Startup visa pilot launched in SA

Denham Sadler
Senior Reporter

A new trial visa program aiming to bring the “sharpest minds in the entrepreneurial world” to South Australia has officially launched.

It comes at a moment when the new state government also opens the first building in its new Lot Fourteen innovation precinct at the former Royal Adelaide hospital.

The Supporting Innovation in South Australia visa pilot program will run for three years to November 2021 in the state, and does not include the funding requirements attached to the similar national entrepreneur visa program.

The pilot was announced by the federal government earlier this year in the lead up to the South Australian election, and was contingent on the Liberal Party taking power in the state.

Federal minister for immigration, citizenship and multicultural affairs David Coleman said the pilot will aim to bring the world’s best entrepreneurs to the state to establish a startup.

“Startups generate new jobs, drive innovation and bring opportunities to diversify our economy. The pilot is just one of the ways the government is increasing job opportunities and providing incentives for growing businesses of the future,” Mr Coleman said in a statement.

The state government provided $400,000 over four years to support the program in its first budget in early September.

The new visa is targeted at foreign entrepreneurs or investors with an “innovative idea” and supporting business plan. The applicant will have to be endorsed by either a local incubator or accelerator, or the new Office of the Chief Entrepreneur.

It acts as a replacement of sorts for the national entrepreneur visa, which according to StartupAus chief executive Alex McCauley, is currently not fit for purpose.

“Getting a competitive entrepreneur visa is something we’ve been talking about for a couple of years now,” Mr McCauley told “It was good to see the government introduce an entrepreneur visa in 2016 but the main national entrepreneur visa that we have isn’t competitive with other countries, so it’s a really positive step but we’re looking at how we can do it better, and it’s great to see South Australia taking the lead.”

The national entrepreneur visa is “hard to qualify, expensive, and slow to get”, he said.

“You’ve got to raise at least $200,000 in funds from a venture capital firm in Australia before you’re even eligible for the mainstream entrepreneur visa. That’s very difficult when you’re not based in Australia. And it takes nine months for that visa to be processed,” Mr McCauley said.

“The biggest change is in removing the minimum requirement for funding to be raised before the applicant is eligible to apply. That’s the biggest hurdle and it’s not part of the South Australia scheme.”

Under the trial program, the visa can be for up to three years, but all visas will be cancelled when the trial comes to an end in November 2021.

The state government has said it expects 30 people to come to South Australia on the visa in the pilot’s first year, and 100 people in the second year.

Applicants can be from any sector, but the government will be “looking favourably” on those from defence and space, cyber security and big data, agribusiness, health and medical technology, robotics, or media and film.

Applicants will need to show they have an “innovative idea with a supporting business plan”, be under the age of 45, have minimum of vocational-level English, meet all health, character and financial requirements and have sufficient funds to support themselves and any dependents.

At least half of the applicants’ business assets and staff must be based in South Australia for the duration of the visa.

Applicants will have to be endorsed by a government-approved industry provider – COHAB, Innovation and Collaboration Centre, The Moonshine Lab, New Venture Institute and Thinclab – or by the Office of the Chief Entrepreneur. The application will then have to be approved by the federal Department of Home Affairs.

The South Australian pilot is one of two trial visa programs launched by the federal government in an effort to placate an irate tech sector following the surprise scrapping of the 457 visa scheme.

The Global Talent Scheme was launched in July, but the first visa was not issued until three months later, a quarter of the way into the 12-month pilot program.

The GTS sits under the Temporary Skills Shortage visa and is meant for local tech companies to target “highly skilled and specialised workers” that can’t be found in Australia. It is split into two streams, one for established businesses and one for startups.

“There are a couple of pilot schemes going on that we’re hoping will be applied across the country, or kept going. Hopefully there’s a bit of interest from entrepreneurs in taking advantage of the visa and hopefully it’s a success and can be rolled out elsewhere,” Mr McCauley said.

The new South Australian government is ramping up its focus on the local tech sector, launching the first stage of the redevelopment of the old Royal Adelaide Hospital into an innovation precinct – a major election campaign pledge.

The FIXE@Lot Fourteen innovation, incubation startup and growth hub will house 120 startups, with a total of 650 to come to the site in coming months, Premier Steven Marshall said.

“This is the first building in the first stage of the transformation of this seven hectare campus right in the centre of the city. Only a very short period go this was a functioning hospital, now it’s going to be focused on entrepreneurship,” Premier Marshall said at the launch event on Monday morning.

He also said that successful applicants under the visa trial program will help to grow the new precinct.

“[The trial] will bring some of the smartest brains from around the world to come to Adelaide and contribute to this exciting precinct to create more jobs and businesses in South Australia,” he said.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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