​Australia needs to back home-grown talent: Optus Business MD

When it comes to supporting startups in the Australian ecosystem, John Paitaridis, managing director at Optus Business, has said that local organisations have a responsibility to encourage their success.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

John Paitaridis, managing director for Optus Business, has urged Australian organisations to get behind local startups, and admitted that even his own company is not doing enough to help the Australian scene.

Speaking at SINET 61, the inaugural joint conference of the Security Innovation Network and CSIRO's Data61, Paitaridis pointed to a panel conversation from earlier in the day that highlighted just how few Australian organisations are supporting home-grown startups.

"We had an awkward moment earlier with some highly esteemed professionals where we look to startup organisations in other markets before we look at startup organisations in Australia," he said.

Earlier in the day, CISO at Telstra Mike Burgess moderated a panel discussion consisting of Nick Scott, head of security governance at the National Australia Bank; Steve Glynn, CISO at ANZ Bank; and John Haig, head of security, risk and compliance at credit reporting agency Dun & Bradstreet.

During the discussion, Scott said he could not give an example of where his organisation was onboarding an innovative cybersecurity technology from an Australian-based startup.

"It's requiring change of how large organisations in my case think about working with startups," Scott said. "Every eight or 10 weeks I'm hearing about something new that we're doing either with something local or international where we're starting to come up with ideas of how to bring that into traditional business."

Similarly, Burgess said he finds that within Australian organisations, trust normally falls to one of the larger US-based vendors, rather than local startups.

"I'm embarrassed to say that there are no Australian startups in my case," Burgess said. "Would I like them? Absolutely, because I have a number of startups that we have adopted and there's a very promising one from New Zealand, but not from Australia."

Optus' Paitaridis said that established Australian organisations have a responsibility to support local startups.

"Startups absolutely need support from established organisations; the type of support we're talking about here doesn't just talk to money or investment, it talks to mentoring, to getting on advisory, access to markets, access to products," he said.

"There are not enough [startups] that we are driving through the Australian market; the failure rate of our startups because they're not getting support is high, and there are too few examples in cyber."

Speaking of Singtel Innov8, the innovation initiative of Optus' parent organisation Singtel, Paitaridis said it has engaged with 5,500 organisations, made 60 investments, and invested somewhere in the order of $250 million.

"Too few of those dollars and too few of those startups are in here in Australia," he said.

"The responsibility now for us is to make sure that we're driving the Australian market as we are these other global markets."

Paitaridis said that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) ranks Australia last when it comes to innovation.

"That by the way is not a reflection on the quality of research in this country, we have some of the best research globally -- look at our universities, look at the CSIRO -- however, the ability to commercialise that research in a very repeatable way, to build new markets and new industries is just not happening," Paitaridis said.

"We are seeing challenges in terms of these organisations that want to work with startups, but they're struggling with the means and the how. There are too few examples and there are too few industries that are doing it."

Also speaking at SINET 61, Alastair MacGibbon, Special Adviser to the Prime Minister on Cyber Security, said that one thing he hears echoed with every entrepreneur he speaks to is the trend of a local startup scoring its first deal overseas, signing with a foreign intelligence agency or a foreign multinational.

"How is that the case when we have a AU$5 billion spend from the Commonwealth government that we can't buy good quality IP from ourselves and we wait until other governments buy it and then we think once it's been acquired by someone else that it's worth buying?" he said.

MacGibbon believes there is no point in trying to create Silicon Valley in Australia when government and industry should instead focus on nurturing the limited pool of talent the country holds.

Having previously made a board commitment to hire 400 hundred cybersecurity people in 24 months, Paitaridis believes this talent pool desperately needs to be expanded.

"There are organisations at the moment where we just can't find the cyber talent," he said.

"The talent is not there; I'm competing with many of our customers, banks, managed services, insurers, retailers, and government agencies federal and state for that same talent pool."

In addition to taking a risk on local startups, Paitaridis said business and government have a collective responsibility to build the talent pool.

"Another fact is that teachers and educators even in the university sector are largely not equipped to teach cyber in the classroom. And some of what they're teaching, by the way, doesn't bare any reality to what we need as industry in terms of cyber credential folk," he said.

"In terms of the pathways, getting industry academia, getting government together to collaborate around building a cyber workforce not just for Optus, or for Telstra, or for NAB, or for ANZ, or for the governments -- but for all of us."

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