James Riley
December 7, 2018

Better data leads to better outcomes

Crossroads

Better data leads to better outcomes

Big Picture: Better and more timely access to data will lead to better outcomes for everyone

The StartupAus 2018 Crossroads report makes ten recommendations for policy changes that would help make Australia one of the best places in the world to build and grow a startup.

It is not an exhaustive list of policy ideas. It is not a wish-list, it is a pragmatic list.

Each of the policy recommendations had been mapped against two questions: Is this going to have a big impact? [And] is it feasible?

And you can see how these two questions influenced where StartupAus chose to put its influence in 2018. It is especially interesting – as chief executive Alex McCauley notes in the report – in the way the ‘feasibility’ issue has influenced its approach to the R&D tax incentive (you can read more here).

The recommendations are outlined below. Any list of ten policy recommendations in a horizontal industry like tech is always going to provoke discussion about what was left out. For me, it would have been great to see something specific addressing student entrepreneurship and university-based research. Or something that specifically address international students.

But you can’t have everything in this life. The point is you should go and read the recommendations and the expanded rationale behind each. And get involved in these policy discussions. You should advocate your position, and be loud doing it.

The recommendation that jumped out for me was about eco-system data. StartupAus wants to increase access to public data sets, and to fund strategically coordinated, large-scale data collection efforts.

This is a very good idea and could be immensely valuable, not only to policy-makers and industry assistance program delivery executives – but as Crossroads notes – to investors as well. While StartupAus favours funding an outside organisation to manage the data collection and maintenance of the database (ideally near real-time), I would argue this should be done by government.

If the collection of data to inform policy and program delivery is not a core skill inside government, then you might have to wonder what the core skills in government are.

The reality is that governments and their agencies already collect and maintain large data sets that could contribute immensely to a better understanding of the shape of the industry, but which are either difficult to access or expensive.

An obvious source is within the Australian Investment and Securities Commission (ASIC) and StartupAus has joined the chorus of calls for the publicly available data held by ASIC to be available for free – allowing it to be put to productive use.

The collection of data and the measurement of the ecosystem needs more attention. This is not just to enable the better allocation of resources by governments, but also the better allocation of resources across the entire system.

A national data collection based on agreed definitions and sub-definitions would help avoid the unfortunate situation earlier this year, where the Startup Muster national report estimated that there were 1,461 startup companies across Australia, but an equally well-regarded survey by Victoria’s LaunchVic found more than 2,700 startups in Victoria alone.

The contradictory results diminished the impact and credibility of both surveys and sent conflicting signals both to government and the community.

Better measurement of the system is critical. I have argued that companies that are beneficiaries of government industry assistance programs – whether it is from the R&D Tax Incentive scheme, or an Export Market Development Grant or money from Accelerating Commercialisation – should have a mandatory obligation to provide an agreed set of simple data points to government over an agreed period of time.

This should enable governments and the industry to get a more complete and detailed understanding of the effectiveness of the many industry assistance programs on offer.

The Crossroads report is very well put together. It's very readable. Its tone couches realistic optimism against genuine challenges (which is more difficult than it sounds.)

StartupAus Crossroads 2018 Recommendations

  1. Amend the R&D tax incentive to more clearly support software claims
  2. Introduce copyright safe harbour protections for technology companies
  3. Improve speed and certainty for startups under the Export Market Development Grant
  4. Make targeted amendments to legislation affecting Employee Share Schemes
  5. Broaden the early stage innovation company tax incentives
  6. Increase access to public data sets and fund strategically-coordinated, large-scale data collection efforts
  7. Develop and fund a national entrepreneurship academy
  8. Improve Australia’s entrepreneur visa to make it more competitive
  9. Introduce a collaboration incentive for corporates to invest in startup programs
  10. Invest in an Innovation Ambassador tasked with attracting cutting-edge R&D projects from global tech firms
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