Start-up incentives, open data and STEM investment feature in innovation agenda

Malcolm Turnbull

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has unveiled the National Innovation and Science Agenda this week, with investments worth $1.1 billion aimed at addressing key areas of weakness in the Australian economy around innovation and entrepreneurship.

“Australia is falling behind on measures of commercialisation and collaboration, consistently ranking last or second last among OECD countries for business-research collaboration. Our appetite for risk is lower than in comparable countries, which means Australian start-ups and early stage businesses often fail to attract capital to grow. And participation in science, maths and computing at high school is declining,” said Turnbull.

Among the initiatives proposed are the creation of a new Digital Marketplace to make it easier for startups and small and medium businesses to sell to and work with government, expected to cost $15 million; the establishment of a $30 million industry-led Cyber Security Growth Centre, tasked with developing a national cyber security strategy and coordinating research in this area; and the release of a Public Data Policy Statement to formalise the Government’s commitment to open data and data-driven innovation.

Government agencies will now be required to make “appropriate data” openly available by default in machine readable and anonymised form through data.gov.au, with the first dataset to be opened up for access to be PSMA Australia’s Geocoded National Address File, and its Administrative Boundaries datasets.

Minister for Industry, Innovation, and Science, the Hon. Christopher Pyne, announced a $36 million Global Innovation Strategy, which would support businesses and researchers to collaborate with global counterparts on research, with “landing pads” to be established for Australian entrepreneurs and startups in Tel Aviv, Silicon Valley, and three other key locations.

Tax breaks will also be provided to encourage private sector investment in early stage companies, providing crucial access to capital for growth.

To address the skills gap in the future, a $99 million investment in programs to boost digital literacy and skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) amongst young Australians, as well as $13 million to increase opportunities for women in research, STEM industries, startups and entrepreneurial firms.

In response to the announcement, SAP Australia and New Zealand president and managing director, John Ruthven, welcomed the Government’s focus on innovation and the measures it has announced.

He agreed investment and incentives for start-ups are key to driving innovation, creating jobs and spurring growth.

“The tax reforms announced for the benefit of entrepreneurs, start-ups and small and medium-sized businesses are essential for job creation, talent retention and growth,” Ruthven said. “Companies such as SAP have an important role to play in enabling successful start-ups in Australia, and working across our networks of local technology partners to accelerate this push.”

Ruthven also sees the focus on talent and skills as critical to the success of the Government’s innovation agenda.

“There is a paradox within Australian society – while youth unemployment rises, so does demand for ICT skills. As technology’s influence across all walks of life continues to grow, it’s become critical that we work to address our nation’s ICT skills shortage.”

However, Ruthven also believes business of all sizes, across all industries, have a role to play in facilitating growth in all areas of the economy.

“It’s not just the start-up community that should be encouraged by the important measures proposed in today’s statement. To realise the Australian ideas boom, stronger collaboration between business, research, academia and government is essential. This collaboration will ensure we develop the talent to inspire the ideas, and the partnerships to commercialise them,” he said.

“The disruption of whole industries is very real. It’s time to establish an economy based on innovation, so that Australia leads this disruption and no longer only reacts to it.”

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