State Government announces New Industries Fund - Our Response, and Recommendations for Yours

Key players in the WA innovation, technology and startup industry are remarkably aligned in their vision for the future and demonstrably collaborating on specific activities to move WA forward. We can all get behind the intention for WA to be an internationally attractive location to live, and for growing innovations that have global impact.

With the latest announcement of its New Industries Fund this week, the State Government seems to be coming along too.

- Read on for our: analysis, summary and four recommendations for startups - 

Startups and new industries are definitely starting to get more attention with this policy, but there does seem to be a softening from the language of the 2016 announcement, which trumpeted:

invest(ing) $14.5 million in a ‘New Industries Fund’ to support and accelerate new and emerging business in the Startup and Gaming sector... (to) generate jobs in a diverse range of industries and provide investment opportunities for these new companies.
— New Industries Fund to Drive Startups (March 2016)

The Government is claiming an ‘election commitment delivered’ and that is broadly true, with $16.7m funding committed over a four year period ($4.5m of which is for regional initiatives). But we would would not be doing our job if we didn’t raise a few eyebrows. For example:

  • Much of this is a re-announcement of a nearly identical funding (type and programs)... BUT... we get it. We all have to be realistic in the current environment climate and budget constraints. As a community, let’s change the conversation, then, to help the Government ensure the best return possible on its funds invested.
  • This was released less than a week after consultation with regional stakeholders. No-one is sneezing at the $4.5m committed, and the fact that consultation took place is important too... BUT... it seems inauthentic to announce a policy before there's been time to meaningfully incorporate the suggestions from last week’s Regional Innovation Summit in Bunbury.

  • Gaming featured prominently in the 2016 policy but is not mentioned once in this week’s NIF explainer. Let’s assume this is just a function of drafting or, fingers crossed, a sign that more announcements will follow. The games sector will have access to many of the initiatives outlined in the New Industries Fund... BUT... language is an important signal of intent. Games are a $150b global creative industry, our local indie developers punch above their weight already, but we only have to look to Victoria to see what they could do with a bit more support.

Beyond the detail of the announcement, though, the important questions that all of us have -

  • How will this policy support startups, new industries and create new jobs?
  • Towards what vision?
  • At what speed and with what level of commitment?

Let's find out...

New Industries Fund announcement - TL/DR Summary

The policy outlines four key pillars to support new industries and create new jobs of the future:

  1. Talent, Skills and Entrepreneurship

  2. Investment and Infrastructure

  3. Culture and Collaboration

  4. Marketing and Promotion

These are broadly aligned with the key principles underpinning StartupWA’s Top Ten recommendations. A good start.

When it comes to the detail, page 4 of the New Industries Fund overview provides a useful summary. The key points:

  • Build business development skills and entrepreneurship capability
  • Assist existing SME in business transformation to leverage new technologies and adapt to changing market conditions.
  • Partner with the private sector to educate local investors to build capacity and investor skills.
  • Apply innovative mechanisms to identify and solve government problems.
  • Support Innovation Hub development in areas of competitive and/or regional advantage
  • Implement a Science Industry Fellowship Program to strengthen the linkages between researchers and industry.
  • Continue support for the Innovator of the Year Program.
  • Continue to provide incentives such as the Innovation Vouchers Program, and other programs that support startups to do business with State Government agencies.

OK, so what does that all mean for me?

StartupWA is committed to ongoing engagement with Government and will continue to work with the Minister and his staff to ensure the best outcomes for programs under each initiative in the New Industries Fund.

In the meantime, here are four recommendations for all of us, members of the digital technology, games, and innovation communities. If you have additional or different suggestions, we’d love to hear them.

One: Change your perceptions of roles: yours, ours and government’s.

If there is leadership, vision and commitment needed and the government isn’t there yet, then it brings attention back to us, our ventures, our industry to articulate that, demonstrate it and invite them into it. For example, the Joondalup cyber security hub isn’t a state government-led initiative, they’ve jumped on board with ECU, City of Joondalup and other partners and leveraged a great impact through their commitment. We recommend redirecting any whinging about government or changing your planned move to Queensland and instead do something positive with those around you.

For individual entrepreneurs and startups, this means:

  1. Grow your venture - be a good entrepreneur, smart startup, and industry leader,

  2. Grow the ecosystem - support each other, collaborate, use StartupWA to advocate.

Two: Look beyond the modest funding.

The WA government spends billions on education, strategies, procurement across agriculture, health and ICT and are the only institution that can make changes to policies, laws and coordinate activities across sectors and the state. $16 million isn’t much in that context, and there are other points of leverage. StartupWA’s Top Ten recommendations and policies go far beyond that funding, and that message to government is consistent.

For individual entrepreneurs and startups, we recommend:

  1. Identify specifically your venture needs, challenges and opportunities,

  2. Communicate with those who could help create better conditions and see what you can do together e.g. with others in your industry, the specific officer in a government department, in a startup Slack channel, or through StartupWA on your behalf.

Three: Take advantage of what’s committed.

The guidelines released and the Minister tweeting “not all money is allocated” could indicate that most of the funding is allocated i.e. Innovation Vouchers, Start IT Up, Innovator of the Year, SPURonWA, sponsorship and funding for hubs are all going to be similar to the past, known and open. If what you are working on fits the bill then apply or pitch it.

For individual entrepreneurs and startups, we recommend:

  1. Review criteria and winners from previous years, contact the program managers about dates and process, and plan to work on a great nomination or application,

  2. If you have a hub or program that seems aligned, then work with partners and StartupWA to pull together a coherent and compelling pitch to the Minister,

  3. If you have specific changes you would recommend to the programs, tell us and we’ll raise it when we next speak to the policy advisers or Ministers (which is weekly, at the moment).

Four: JFDI

We can all, individually and as a collective, begin to realise the vision for our ventures, industry and state directly, immediately. For example:

  1. If you want a stronger ecosystem - contribute to it! Next week is INCREDIBLE for the number of events, free drinks, opportunities to meet, share, grow the ecosystem. Get involved, attend, volunteer and collaborate to make it better.

  2. If you want to see more WA innovations that have a global impact - grow one! There are more than enough examples of WA companies getting incredible traction with global ambition. Is yours one of them? Make it now.

  3. If you want WA to be an internationally attractive location to live - enjoy it! WA is awesome, generally, so let’s make the most of it and look after it.

It’s up to us - yes, StartupWA, but also you - to take seriously our role in growing new industries and creating the local conditions, enabling global success, for our current ventures and those of tomorrow.

Future generations of Western Australian’s won’t care who led, who followed, who was right. They will just know if they have an interesting job in a WA-owned business in an awesome industry in an amazing state. Creating that, really, is up to all of us.