New chapter for state support

25/03/2021 - 13:00


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Tech startups are hoping the new state government will help develop, and fund, opportunities.

New chapter for state support
DIRECTION: Tom Goerke says the New Industries Fund has run its course.

To paraphrase John Lennon, another state election over, a new government just begun.

In terms of startups and the early-stage tech community, what have they done?

Probably the earliest political proponent of the local innovation sector was former deputy premier Mal Bryce, who passed away three years ago this month.

As economic development and technology minister in the 1980s, Dr Bryce established Technology Park, SciTech, and the Small Business Development Centre, among other accomplishments.

It is appropriate that Western Australia’s annual tech company of the year award is named in his honour, with recent winners HealthEngine and Nuheara worthy recipients.

Since Dr Bryce’s time, state government support for the local tech startup scene has been patchy.

While I understand the argument that government is not there to pick winners, the affairs of state are surely to repair matters where the market leaves gaps.

As has been mentioned many times, an enormous and widening gap exists in the funding market for local startups.

An appreciation of this point started to emerge at a governmental level recently, as well-backed overseas-owned tech giants such as Uber, Airbnb and others cut huge swaths through seemingly protected industries.

Not long after the Barnett government appointed Bill Marmion as innovation minister in 2016, a day-long innovation summit was held at the Pan Pacific.

Up to 200 innovators, startups and entrepreneurs were invited, with various obvious (and cost-effective) ideas discussed.

By the year’s end, an innovation strategy had been launched, which included an annual tech conference, promotion for the sector, and a sidecar fund to help back local startups.

However, within a few months the McGowan government was sworn in and rebranded the proposed spending as the $16.7 million New Industries Fund.

Tech Park has lost its funding, but Mark McGowan’s government has supported such things as the annual Innovator of the Year Awards, the WAITTA Incite Awards, and the Innovation Voucher Program (IVP).

Apart from occasional grants, the IVP is the only real chance local startups have had to apply for state money to help them commercialise.

While $20,000 is not a lot, and the applicant has to put up $5,000, it is better than nothing. Last year, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, 36 IVPs were handed out (a record).

Ten points

StartupWA is a not-for-profit, representative organisation that promotes the growing startup sector in WA. Before last weekend’s election, it proposed 10 ideas within four themes.

“We welcomed the $16.7 million New Industries Fund released in 2017,” StartupWA chair Tom Goerke told Business News.

“This fund has now run its course and StartupWA is excited to see what the state government will invest in the sector going forward.

“These 10 points were chosen as they provided the optimal priorities for diversifying the economy, creating new ways of government engaging with startups, promoting the sector and building new infrastructure.

“These will unlock the value that startups can bring to the WA economy.”

Digital economy jobs

• Create a government-led co-investment fund.

• Lead ongoing quantification and analysis of the economic impact of startups.

• Incentivise investment with government and industry in startups.

Government contracts for startups

• Develop and fund a government-led GovTech initiative to unlock solutions to government issues while creating new businesses in WA.

Promote the sector

• Promote entrepreneurship in high schools as a viable career option.

• Attract international talent to migrate and/or return to WA to create new startups and invest in the sector.

• Engage tourism agencies to promote WA’s combined attractions of lifestyle and innovation.

• Fund the role of state chief entrepreneur.

Building innovation infrastructure

• Partner with industry for an automation centre of excellence to showcase WA.

• Build a technology precinct enabling co-working spaces and laboratories.

That’s a pretty good list.

We will watch and see what happens.

• Charlie Gunningham is founder and principal of digital strategy advisory business Damburst


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