Denham Sadler
September 7, 2017

LaunchVic changes at the edges

StartupLand

LaunchVic changes at the edges

Troubled times: The minister is facing mounting pressure over the performance of the LaunchVic grants body

LaunchVic has confirmed a series of minor changes following the recent 500 Startups debacle, but the same assessment process that saw the controversy-plagued US company receive a now-retracted $3 million grant is still in place.

After terminating its contract with 500 Startups last month following the resignation of its local head, LaunchVic chief executive Kate Cornick pledged to review the body’s processes and operations.

“We’ll certainly be undertaking a review of the processes we take and we will be asking recipients about their company culture as part of the assessment process,” Dr Cornick told InnovationAus.com last month.

The results of this review are a few small changes to the application process, while the assessment and review processes remains the same as when LaunchVic was first founded at the start of last year to oversee the disbursement of the state’s $60 million innovation fund.

LaunchVic has announced the recipients of one funding round – it’s third in total – since the 500 Startups controversy, and has opened two others that will close by the end of the year.

Changes to these funding rounds centre on the application process and transparency of the reviews process, a LaunchVic spokesperson said.

“We continually seek to improve our processes following our grant rounds. For our round 3 application process we introduced an online application and assessment tool. We also introduced a pitch day for shortlisted applicants. For round 4 we have introduced more information on the assessment and selection process online for potential applicants,” the spokesperson told InnovationAus.com.

The only changes following the 500 Startups controversy involve the organisation asking for additional information from applicants regarding any bullying and harassment claims, and an obligation for any of these complaints to be disclosed to LaunchVic on an ongoing basis.

But the actual process where the grant applications are assessed and due diligence is conducted has remained the same since LaunchVic began.

The final, binary yes/no decision about whether an application is successful or not is retained by Innovation minister Philip Dalidakis.

According to both LaunchVic and Mr Dalidakis, eligible applications are assessed by a panel made up of two LaunchVic staff and a representative from the Department of Economic Development, along with a subcommittee from LaunchVic’s five-person board.

Once a shortlist is created, due diligence is undertaken by LaunchVic and the Department, which conducts a financial risk assessment. Following this, the grants committee then makes its final recommendations for funding to the LaunchVic board, which has the “final say”.

This list is then passed on to Minister Dalidakis, who has the power to either endorse, question or decline an application.

This process has been the same across all of LaunchVic’s funding rounds since it was founded early last year, Mr Dalidakis said.

“The process has not change, not now and not since LaunchVic was formed. LaunchVic receives applications and then assesses said applications against their criteria. The board then makes recommendations to me which I endorse or potentially question or reject,” Mr Dalidakis told InnovationAus.com.

LaunchVic has now dished out just under $10 million in grants across three funding rounds out of its allotted $60 million across four years. The organisation still has $50 million to deploy in the next two and a half years.

The organisation is still without a permanent chairperson after the resignation of former Australian Post CEO Ahmed Fahour in February.

The government opened up for applications nearly seven months ago but is still yet to choose a replacement. Board member and MIrvac director Elana Rubin serving as interim chair in the meantime.

“An exhaustive process has been undertaken to ensure the next permanent LaunchVic chairperson is the right choice. I look forward to making an announcement in the near future. Due to Elana’s outstanding leadership, the decision to appoint a new chairperson has not had to be rushed,” Mr Dalidakis told InnovationAus.com three weeks ago.

While its review process has remained the same, there has been some big changes internally for LaunchVic, with most of the organisation’s board members resigning this year.

The Victorian government initially unveiled an 11-person board for LaunchVic in February. Now, less than two years later, only three of these remain: Cisco Systems Australia corporate and government affairs director Tim Fawcett, Penso CEO Con Frantzeskos and interim chair Ms Rubin.

The other members of the LaunchVic board have quietly resigned over the course of this year. While the organisation’s board is no longer made public on its website, documents filed with ASIC show that the other eight inaugural board members have since resigned.

This was the result of a review conducted by the Victorian government of the LaunchVic board, Mr Dalidakis said, which found that its size should be reduced to “bring it into line with other similar government business entities”.

LaunchVic’s current board is made up of the three remaining inaugural members along with NAB executive general manager Anne Bennett and Jetstar chief commercial officer Catriona Larritt.

The LaunchVic board members serve on a voluntary basis, and are not paid for their time.

The Victorian Auditor-General will also be releasing an “audit opinion” on LaunchVic next month as part of its standard annual auditing of state-controlled entities.

“This is a standard audit as part of the Attorney-General’s regular duties. LaunchVic is assisting the AG’s office as required,” the LaunchVic spokesperson said.

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