Since being appointed as the Innovation Minister in 2015 in the Palaszczuk Government, Leeanne Enoch has been full steam ahead in driving the Advance Queensland initiative, designed to grow the state’s entrepreneur community.
The proof that Ms Enoch’s hard work is paying off is based on the fact that Queensland is now home to more Australian startups than Victoria, accounting for roughly 19 per cent of the country’s total – with more than half of that based in regional Queensland.
“That means there are about 10 per cent of all startups in Australia located in regional Queensland, and that’s down to the fact that ‘we’ve set the table’ in a way,” she said.
She believes what sparked the state government’s push was when Professor Josh Lerner from Harvard Business School carried out research on innovation that identified that “It’s the government’s job to set the table, not make the dinner”.
Ms Enoch said Lerner’s statement resonated with her, and has since used it as the foundation for how she has approached her work in trying to create an environment where “collaboration is valued” and “great ideas are commercialised”.
“We’ve taken a very co-design approach where you’ve got industry, government and research all working together in creating the environment that is needed to really support startups,” she said.
A lot of the work that Ms Enoch has spearheaded has been made possible thanks to the $422 million whole-of-government commitment the Queensland Government has made as part of the Advance Queensland initiative.
The funding has been invested in projects including:
Testing Within Government: Known as TWiG for short, it provides funding to SMEs to test and refine their products by working with departments within Queensland government
Advancing Small Business Queensland Strategy: Under this $22.7 million initiative, the state government recently announced it was providing $10,000 in matched funding to help small businesses in Mackay boost their technology capabilities.
Hot DesQ: Designed to relocate interstate and international startups to Queensland
The Precinct: A 5000-square metre co-working space located in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley that is home to the likes of incubators and startups such as River City Labs and the CSIRO’s Data 61
Aside from granting startups financial help, the former high school teacher has also put her focus on addressing the issue of diversity in the technology sector from both a gender and culture point of view.
“We’ve recognised almost immediately because of the pace of change we have to make sure we bring all parts of society with us,” she said.
“There is the potential in the next five years for marginalised group to be even further marginalised because of the pace of change. We have to be deliberate in ensuring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, women, and other marginalised group in this sector are brought along.”
There are already a number of programs underway to encourage Indigenous Australians to join the state’s growing Silicon Valley-like ecosystem, such as the STEM.I.AM program that encourages Indigenous students to embrace coding and robotics.
The plan is to be digitally inclusive of other age groups, too, Ms Enoch said. “That’s why we’ve invested in programs like Tech Savvy Seniors to have our older citizens engaged in the digital economy, so they can keep pace with what’s going on in the world.”
Although the state government’s efforts to create a community of entrepreneurs among Queenslanders have not happened alone, with Ms Enoch acknowledging that local governments have helped facilitate interest among communities.
“I am absolutely blown away by local council’s right across Queensland. They are really understanding and embracing how important innovation is,” she said.
Despite the combined efforts, Ms Enoch acknowledges there are some still challenges. One of these was identified last week by the Queensland Chamber of Commerce’s 2017 Red Tape Survey that showed regulatory requirements prevented 48 percent of respondents from making changes to growing their business in Queensland.
According to Ms Enoch, the state government’s Red Tape Reduction Advisory Council is already working towards reducing the compliance burden for businesses.
Another challenge Ms Enoch points to is the lack of digital infrastructure that is being delivered by the federal government.
“We need to be digitally connected in the world to be able to prosper in this investment, and the NBN has been an absolute debacle,” she said.
“Digital infrastructure is as important as roads and rail. We are being let down in terms of digital infrastructure…we can’t just wait for the federal government anymore to do their job.
“We need to remind them it is their job to deliver it for us. It’s very disappointing.”
While Ms Enoch points out that there are obviously still some way to go, the inroads that have been made so far has been done so at an “absolutely cracking pace”. She boasted that more than 1600 innovators have been supported through Advance Queensland and 4,800 new jobs have been created in the state to date.
“For our state to not just keep pace but get ahead of the pack, we have got to diversify our economy; that’s essential.
“In diversifying, it’s about creating the right environment to support startups in the state – something we already know has the potential to contribute over $100 billion to Australia’s GDP and then potentially create over half a million new jobs by 2023. This is why we have absolutely made Advanced Queensland the flagship policy in this state.
“We recognise it’s important and that we need to be supporting innovation, not just in our current industry – which of course is critical – but also into the new ideas, so that we get our fair share of industries and new jobs into the future.
“It’s a driving force behind why we’re investing so much resources and energy in there.”