Regions need an incubator boost
Omar Khalifa: More is focus needed on regional areas to improve startup success
Fed up with seeing all the attention from the government shine on urban-based accelerators and incubators, Wollongong University’s iAccelerate has teamed up with other regional incubators to figure out exactly how to broaden the local startup network.
iAccelerate chief executive Omar Khalifa said while it is positive to see all levels of government talk more about “innovation”, its unhelpful that the focus has only been on inner-city and CBD areas that don’t actually need the assistance.
“In the state of NSW, there has been so much talk about FinTech. But there are other things that need to be done first…and the financial sector should be able to sustain itself without large government help,” Mr Khalifa said.
“So why are we spending more effort in an area that seems to be pretty well served?”
“What we should be doing is reaching out to areas that are not well served and creating jobs and opportunities to those other areas.”
Mr Khalifa says there was initial hope the regional startup network could grow through the federal government’s Incubator Support Initiative, but it “misfired,” and has since relaunched with a different focus.
The initiative was first announced in 2015 under the National Innovation and Science Agenda as a $23 million program that would provide matching grants of between $10,000 and $500,000 over 12 to 24 months for the creation of new incubators, as well as existing incubators.
However, in May the government decided to scrap the initial idea for the program and refocus to target regional incubators and accelerators. While that should have been a win for accelerator hubs like iAccelerator, Mr Khalifa said regional incubators have all “struggled to figure out how to even tap into it”.
“It’s just frustrating that they haven’t done their homework to begin with, and it’s not clear how much longer it’s expected to take before it actually creates opportunities for regional incubation,” Mr Khalifa said.
“We know this because people are coming to us directly saying ‘Can you help us?”
“We need to create more regional centres that can be linked. It’s a whole different [way of] thinking, because that’s what regional areas need.”
It’s not all bad news though. “There are some good things, and there are some programs that are useful,” Mr Kahlifa said.
“But I believe there’s a whole lot more that can be done, and not with a lot more money frankly, but with more active interest and getting things going rather than just talking about programs that don’t really deliver much.”