A “first of its kind” program supporting young entrepreneurs in Victoria has been forced to shut down after it was unable to secure further funding from the state government, despite proven and “extraordinary” results, its director has claimed.
Run by Enterprising Partnerships, Getting Down to Business had received $220,000 in funding annually from the Victorian government since 2014, through the Department of Health and Human Services.
But after the four-year contract came to an end midway through last year, the state government advised that it would not be renewing the funding, and despite negotiations across a year to revamp the program, it will now be forced to shut down.
The Victorian government has said that the funding was not renewed because its $60 innovation fund LaunchVic had been established specifically to fund similar programs.
But the program’s director Frank Wyatt said he is now concerned about a lack of programs and support for young Victorians looking to pursue entrepreneurialism and innovative businesses.
Launched by the former Liberal government in 2014 as a “first of its kind for an Australian government”, the Getting Down to Business program was targeted at young people aged 16 to 25 with a “passion for enterprise”.
It offered free entrepreneurship and business training to participants on a part-time basis, with an aim to help them start, build and grow an innovation-focused company.
More than 120 people went through the program since its launch in 2014, and Mr Wyatt said each of these people have gone on to create on average 2.5 jobs.
Once the four year funding agreement for Getting Down To Business had come to an end in June last year, managing director Frank Wyatt was advised that the funding would not be renewed. Despite negotiations and discussions across the last year with the state government over a revamped program to be run in Dandenong and two other locations, no deal was made and the program will not be running next year.
Mr Wyatt said the Victorian government department is no longer supporting and encouraging youth entrepreneurship.
“The fundamental outcome of this was that with the major issues happening out in Dandenong, the minister has lost a program that could have disrupted those circumstances that are occurring,” Mr Wyatt told InnovationAus.com.
“The minister lost access to some hellishly good, positive stories about young people being successful, and now they no longer have an avenue funded by the state government’s department responsible for youth and community engagement to allow them to undertake youth enterprise initiatives. The whole agenda of youth enterprise has slipped off the political landscape.”
The program has been very successful across the last four years and has proven its worth, Mr Wyatt said.
“I can give you case study after case study of these young people being significant employers. [It was a] highly successful program applied as an intervention where the issues with young people were occurring in Dandenong and a range of extraordinary good stories coming from it. The extraordinary results of the initiative have been squandered,” he said.
A spokesperson for the Department for Health and Human Services said that the Victorian government’s innovation fund LaunchVic replaced its funding for entrepreneurial programs in 2016, and that Enterprising Partnerships has received other funding through that.
“In 2016, the Victorian government established LaunchVic to specifically develop and support Victorian entrepreneurs and startup businesses. In that time, Enterprising Partnerships received funding through LaunchVic for various youth programs focused on growing new business enterprises or taking an existing venture to the next level,” the spokesperson told InnovationAus.com.
But Mr Wyatt said this was not the advice he had received, and the programs funded through LaunchVic, while important, have not replaced Getting Down to Business.
As part of LaunchVic’s first round of funding in 2016 Enterprising Partnerships, through the iGen Foundation, received $70,000 in funding for a young entrepreneurs mentoring scheme. In LaunchVic’s third round of funding Enterprising Partnerships received $452,000 to run Cultov8, a pre-accelerator program for young migrants and refugees.
Mr Wyatt said he has a “deep respect” for LaunchVic’s funding of programs to support first generation migrants, and that it is a “wonderful insight” to provide programs for the group.
Mr Wyatt said he has been in discussions with the Department of Human Services to revamp the program and run a localised version in three areas, but despite some promising moments, this has not eventuated.
“We’re fighting to get the state, whoever is in power after the election, to provide opportunities for young entrepreneurs to be recognised and supported in the ecosystem and for enterprise to be seen as a legitimate pathway to employment for young people,” he said.