Just weeks into Kate Cornick’s tenure as CEO of LaunchVic, the independent government body is readying to move offices.
It’s a symbolic move as much as a logistical one, taking the organisation away from the Victorian Government offices and into its own space, further consolidating the agency’s independence and community-orientated focus.
LaunchVic, officially created late last year to oversee the deployment of the state’s $60 million innovation fund, is positioning itself as an active member of the startup and innovation community.
Its self-image is as a startup, rather than a traditional government body.
This is a key goal of Ms Cornick’s first few months in the top job, she tells InnovationAus.com.
“It’s a great vision from the Victorian Government to set up a company that reflects the ecosystem and that is innovative,” Ms Cornick says.
“That allows us to be a little more nimble than government, and it’s a really visionary move by government to facilitate that. LaunchVic has been set up to replicate the ecosystem that it is representing,” she said.
“The sector is moving very quickly, is dynamic and has exciting opportunity, and LaunchVic really reflects that. It’s a really great policy that the government has helped put in place, to help facilitate the growth of the sector.”
And she wants to make the company stand out as being much more than just the funding arm of the innovation department.
“We certainly like to think of LaunchVic as being far more than a funding body,” she says. “It’s about supporting and increasing the impact of the ecosystem. There’s a lot of exciting things we can do and are doing, rather than just being a funding body.”
But forming an independent organisation to work alongside government brings with it the many typical challenges faced by a fledgling young startup.
“We’re a startup ourselves and we’ve been doing a lot of the things that startups battle with, like building teams, hiring staff and getting backend office operations in order,” Ms Cornick says.
Ms Cornick was announced as the new CEO in August this year, replacing interim leader Pradeep Philip, who served as CEO since the organisation’s inception. She has enjoyed a diverse and far-reaching career, dipping into the worlds of academic, public service and entrepreneurship.
Her most recent role was as managing director of publicly-listed software startup Rision, and worked as the general manager of Industry engagement and innovation at the University of Melbourne.
No stranger to working in government, Ms Cornick has also served as the deputy chief of staff to Stephen Conroy from May 2007 to October 2009, and was also the general manager of enterprise and strategy for NBN Co in 2013.
She shares this in common with her boss, Victorian Innovation Minister Philip Dalidakis, who served as deputy chief of staff to Senator Conroy from January 2011 to May 2012.
Ms Cornick has also served as general manager for the Centre of Energy Efficient Telecommunications and as the Executive Director of the Institute for a Broadband-Enabled Society at the University of Melbourne.
“For me, it brings together my rather interesting career,” she says. “I feel very lucky to be taking on this role. It’s not often you get an opportunity to make a big difference, and hopefully we will.”
After officially taking over a few weeks ago, Ms Cornick has begun to work closely with the 18 project groups that received a total of $6.5 million in funding as part of LaunchVic’s first round of grants. The organisation is also currently assessing 300 applications for the second round of grants, which are expected to be announced early next year.
“We’re going through a very lengthy and interesting process of reviewing them,” she says. “There have been some really outstanding ideas and applications submitted.
“Our challenge is to shortlist those and make sure we’re investing in helping our state to be a leading ecosystem.”
LaunchVic’s stated aim is to make the state the “destination of choice for startups worldwide,” and is deliberately focusing on projects that will help grow the ecosystem, rather than individual startups.
To transform the local ecosystem into a world-class innovation hub will require a whole range of new initiatives and efforts, starting first and foremost with a change in culture, Ms Cornick says.
“I think we are world class, but there are some things we can do to make ourselves really stand out as a leading hub of innovation around the world,” she says.
This includes overcoming Australia’s much-discussed tall poppy syndrome.
“We do have a lot of successful startup companies, but Australia is not very good at celebrating that and talking about that,” she says.
Ms Cornick also points to a number of “market failures” that need to be addressed in order to let local tech companies and startups flourish on the world stage.
“There’s a lack of ability to commercialise research. We have one of the best research sectors in the world but we’re unable to commercialise that. That’s something that all outstanding ecosystems in the world have – fantastic research and deep expertise,” she says.
Australia’s corporate sector also needs to learn to embrace the local innovation ecosystem and readdress its procurement policies.
“There’s a lot we could do with corporate Australia, which has quite a conservative culture,” she says. “I’d like to see more corporates being comfortable procuring from startup companies. We need to be drawing on our key strengths.”
“An ecosystem is founded on collaboration, support, mentorship, growth and networks, and we need to be facilitating that.”
Ms Cornick’s first real movement within LaunchVic will be an extensive consultation period early next year to identify key factors that the community think the government needs to act on, which will then “drive” LaunchVic’s long-term tactics.
“We want to really figure out where we should be focusing and make sure we’re spending and investing in the biggest and brightest ideas that are really going to set Melbourne and Victoria apart,” Ms Cornick says.
“We’re doing some work to think about what the challenges are and how we as an organisation can address them and make the biggest difference to the ecosystem in the next few years.
“I want to really amplify the fact that Victoria is a world-class ecosystem and is attracting the very best talent.”