The Queensland government has categorically denied reports it is axing the state’s Chief Entrepreneur position, saying it is currently recruiting for someone to fill the role.
Reports in the Queensland papers on Thursday morning stated that the government had dissolved part of the Office of the Chief Entrepreneur, which was established in 2016, and scrapped the role entirely to be replaced with a new “advisory council”.
The reports said that staff from the Chief Entrepreneur’s office would be shifted to support the advisory council, but that some contracts would not be renewed.
While signalling a “revised structure” for the office, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk issued a media release on Thursday afternoon saying those reports were incorrect and the role of Chief Entrepreneur would be retained moving forward.
“I believe that new ideas and new startups will be vital as we continue to recover and there remains a strong need for the Chief Entrepreneur within any revised structure for ongoing startup support,” Ms Palaszczuk said.
The government will be establishing an advisory council, but this will “enhance” the role of the new Chief Entrepreneur rather than replace them, innovation minister Stirling Hinchliffe said.
“It will maximise the help available to startups and scale-ups to open doors to the expertise and networks they need to succeed in the new economy,” Mr Hinchliffe said.
Former Queensland Chief Entrepreneur Steve Baxter said that other elements of the reporting around a lack of focus on innovation in Queensland rang true.
“I think it has become a dirty word – they’ve abandoned it. They haven’t given it long enough and it’s had an inappropriate focus. The outcome of this is the government can’t do much and will probably do more if it gets out of the way,” Mr Baxter told InnovationAus.
“They’ll keep the office there, put another person in there for a year until the press dies down and then they’ll quietly shutter it. Everything they’ve done on the ground is consistent with that story.”
The Office of the Chief Entrepreneur was launched in 2016 by the Palasczuk government to “cement Queensland’s reputation as Australia’s startup state”. Prominent entrepreneurs Mark Sowerby, Mr Baxter and Leeane Kemp have served in the role, which is currently vacant.
The office is the “first of its kind in Australia” and aims to develop the state’s startup sector, connect with regional and remote Queensland, showcase local startups globally and stimulate and attract investment.
The spokesperson said the government is currently recruiting the new chief entrepreneur, who will work in tandem with the advisory council.
The council will feature representatives from universities, venture capital firms and startups to offer advice to the government.
Blue Sky founder Mark Sowerby was Queensland’s inaugural Chief Entrepreneur, serving from 2016 to 2017. He was replaced by Mr Baxter, who served from 2017 to 2018. Most recently in the role was Everledger CEO and founder Leanne Kemp, who finished last year.
Posting about the initial reports on Twitter, Queensland entrepreneur Aaron Birkby said there is room for improvement with the current approach of the office.
“We should keep the role and Office of the Chief Entrepreneur. It’s an important role and to close the office would be both a huge loss and an extremely damaging message. It’s a symbolic flag in the ground for innovation that we desperately need,” Mr Birkby tweeted on Thursday.
“With or without the OQCE, an innovation ecosystem can’t be government-led, as it has recently become. The role of government is to set the table. Founders need to be at the heart of it. We need all the pillars and voices at the table. We’ve not done this well so far.”
Mr Birkby said the office should be detached from government, have autonomy and long-term funding, and the Chief Entrepreneur should have a maximum term of 12 months.