Serial entrepreneur turned TV star Mark Bouris said that when the Small Business Digital Taskforce hands its final report to government in February, it will only be the start of a process of convincing more small businesses to adopt digital technologies.
There is no cure-all to building out digital capability across hundreds of thousands of small businesses that work in different industries across the country.
“This might not be the final belts and braces, buts it get us to a point [where] hopefully we can start to build out the inventory of what the best outcomes are,” said Mr Bouris.
“Ultimately, it’s about enhancing businesses. The government recognises this is a big deal.”
The small business advocate, along with a team high-profile corporate advisors, were given just three months to gather data to understand why Australian businesses do not adopt technology as enthusiastically as other countries. The taskforce will run hackathons, workshops, and conduct a series of general questionnaires and surveys.
“What I hope is to gather a lot of good stories about where digital innovation and digital casts are being used by small businesses to improve their business, or their lifestyle around their business,” Mr Bouris said.
“What I’m then hoping to do is take those examples and real life stories to the small business owners who don’t use digital, and help them enhance their lives and businesses with those real life stories.”
While three months is not a whole lot of time, Mr Bouris applauded the Turnbull government for “having a crack” at trying to identify where the government should really be spending taxpayers’ money.
“The problem is you can’t just throw money at the problem. The government is basically being asked to invest. Like any investment, you’ve got to be really diligent in how you go about it,” he said.
“There are no guidelines at the moment that any government can adopt, and what this government is trying to do is build those guidelines. To do that, you need to start from the ground up, and the digitisation of small business and innovation in general is extraordinarily complex.
“I can easily be critical of the government too because I’m involved with business, but there’s no point because it’s not relevant to what you have to do en masse.
“It’s not a matter of throwing money at these sorts of things, especially if the people are uneducated themselves. The greater public, that is the small business community, are not adopting digital at the moment, so where are we throwing the money at? We don’t know.”
But it’s not just government that needs a nudge. Local venture capitalists and investors also need more incentive from the government to invest in local startups, and to help keep research and development in Australia, according to Mr Bouris.
He suggested investing in local R&D attractive needs to be more financially compelling, much like in the housing market where investors receive tax deductions through negative gearing, paying only 50 per cent of capital gains tax. This is massive when compared to the 20 per cent tax offset that is offered to early stage investors.
“If you put that same structure as what’s used in the housing market and put it across technology, you will get inundated with investors,” he said.
Mr Bouris, however, is reassured that the Australian VC community is starting to warm to investing locally. There just needs to be more of it.
“Good technology will always get exploited and funded. It doesn’t matter. There will always be someone willing to do it. It’s just in Australia we have too many alternatives where we don’t have to do it, that’s the issue.”