The Victorian Opposition has taken the wraps off its first innovation-focused policy in the lead-up to next month’s election, pledging $9 million in startup grants.
Shadow innovation minister David Southwick unveiled the Innovation Voucher Program on Wednesday night, with the Coalition promising $9 million over four years for startup and SME grants, with a focus on commercialisation.
The grants are targeted at both new businesses and existing companies with an aim to “drive competition and innovation whilst leveraging off existing networks”, and would focus on Victoria’s areas of competitive advantage, including biotech, medicine, defence and renewable energy.
The grants, which have to be matched dollar for dollar, are for businesses with a “demonstrated ability to collaborate with others in their field including other Victorian businesses, universities and research agencies”.
“To stay relevant in a globally competitive world, Victoria needs a diverse, innovative and collaborative economy. Victoria must seize on its areas of competitive advantage and support a commercially focused collaborative approach to driving future innovation and growth,” Mr Southwick said.
“These targeted grants will drive innovation, grow competitive advantage and deliver a stronger economy for all Victorians.”
The innovation grants would also have a focus on commercialisation, with the opposition pointing to Australia’s struggles in this area.
Mr Southwick said the voucher program would “help to foster relationships between diverse groups of collaborators that will ultimately drive commercial innovations and grow Victoria’s reputation on a world stage”.
The state government’s own startup funding body LaunchVic, a 2014 election promise, also focused its most recent funding round on health-technology accelerators and education programs, with $4.8 million in capital deployed.
LaunchVic was launched to oversee the state’s $60 million (over four years) innovation fund, and was created at the end of 2015. It is currently unclear whether its funds will be topped up by the Labor party if it wins the election, or if the Opposition would continue it into next year if it does.
While LaunchVic focuses its funding rounds on the surrounding infrastructure of the tech and startup sectors, the Opposition’s first real foray into the area would see it provide funding directly to startups in targeted sectors.
LaunchVic’s grants are decided by the agency’s team, while under the opposition’s plans, the grants will be awarded by the government on a competitive basis.
The announcement from the opposition has been welcomed by BioMelbourne Network chief executive Krystal Evans.
“BioMelbourne Network has called for programs that foster a culture of collaboration and innovation in Victoria’s medical tech and biotech industries. A commercialisation-focused voucher program is just what new startups and growing companies need to accelerate products toward patients and drive future innovation in the health industry,” Ms Evans said in a statement.
Both the state government and opposition are expected to unveil a broader innovation policy packages in the lead up the election.