Start-up advocacy group StartupAUS has renewed calls for Australia to create a federal innovation agency.
The group, which has released its latest 182-page ‘Crossroads’ report on the state of Australia’s start-up ecosystem, made a series of policy recommendations it believed could add up to $170 billion to the economy.
While the Government has set up Innovation and Science Australia (ISA), StartupAUS urged stronger action to centralise portfolio responsibilities for innovation.
ISA acts an “independent body responsible for researching, planning, and advising the Government on all science, research and innovation matters,” according to its charter.
“Notwithstanding the creation of Innovation and Science Australia as an advisory body, Australia would benefit from having a single agency with responsibility for oversight and delivery of innovation policy and programs,” StartupAUS said in its report.
Presently, federal research and innovation spending is spread across 13 portfolio areas and 150 budget line items, the group said, citing figures presented to the Senate’s innovation system inquiry.
That led to concerns of “inefficient policymaking and uncertainty about whether funds are being allocated as coherently and effectively as possible”, it said.
StartupAUS also raised concerns with the way strategic planning on innovation was being outsourced.
“StartupAUS understands that Innovation and Science Australia is currently undertaking an audit of the Australian innovation system and intends commissioning an external report to formulate a long term strategic plan for the innovation system,” it said.
“[We] endorse the canvassing of external inputs, but believe that the outsourcing of a strategic plan for the country’s innovation system further highlights the need for a dedicated innovation agency.”
A number of other countries have already gone down the route of establishing a central innovation agency.
They include New Zealand (Callaghan Innovation), the UK (Innovate UK), Sweden (VINNOVA Governmental Agency for Innovation Systems), Finland (Tekes), the Netherlands (TNO), Ireland (Enterprise Ireland) and Singapore (Standards, Productivity and Innovation Board, SPRING).
One advantage of Australia doing so is that it could help the Government develop a more comprehensive dataset about Australian innovation that could then feed into policy decisions.
“The Government requires first-rate data on which to base decisions and evaluate the effectiveness of policies and programs,” StartupAUS said.
“An immediate priority for such an agency should therefore be to undertake a national data collection activity focused on the start-up sector and to update the data on at least an annual basis.”
StartupAUS has been advocating for a central innovation agency for at least a year, though the direction of the ISA appears to have given it cause to renew calls for a new, internal-to-government approach.
The Crossroads report makes a number of other recommendations aimed at making Australia a more internationally recognised hotspot for start-up innovation.
These include by creating a “prestigious national Entrepreneurs-In-Residence program [that] would engage a series of internationally experienced entrepreneurs, angel / VC investors and start-up advisors to provide much-needed guidance to early stage Australian start-ups.”
Another idea is to establish “a program to attract promising international start-ups to Australia”.
“Having spent some time in Silicon Valley it’s clear that Australia is a challenging place from which to grow a global tech company,” Crossroads report author Colin Kinner said.
“We are geographically isolated from major markets, and despite having some world-class start-ups we still see many first-time founders learning by trial and error.
“We need to invest in start-up founders and ensure they have the right skills and connections to compete globally.”