The Palaszczuk Government is leaving nothing to chance in its efforts to make Queensland home to the most attractive and productive startup and innovation ecosystems in the country.
Through the broadening Advance Queensland initiatives it has the most comprehensive set of innovation programs of any of the states, and just a couple of years into the program is starting to attract real attention.
The Queensland policy strategies range from specific entrepreneur attraction programs like HotDesq – where founders from other states or other countries can apply for up to $100,000 in equity-free funding to relocate to Queensland – and procurement reforms that give smaller innovative companies better access to government spending, to sandbox programs that enable startups to more easily engage with public sector data and public sector challenges.
With the recent opening of The Precinct – a startup hub in Fortitude Valley that brings together founders, incubators, investors, mentors and others – the Queensland sector has a new central point of focus, according to Department of Science, IT and Innovation deputy director-general Paul Martyn.
The department’s innovation policy roll-out had already started to gather momentum, but the addition of this central physical space had added much.
“People are really starting to take notice of what’s happening here in Queensland in relation to the growth of the ecosystem. There is a real sense of momentum [where] Queensland is really coming of age,” Mr Martyn said.
The startup Precinct … is almost a physical manifestation of what’s going on here. It’s the beating heart of the ecosystem, an incredibly vibrant place,” he said
The state’s Hotdesq program has just closed it second round of applications. If there is one Queensland policy that got the attention of the other states very early, it was Hotdesq – where the state offered cash incentives for entrepreneurs to relocate and enjoy the Queensland sun while they built their companies.
It’s certainly worked. The first 25 established startups and entrepreneurs are now settled in, while the next 25 will be announced in the coming months.
The state’s Ignite Ideas program is also about as aggressive as any entrepreneur funding program you will find anywhere (which is saying something, given how hard Philip Dalidakis has pushed his own startup agenda in Victoria.)
Ignite Ideas offer grants of up to $250,000 to startups and established SMEs with market-ready ideas (that is, to applicants who have a minimum viable product ready to commercialise.) The first round of grants attracted 350 applicants, while the second round attracted 450 applications.
The third round of Ignite Ideas has just opened.
The state has also run a pilot Small Business Innovation Research challenge, based on similar SBIR programs in the UK and the US. The scheme presents a problem to the market, and funds the best, most innovative response to that problem.
SBIR represents a very different way of thinking about procurement and of government engagement with startups and SME’s on access to government contracts.
In the case of the SBIR, funding the innovative enables the building out of a proof of concept, or a pilot program. The startup or SME retains the IP to commercialise and sell elsewhere.
Queensland has offered three challenges as part of the pilot program – from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Recreation, Sport and Arts, and the Department of Housing and Public Works – and backed two startup/SME applicants for each challenge.
Mr Martyn says the SBIR has had a big influence on the way the public service engages with smaller companies, but also the way it thinks internally about challenges.
“The startup keeps the IP, and if the government then chooses to buy [the solution], then great, they get a customer as well,” Mr Martyn said.
“The feedback [from the departments] is that they have seen solutions to their challenges that they would not otherwise have thought of,” he said, adding that “these newer players are finding new ways to look at problems compared to traditional suppliers.”
So from an internal public sector innovation perspective, “we are already seeing people sit up and take notice.”
The other area where Queensland is starting to see results is through it Testing With Government program, or TWiG. It is probably the best example of collaboration and engagement for startups and small businesses.
“We invite startups to come inside, to come into a test-bed, and to work with us to solve problems,” Mr Martyn said. “This is about demonstrating how startups can really in help in taking a fresh look at opportunities and challenges.
“We are trying to showcase what s possible and to create an environment where there is a really strong desire to engage with the startup community,” he said. “They want to engage with us – and so we have go to make sure that government agencies can see the possibilities.”