‘Positive’ WA innovation strategy awaits funding

Brandon How

Western Australia’s 10-year innovation strategy has been welcomed by local tech and startup groups, but work remains to ensure it is backed by sufficient funding and supporting initiatives in next year’s state Budget.

The strategy was applauded as an important step in focusing ongoing initiatives and realigning the state’s innovation ecosystem. Local tech companies now eagerly await the Budget, expected in May 2023, for further detail on supporting initiatives and additional funding.

The state government’s approach to supporting industry strategies is not without precedent; the Health and Medical Life Sciences Industry Strategy was launched by the state government without additional funding in October 2021, before $8.65 million was committed in the 2022-23 budget.

The strategy was launched by Innovation and Digital Economy minister Stephen Dawson at the opening of the government funded West Tech Fest, a four-day tech industry conference led by Curtin University last week.

Minister for Innovation and ICT Stephen Dawson launching the Western Australian government’s innovation strategy. Image: Lewis Williamson

The five 10-year goals are for Western Australia to become a:

  • World leader in research and inventiveness
  • Location of choice for product and technology development, translation and testing
  • Home to globally-focussed organisations that scale, creating new jobs
  • Adopter of new technologies and a tech transfer haven
  • A place where innovation is inclusive and purposeful, rewarded and respected

To reach these goals, the strategy highlights seven priority areas, including a commitment to building and attracting talent, making procurement easier for WA startups and small businesses, and supporting the adoption of new technologies across businesses and communities.

Tech Council of Australia chief executive Kate Pounder, who also spoke at West Tech Fest, said the release of the state government strategy is “a real positive” given the huge tech opportunity in WA, especially in deep tech.

She said it usefully highlights the “key inputs that they’ll need to get right to deliver on their promise, and in particular the fact that the strategy calls out the need to spur more investment because that’s certainly probably the biggest issue I hear from [Tech Council] members in the state”.

Being clear on the opportunity will also “give people a sense of why it’s worth making the investments and taking the policy decisions”, according to Ms Pounder. She notes the state does not lack capital, rather a lot of private wealth “doesn’t perhaps have as much experience investing in tech versus some other parts of the economy”.

If Western Australia can raise the proportion of digital activity in its economy to six per cent, consistent with the council’s suggested national target, it can create an additional 27,000 tech jobs by 2030. The Tech Council estimates there is $11 billion worth of tech activity happening in the state, which could feasibly grow to $16 billion by 2030 given the right government support.

The chair of startup representative body StartupWA Jason Balchand said he couldn’t be happier with the strategy. He believes that “voices of the startup community have never been heard as loudly as they are at the moment”.

He is eager to continue working with the state government to develop the next steps to support the execution of the 10-year strategy.

“If they had [announced funding] as a part of the mid-year outlook it would basically be a soundbite for the press, not for any longevity of what we’re doing. I would rather it be done with a long-term vision in mind and be funded through the long-term budgeting.”

Appreciating that it is intended to outline the government’s position at a ‘high-level’, he claimed the strategy doesn’t need to outline key performance indicators as these will depend on the amount of funding that gets allocated.

Although the strategy has been made public, Mr Balchand said there are several initiatives being developed to put “the meat that goes underneath” the 10-year goals, which he was not able to make public.

“We’ll work with them to make sure in the next Budget that there is additional funding for the ecosystem to execute on this strategy. Obviously [the Department of Jobs, Tourism, Science, and Innovation] and the minister wouldn’t have gone through so much effort to put together the strategy if they were going to do nothing with it.”

When asked if the strategy would have benefitted from explicit targets similar to those articulated in South Australia’s 10-year strategy, Mr Balchand said including such targets wouldn’t make the strategy better or worse.

PropTech Hub WA general manager Cullum Ashton called for more clarification on what each action area means, particularly the strategy’s commitment to increasing support for “networks, precincts and shared facilities”.

“I believe the strategy is great to boost innovators’ motivation and to help the innovation community get on the same page. But time will tell if this innovation strategy can compete against Victoria’s $600 million dollar innovation budget and Queensland Advance’s $700 million budget,” Mr Ashton said.

“[The strategy] makes the statement that over the past 150 years innovation, new technology, has been one big job creating machine… but if this is what you’re stating, why are you not funding and pouring more money into this.”

He was also disappointed that PropTech was not highlighted as one of the eight industry priority areas but remains hopeful that any additional funding introduced in 2023 would be accessible by PropTech Hub WA.

WA stakeholder engagement director for Australia’s MedTech and pharmaceutical growth centre MTPConnect Dr Tracey Wilkinson applauded “the WA government’s recognition of the importance of innovation to the state’s future economic prosperity”.

“The reality is that the WA government’s plan is the latest in a series of complementary initiatives that are making a real difference for this sector in the West. These include the health and medical life sciences industry strategy, the medical research strategy which is under development as well as revision of the state’s IP policy and development of new legislation to support biodiscovery.”

Dr Wilkinson said she looks forward to seeing the strategy sharpen the focus of ongoing initiatives such as the $16.7 million New Industries Fund and any further government support.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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