On one hand, there’s government trying to keep up with the changing pace of technology, while dealing with decades of bureaucracy and legacy infrastructure. On the other, there are SMEs and startups with ideas and solutions, but find it difficult to land public sector customers.
Why not bring the two together? Queensland has been doing exactly that under its Testing Within Government (TWiG) program launched in August 2016.
TWiG is a 12-week program that lets selected SMEs and startups work with a government agency in six, two week sprints to live-test their ideas.
The initiative was designed, according to Innovation Minister Leeanne Enoch, to encourage the Queensland government to become more “agile and innovative in solving programs”, and to give the chance to Queensland-based SMEs and startups to deliver their product to large enterprises.
“The government is trying to develop the SME ICT sector in Queensland and make it easier for SMEs to collaborate with government agencies on a range of real business problems,” she said.
“This gives SMEs an ability to access problem experts in government to test and refine their solutions, growing their capability and understanding of working with government and enterprise markets for the future.
“Government also benefits from working with SMEs, by learning and applying more innovative approaches to problem solving.”
During the first round, the state government granted $25,000 each to five SMEs to solve four business problems. In March 2017, the program was expanded to 11 SMEs under round two to solve problems across eight government agencies.
FlowBiz, which specialises in workflow automation, was one of the five companies that participated in round one.
FlowBiz CEO Terry Sinkinson said the team worked with the Queensland government chief information office to develop an app that relies on crowdsourced mobile coverage data to help with a mobile blackspot rollout program.
He said once the company was able to understand the confines of the public sector – something which he admits FlowBiz has had difficulty with in the past – it was an overall positive experience.
“Generally speaking they want to help you. They do lack commercial nuance and I think that’s where our world is a lot different to their world. Provided you can get your head around that, I find them pretty good,” he said.
Queensland is not alone in the approach. The NSW government is working with SMEs looking to commercialise their ideas through the Innovation Launch program.
“This is a novel approach to partnering with startups and the private sector to solve some of government’s most complex problems. Clearly defined problems are put out to market and up to $150,000 in seed funding is awarded to the best ideas for prototyping and testing in government,” an Innovation department spokesperson said.
The two challenges that were taken to market earlier this year was looking for solutions to make cities more accessible for people with disabilities, and a digital platform that could reduce the number of domestic violence reoffenders.
The nine finalists for both these challenges are now undertaking a 10-week incubation program to further develop their ideas in partnership with accelerators Slingshot and Fusion Labs.
Similar efforts have been made at a national level as part of the federal government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda. In March, the federal government split more than $1.8 million in initial funding between 20 SMEs under the Business Research and Innovation Initiative, which was designed to match SMEs with government agencies that have a specific challenge that needs a solution.