The federal government is weirdly reluctant to embrace its own success in relation to the rude health of the Australian startup sector.
The collective momentum of young entrepreneurs in this country is palpable; and yet there is silence from government on the policies that have helped underpin that growth.
Maybe the brains trust is wary about giving the public whiplash over its attitude to the National Innovation and Science Agenda: Having spent $28 million on its ‘Ideas Boom’ advertising campaign to publicise the policy, it then shut down any public mention in the wake of the 2016 election when it was decided the NISA was in fact the kiss of death.
And yet here we are, about to celebrate the second anniversary of the NISA – it was launched on December 7, 2015 – and all we can hear are crickets.
And so the tech-enabled startup sector seems to be celebrating on its behalf taking advantage of NISA initiatives on an ever larger scale, and by generally kicking arse.
The nation’s largest and most important startup and growth conference – StartCon – created its own celebration of Australian startup entrepreneurs by attracting record numbers of delegates (more than 3,500) and a larger, more international program.
Advocacy group StartupAus joined the celebration by launching its Crossroads report at the event. Whatever the challenges that beset the tech industry, and of course there are challenges, this is ultimately a positive document.
Crossroads paints a picture of an Australia that is awash with venture capital. Certainly compared to just three years ago, this is demonstrably the case.
The R&D tax incentive, despite some shortcomings and uncertainty about possible changes, is one of the most generous in the world, and it is a key relief for Australian tech startups.
Other initiatives like Incubator Support Program or the export-focused Landing Pads probably don’t look exactly like they were originally intended, but they are being accessed in tandem with state programs and
The CSIRO’s ON Accelerator, which also received funding through the NISA, is by literally all accounts an outstanding success. And the CSIRO’s innovation fund has cut its first cheque, and still promised to de-risk highly technical science-based ventures.
And yet these programs are treated like orphans. Where’s the love?
In the context of the National Innovation and Science Agenda’s second anniversary, the concern is that if the government doesn’t even own its successes, how is it going to properly deal with the challenges?
The sector might be rolling in early-stage capital, but access to skills is looking as a genuine handbrake on growth for techs. And there is nothing that looks remotely like a broad, long-term plan to build domestic capability technical capability (and that’s before the 457 skilled visa program was tightened.)
The NISA, when it was launched, had been intended to be a rolling series of iterations. But enthusiasm for it ran out of steam in mid-2016.
Why won’t this government celebrate success?
Innovation Science Australia’s 2030 Strategic Plan is expected to land in the next two weeks, a document that is effectively two years in the making. Maybe it will hold some clues to our future policy direction.
In the meantime, Australian tech entrepreneurs are just getting on with it. The StartCon conference and exhibition is very much about the business and not the government support – which is how policymakers should like it.
A highlight of StartCon was the annual Austalasian Startup Awards, where on-demand waterless car washing app WipeHero was awarded Startup of the Year, while Checkbox took home the AU$120,000 IBM credits top-prize for the event’s pitch competition, along with the honour of representing Australia at the Startup World Cup in San Francisco.
StartCon chief Cheryl Mack said it was a bumper year for the startup awards with more than 130,000 votes cast.
“The last two days have been immense so thanks to all of the 3,500 people who came down,” Ms Mack said at the close of the event. “It’s so rewarding to see the community getting behind the event. Congratulations to WipeHero as startup of the year and Checkbox as our pitch winner.
“If our previous alumni is anything to go by, they’re both in for a fantastic year.”
The complete winners list:
- Startup of the Year – WipeHero
- Technology Company of the Year – zipMoney Ltd
- Startup Investor of the Year – BlackBird Ventures
- Startup Incubator (or) Accelerator of the Year – Tech Ready Women, and SheStarts (tied)
- Startup Founder of the Year – Millie Zinner
- Startup Journalist of the Year – Yolanda Redrup
- Female Entrepreneur of the Year – Christina Chun
- E-commerce Company of the Year – The Iconic
- Community MVP of the Year – Holly Stephens
- Best Student Run Startup – Conexie
- Best Startup for Social Good – CancerAid
- Best SaaS Startup – checkbox.ai
- Best Mobile App Startup – Pocketbook
- Best FinTech Startup – Simply Wall St
- Best E-Commerce Startup – Koala Mattress
- Best Co-working Space – Fishburners
- Best Bootstrapped Startup – iFlyFlat