The right kind of government assistance could provide a timely fillip for WA’s startup and innovation community.
There is every reason to be optimistic about the prospects for the state’s startup/tech sector throughout 2018.
Local companies such as HealthEngine, under its CEO Marcus Tan, continue to grow at a furious rate; investor activity is trending up; new programs are being launched for entrepreneurs and digital businesses of all shapes and sizes; and industry is increasingly engaged in the opportunities of digital transformation, not just worrying about the threat of disruption.
Hardworking company founders, community volunteers and industry partners have led the vast majority of this activity. While opinions are mixed on the role of government in innovation, there is no doubt that we all have a shared interest in new business formation and ensuring the digital jobs of the future are created in Western Australia for many years to come.
Notwithstanding their much-lamented budget challenges, I believe there is one small, but significant, reform our political leaders should pursue immediately to send a strong cultural message about the crucial role that entrepreneurs play in support of this goal.
If I could add one resolution to Mark McGowan’s New Year’s list for 2018 it would be for the government to appoint a chief entrepreneur.
With the recently announced $16.7 million New Industries Fund and ongoing transformation of the public sector, it is more important than ever to appoint an internal champion to promote a more entrepreneurial culture throughout government departments, and advocate on behalf of the innovators, risk-takers and business builders across the state.
Peter Klinken was appointed chief scientist of WA in 2014. Creating this role was an important step for the then-Liberal government; it sent the clear message that science matters, it enables human progress and helps broaden our economy.
Reporting directly to the science minister, the chief scientist’s charter is to provide independent, external advice to the state government on the role of science and innovation in WA. A current example is the Stem advisory panel, which Professor Klinken chairs and is in the process of providing recommendations to ensure that science, technology, engineering and mathematics are embedded in the education system to provide those crucial problem-solving skills our children need to be equipped for the future.
Appointing a chief entrepreneur would complement this role.
As well as providing expertise to the government on the role of entrepreneurs in our increasingly digital economy, the chief entrepreneur could champion the cause of local startups and businesses in global markets, shouting from the rooftops about WA as a great place to live, work and launch innovative new ventures.
Entrepreneurs create jobs. In collaboration with scientists, researchers and investors, they take risks and strive to commercialise new ideas and inventions. Nothing is more important to creating new industries and jobs for WA.
Queensland recently announced Steve Baxter as its new chief entrepreneur, another positive initiative of that state’s $500 million-plus AdvanceQLD program.
The founder of one of Australia’s most important internet companies, now a prominent angel investor, star of Shark Tank and godfather of Brisbane’s bubbling startup community, Mr Baxter is charged with providing the kind of ‘frank and fearless’ advice that governments need if they want to make a serious dent in competitive global markets.
Who is our equivalent in WA?
The appointment of a chief entrepreneur would help showcase WA’s great innovations and businesses being developed in the co-working spaces, labs and factories statewide.
A chief entrepreneur could work hand-in-glove with those at the cutting edge of the tech sector.
This was the clear message delivered by panelists at last month’s West Tech Fest event.
Startup Muster CEO Monica Wulff issued a challenge to the startup community to take its story mainstream, to highlight the globally scaleable businesses being built and detail how they are going to benefit Australia in the long term.
“Change the narrative, tell your stories loudly and proudly,” she said.
On a similar note, Techboard co-founder Peter van Bruchem talked about the importance of sharing our stories and successes, however large or small, so as “to encourage and enable others to achieve what they might not otherwise have been able to achieve”.
Perhaps it is the tall poppy syndrome or maybe we just take the inventions that we hold in the palm of our hands for granted. That doesn’t need to be the case.
When you navigate from A to B using Google Maps, remember that it had its genesis in Sydney. When your smartphone connects to a WiFi network, remind yourself that wouldn’t have been possible without CSIRO’s research into radio waves and wireless patents.
Who knows what other globally significant innovations and businesses are under our nose? We can, and should, be shouting from the rooftops about them.
The cultural significance of state government appointing a chief entrepreneur to support and amplify this cannot be understated.