Westpac is on the hunt for 200 disruptive Australian businesses a year that it will help get an audience for in Australia and overseas under a new $10 million program.
The bank’s CEO Brian Hartzer unveiled the ‘Businesses of Tomorrow’ program at 199th birthday celebrations in Sydney.
It will convene a panel of entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and tech executives to name the first 200 businesses at the bank’s bicentenary celebrations in April 2017.
Hartzer said the bank wanted a hand in shaping Australia’s new economy.
The businesses chosen to participate would need to demonstrate “potential to lead Australia’s transition to a knowledge and services-based economy”.
It did not appear that the chosen businesses would benefit from a direct cash injection – Westpac already does this for start-ups via the $50 million Reinventure fund, of which the bank is the largest monetary contributor.
Rather, the 200 businesses selected by Westpac each year under this new program “may benefit from a variety of knowledge-based experiences”, the bank said.
These experiences may include “global study tours, including to Silicon Valley and China, dedicated business mentors from a panel of high-profile Australians, as well as professional advice funded by Westpac.”
The 200 businesses will be chosen based on qualities such as their capacity to transform, disrupt and create, their demonstration of service leadership, an ambition to develop new markets overseas, or a focus on social change, according to Westpac.
A site set up in support of the program contains few other details on how it will operate or when applications will open and close for the first round of awards.
The program was launched in the presence of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, whose Government is spearheading an initiative to attract investment to what it terms an “ideas boom”.
The Government last year unveiled its National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA) in support of the ideas boom.
"Australia needs to continue to adapt as we transition from a mining to a services economy,” Hartzer said.
“We have great potential, but research shows Australian businesses have one of the lowest levels of investment in innovation at six percent compared to the OECD average of 18 percent.
"As Australia's first bank we feel we have a responsibility to back those businesses that can make a difference to the country by giving them what they have told us they need: knowledge and access.
"While other companies take their executives to Silicon Valley, we're going to take the best and brightest businesses there.”
The panel that will determine which 200 businesses make the cut for the first year includes Cochlear chairman Rick Holliday-Smith, Microsoft’s Australian managing director Pip Marlow, Google Maps co-founder Noel Gordon, SwarmFarm Robotics founders Andrew and Jocie Bate and Reinventure co-founder Simon Cant.
Non-tech panellists include Seven Group executive chairman Kerry Stokes, fashion designer Carla Zampatti, Westpac board member Alison Deans and Merivale CEO Justin Hemmes.
The launch comes as Westpac also celebrated its first 100 Bicentennial Foundation scholars.
The $100 million Foundation was launched in 2014, supporting 100 scholars a year "forever", Westpac said.
"We have partnered with many of Australia's leading academic institutions and have been impressed by the calibre of applicants and their potential to shape the Australia of tomorrow," Hartzer said.
"The Westpac Bicentennial Foundation's first scholars include Dr Antonio Tricoli, who is working on melanoma prevention through wearable technology, and Dr Elizabeth New, who is developing hand-held devices that detect toxins."