As he heads into retirement, Queensland’s inaugural chief entrepreneur Mark Sowerby used his outgoing speech on Wednesday blow the horn of the Buy Queensland policy. It’s definitely working, he says.
Buy Queensland was introduced to encourage the state government to find ways to purchase from local businesses over interstate and international suppliers.
“Government is a huge customer, spending $14 billion a year on supplies and services and a further $4 billion on building and maintaining infrastructure. That’s some buying power,” Mr Sowerby said.
The Blue Sky Alternative Investments founder is stepping down as Queensland Chief Entrepreneur just over a year after taking on the unpaid position. River City Labs founder and Queensland-based entrepreneur Steve Baxter will take over the role this month.
Mr Sowerby says Mr Baxter is the “rightful Chief” for the role.
“I did keep the seat warm for him this past year, but now with Steve in the role, you’re going to see someone really move the dial in Queensland.”
Mr Sowerby said increasing the state government’s spend with local startups helped lift the level of startup activity in the state.
Queensland is now home to the second largest number of startup founder in Australia with 19 per cent of the national total – more than Victoria.
“It’s a real competitive advantage for Queensland, and when we look back on this policy in a few years’ time, I think we will see it’s been good for the State, particularly in the regions,” he said.
“For startups and scale-ups it’s not necessarily about the total dollar of a contract; $20,000 could be the little seed which sows the beginning of an important business that no one saw coming.”
He also pointed to how initiatives such as Hot DesQ, which aims to lure international and interstate startups to Queensland to pursue their business is helping to put the state on the international map.
It is one of 45 initiatives under the government’s Advance Queensland initiative that Mr Sowerby said is starting to pay dividends for the state.
“Almost 300 startups have applied to come to Queensland from 41 countries, as well as from across Australia,” he said.
“We’ve selected 53 over two rounds and they’re spread out across the State from Cairns to Bundaberg, Toowoomba to the Gold Coast. Applications for round two were up by 60 per cent on round one, so we are gaining an international reputation as a startup hot spot.”’
Another initiative that Mr Sowerby believes has had success, and a “personal favourite”, is Ignite Ideas that has $26.5 million in backing from the Queensland government over two years.
“Ignite has supported 203 businesses with grants of $100,000 to $250,000 to get to market faster and commercialise their product, service or process. They must be market ready or very close,” Mr Sowerby said.
“This is just the kick start they need to develop faster, directly hitting our soft spot – the missing D in our ecosystem,” he said.
“Government has stepped up with Ignite Ideas too. I kept hearing how long the application process was taking and that businesses needed a faster answer.”
“I asked the Government team managing this to halve the time it took and they nailed it, delivering Round Two in five months and Round Three in two months.”