The New South Wales government is offering $24 million in competitive grants to SMEs to solve the government’s own innovation challenges.
The program, which will run over the next two years, is the first key recommendation of an advisory council set up to accelerate research and development outcomes in the state.
The grants will be delivered through a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program under the state’s new R&D agency and chief scientist. The program gives SMEs a chance at over $1 million in grants and to land the state’s government agencies as customers.
SMEs can apply for up to $100,000 for a three-month feasibility study on their solutions to one of five SBIR challenges.
The challenges relate to regional connectivity, assisting vision impaired passengers to navigate public transport, recycling personal protective equipment, detecting and counting koala populations, and water purification.
Successful feasibility studies will then be able to apply for up to $1 million to develop a proof of concept over 15 months. Work on the solution will need to be done in the state but companies can also operate outside of New South Wales.
Under the third and final phase of the program, New South Wales government agencies will consider procuring the solution.
“Government has a large procurement dollar. We know that we can, through that dollar, get solutions for this program – innovative solutions,” New South Wales Parliamentary Secretary to the Premier Gabrielle Upton told InnovationAus.
“But we can also create market for product. [The SBIR program] shops at the beginning for innovative solutions that are not off the shelf, they have to be new and only and idea.”
Ms Upton, who is overseeing the state’s R&D push, said the new program essential takes an innovation solution through all stages from ideation to commercialisation.
The SBIR program is the first of five key recommendations of the Accelerating Research & Development in NSW Action Plan, which launched in January and is based on the findings of an R&D taskforce established in 2019.
“The Action Plan stressed the increasing need to be proactive in supporting and attracting new businesses, especially in future industries that will sustain economic growth, productivity and employment,” Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Tuesday.
The other recommendation from the plan to receive funding is an R&D “matchmaking” platform to connect research buyers and sellers, which received $2 million in last year’s budget and will soon be put to market.
The three remaining recommendations are to improve open data and data sharing by government agencies, establishing and supporting technology and research precincts like Sydney’s Tech Central, and targeting strategic support for New South Wales universities.
However, the remaining three recommendations may not receive discrete funding under the R&D acceleration plan because they work across government and are now business as usual, according to Ms Upton.
The R&D advisory council chaired by David Gonski will continue and is expected to meet again this month.
“The impact of COVID-19 on economic growth and job creation makes the task to commercialise more R&D an urgent one,” Mr Gonski said.
“Rapidly translating ideas into new products and services will be integral to our recovery from the pandemic.”