.

"They're trying to do things, I think that pulling the Commercial Ready program was a mistake, but they're trying to address it now."

Live Technologies director Roger Plumb said the grants were appreciated, but the implementation of the schemes left a lot to be desired.

"Those direct grants are relatively inefficient, you pay an adviser to help you apply for it, you pay an auditor to audit it, when it changes there's quite a lot of management time in changing your plans and communicating it back to the department, and for a small grant that actually eats away at it substantially," Mr Plumb said.

Mobilarm chief executive Lindsay Lyon said the government had a greater role to play in educating potential entrepreneurs in schools and tertiary institutions.

"You can teach someone to be an optometrist, a plumber or a sparky, then you go send them out and say 'go buy a van and start a business' and they wouldn't know what a cash flow looks like," he said.

"That's the issue for an early stage business, and entrepreneurism is the financial side of the business, yet that's not taught in any of the professional academic programs."

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