Entrepreneur Programme gets $110m revamp

James Riley
Editorial Director

In a massive revamp of its flagship Entrepreneurs Programme, the Industry department has awarded four tender contracts worth a combined $110 million for delivering the program’s commercial outcomes.

The contracts included $31.9 million to Deloitte Consulting; $31.9 million to the industrial lobby Australian Industry Group; and $30.3 million to a small Victorian commercialisation consultant i4 Connect – each providing business facilitation and advice services for the different parts of the Entrepreneurs Programme.

The CSIRO was awarded a further contract worth $17 million to provide consulting and facilitation services around building better linkages between industry and the Australian research community.

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The three-year contracts are understood to map to the existing four pillars of the Entrepreneurs Programme of Business Management, Innovation Connections, Accelerating Commercialisation, and Incubator Support.

Under the new arrangements, it is understood Deloitte will manage the Business Management pillar of the program, CSIRO will manage Innovation Connections, i4 Connect will manage the non-grant making parts of Accelerating Commercialisation, and the Australian Industry Group will manage the Incubator Support components.

The Industry department did not respond to queries on Wednesday. It is not clear how much the core focus of the program will change, or if it will be rebranded, but the new arrangements effectively outsource the management of parts of the program that had previously directed from within the department.

The four contracts awarded this week commence on July 1.

The Entrepreneurs Programme was announced as part of the 2014-15 budget as part of a Tony Abbott-era rewrite of industry policy and confirmed as a part of the December 2015 National Innovation and Science Agenda when Malcolm Turnbull was Prime Minister.

The new contracts awarded to manage the scheme represent the first time government has tested the market for providers since the Entrepreneurs Programme was launched.

Former Accelerating Commercialisation director Larry Lopez left the department in January. The curation and administration of the national network of AC commercialisation advisers has been outsourced to i4 Connect.

I4 Connect managing director Norm Jenkins said the company currently had just three employees in the business, but by the time it is fully operational on July 1 expects to have 28 employees.

“We’re a new company with a very old soul,” Mr Jenkins told InnovationAus. “Of those three people, we have been involved in 100 startups. We’re founders and mentors. We’ve had the tough times and we’ve got the scars.”

Mr Jenkins said i4 Connect would revamp the Commercialisation Australia roster of business advisers. While there was “incredible skills and capability” among the current network of advisers, he said this was an opportunity for a fresh approach.

Mr Jenkins committed i4 Connect to building a much greater diversity of advisers into the national roster – with a much greater diversity of age, gender, culture and industry background among the team he is putting together.

I4 Connect has written to existing Accelerating Commercialisation advisers asking that they apply for the roles but has also committed that the company would test the market and add new diversity.

Mr Jenkins, who has a defence force background, said the Accelerating Commercialisation program had been an “incredibly successful” part of the Entrepreneurs Programme and praised the work of the i4 Connect predecessors.

The program has allocated about $200 million in matching industry grants in the past five years to more than 400 businesses, generating billions of dollars in new commercial value.

Mr Jenkins said the AC program’s new structure would enable a greater degree of agility “out in the field”. When the AC advisers had previously been managed directly by the department, they would now operate under i4 Connect, giving the outfit a greater degree of control and flexibility.

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