The federal government’s flagship $392 million Industry Growth Program has been officially launched, with grants of up to $5 million available for startups and small businesses.
The $392.4 million program was unveiled in the May budget, replacing the former Coalition government’s Entrepreneurs’ Programme, which was embroiled in controversy due to bungled procurement processes.
The aim of the Industry Growth Program is to help Australian startups and SMEs commercialise their products and grow their companies, Industry Minister Ed Husic said.
“The challenge for our economy long-term is to scale-up our businesses and help them create more secure jobs,” Husic said.
“The Industry Growth Program is designed to commercialise great ideas and know-how, build stronger Australian businesses and put them on a pathway for potential support by the National Reconstruction Fund.
“Our government knows Australians want our country to be a nation that makes things, and we are determined to make that happen.”
The new scheme consists of two streams: the delivery of advisory services by a national network of expert business growth and commercialisation advisers, and matched grant funding of $50,000 to $5 million for startups and SMEs that have received these services.
The Industry Growth Program Advisers scheme will provide tailored advice to support commercialisation and growth projects.
Applications to receive this advice are now open for eligible businesses.
From early next year, companies that have accessed this part of the scheme will be able to apply for grants of $50,000 to $250,000 for early-stage commercialisation projects and $100,000 to $5 million for commercialisation and growth projects.
The intention is for the Industry Growth Program to funnel companies into the National Reconstruction Fund and ready them to apply for funding through that vehicle.
To be eligible, startups and SMEs must be working in the National Reconstruction Fund priority areas: renewables and low-emissions technologies, medical science, transport, value-add in agriculture, forestry and fisheries, value-add in resources, defence capability and enabling capabilities.
Australian startups and businesses can apply for the expert advisory services at business.gov.au.
Minister for Small Business Julie Collins said the new program will “turbocharge” Australian companies.
“This is good for jobs, good for our economy, and good for Australia’s small businesses,” Collins said.
“This is another way our government is backing Australia’s small businesses to succeed.”
The Industry Growth Program is replacing the Entrepreneurs’ Programme, which was launched by the former Abbott Government in 2015.
That scheme offered similar mentorship and grants across three streams: Accelerating Commercialisation, Business Management and Research Connections.
But an Australian National Audit Office investigation into the scheme in 2021 found that more than $160 million in contracts for advisory services under the scheme were “deficient in significant respects”, and that Commonwealth Procurement Rules often weren’t followed.
The audit also found that procurement under the Entrepreneurs’ Programme favoured incumbents; that the Department failed to measure tender applicants against the stated criteria; and that it failed to mitigate against conflicts of interest.
The federal government has said that all applications submitted for the Entrepreneurs’ Programme prior to its axing will be assessed and honoured if eligible, and all existing grant agreements will be honoured.
The new program will be better targeted in terms of funding and match the needs of Australian SMEs, the Labor government said, and builds on the Accelerating Commercialisation stream of the former program.
The government on Monday also released a new report by Industry Innovation and Science Australia which found that Australian businesses are facing significant barriers when trying to scale up.
The report recommended that the government identify businesses with the ability and risk appetite to innovate and deliver novel products and services, and outlined the ways in which Australia can translate its world-class research into commercial outcomes.
“While we outperform in the creation of startups and small businesses against other OECD countries, our industry structure is overly skewed to small businesses with less than 20 employees,” Industry Innovation and Science Australia chair Andrew Stevens said.
“It’s hard to compete when you are small.
“The outcome we need right now is the scaling of small businesses into medium-sized businesses.
“This will build sovereign capability and economic complexity in Australia.”