Landing Pads: a startup shoestring

Austrade is firmly in charge of the five ‘landing pads’ that have been a centre of attention in Malcolm Turnbull’s National Innovation and Science Agenda.

But government has so far provided scant detail about the agenda roll-out, despite confirming that $28 million will spent on an advertising campaign propagating the so-called Ideas Boom.

Yet Austrade has received just $11.2 million, to deliver three elements of this agenda including the establishment of five landing pads in “global innovation hotspots” to provide Australian emerging companies accelerated access to global opportunities.

The question worth asking is why three times as much as being spent on advertising a (so far) thin program, as on the more concrete efforts to help Australian companies get established in export markets.

The spending priority seems a bit upside down, don’t you think?

So far three ‘landing pads’ have been announced: in San Francisco, Tel Aviv and Shanghai. An Austrade spokesman told this week that the final two locations are to be announced “shortly.”

For the record, is betting on London and Singapore as the final nominations. London is one of the world’s Fintech hubs (this government’s latest tech obsession) alongside the major finance hubs of New York and Singapore.

Both London and Singapore are in countries with sound legal systems, which goes to the important issue of intellectual property protection – probably the biggest single concern with the choice of Shanghai.

It is also possible – of course – that the second Asia landing pad might at one of the Austrade locations in India. But government has played it safe in selected the others, so we think Singapore is the frontrunner.

Applications are now open for the San Francisco Landing Pad (yes, you need to apply) with the first intake commencing on April. Information is available can be found here:

So what, exactly are landing pads?

Austrade said that they will be bases using co-working spaces to provide “market-ready startups with a short-term operational base, usually within an established co-working space. This is to assist them in their commercialisation efforts to develop market penetration for sustainable high-growth and high-return on a global scale.”

The plan is that the landing pad provide a short-term base – for a maximum of 90 days – to “access customers, entrepreneurial talent, mentors, investors and a wider-connected network of innovation hubs.”

Austrade will partner with workspace communities to offer Australian startups deskspace and infrastructure, business networks and marketing support.

Already one has co-working space been announced – RocketSpace, in San Francisco – in typically “hip” tech language.

“The RocketSpace neighbourhood is populated with startups, technology investors and established companies, all of which combine to provide a rich environment of skills and talent for Australian companies to draw from. Notable alumni of RocketSpace include Spotify, Uber and Zappos,” Austrade said.

Each city will have an Austrade “Landing Pad coordinator” to provide advice on identifying customers; accessing angel investors, venture capitalists and other potential sources of investment; and leveraging networks to meet with peers and influencers.

Not any old Australian tech business can just show up and expect the red carpet.

Austrade said that businesses will be assessed based on track record; ability to scale and by what makes the products or services they offer stand out for the crowd.

The selection process has not been settled, and selection commote

“Austrade is due to finalise the assessment process soon. Panel members have yet to be determined,” was Austrade’s response late Friday despite applications already being open for San Francisco.

And don’t expect the government to pay for much. Advertising, about the “Ideas Boom” after all, is far more important than actually funding it. Outside of the deskspace and access to networks, the startups are on their own.

The other elements that Austrade will be responsible for in the innovation strategy will be an annual in-bound “innovation forum” to “encourage international market experts, entrepreneurial talent and investors into Australia.”

Now this piece is critical, if it works. While there has been plenty of interest from US-based venture capitalists in Australia in recent years spurred in by such successes as Freelancer and Atlassian there are few signs of any money coming from Asia, in particular.

Make no mistake, this is a big test for Austrade, which is a group focused in the US largely on investment into Australian property and corporations.

It is not known in the Asia Pacific region for any particular skills in the innovation and technology sector. And so far it seems all the dots have not yet been joined,

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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