​Australian government kicks off AU$23m incubator support program

The federal government has officially launched its AU$23 million support program for Australian startup incubators, focusing on innovation in regional and rural parts of the country.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

The Australian government has officially launched its AU$23 million incubator support program, which will fund the creation of new incubators in a bid to see more successful startups emerge from the country.

Launching the event at fintech incubation hub Stone & Chalk in Sydney on Monday, Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science Greg Hunt said he expects business incubators will increase innovation capacity in Australia's urban areas, as well as regional and rural Australia and in university precincts, by bringing communities of entrepreneurs together to increase the flow of local knowledge and foster "collaboration".

The government's funding pool will be distributed via an application process, where matching grants valued between AU$10,000 and AU$500,000 will be awarded to the successful candidates for the creation of new incubators in regions or business sectors with strong links to international trade, and for existing, high-performing incubators to expand their services.

Hunt confirmed that incubators can also access matching grants of up to AU$25,000 to engage experts-in-residence from Australia and overseas as well.

"This ensures startups have access to the top-quality research, managerial, and technical talent they need to develop their capabilities and commercialise their ideas," the minister said in a statement.

Speaking on ABC RN Breakfast Tuesday morning, Alex McCauley, CEO at industry body StartupAUS, said initiatives like the incubator support program are vital as incubators get startups ready for funding.

"We're a little bit behind the US in this space but we do have a series of good incubators that are relatively young in Australia," he said. "They definitely need some assistance to build [Australia] to a globally relevant player."

McCauley believes the message the government is trying to drum in is that innovation is not limited to a particular geographic location and it is not just about cities. Technology and resulting innovation will continue to have a large impact on mainstream industry in Australia and no industry is going to be excused from its effect, he added.

McCauley also noted that there is a lot of innovation happening in regional Australia, but there is just not as much support for it as there is in the cities.

"Agriculture is likely to be our next AU$100 billion export industry, but the only way we can get there is through increasing productivity delivered by technology," he added.

"Part of the big push is to get more supported institutions -- like incubators -- to be viable in regional Australia without the density that comes from bigger centres."

The incubator initiative forms part of the government's Entrepreneurs' Programme, which is one of the measures funded under its AU$1.1 billion National Innovation and Science Agenda.

Originally announced as an AU$8 million initiative, the incubator support program was allocated a further AU$15 million over four years as part of Malcolm Turnbull's election campaign in June.

At the time, McCauley called Turnbull's pledge modest, saying the funding was far from sufficient and that there are three to four core areas both parties should have been looking at addressing to help boot startups in the country.

"This is a relatively modest announcement, but it's a good start. If we really want to boost the quality and output of our entrepreneurs we can't ignore co-working. Most startups are in co-working spaces and don't have access to the facilities on offer in incubators or accelerators -- StartupAUS would like to see the program expanded to help co-working spaces fund accelerator-style opportunities to help their resident companies grow quickly," he said.

"StartupAUS would also like to see more funding made available to help incubators, accelerators, and co-working spaces measure the performance of their member companies.

"That's how we're going to know if we're moving the needle here."

Previously, former Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science Christopher Pyne said Incubator Support will contribute to the government's priorities by supporting incubators, accelerators, and related business support organisations that can foster the development and growth of high-potential startups.

"Incubators are a vital part of any effective innovation ecosystem, helping high-potential startups realise their economic potential and global ambitions," Pyne said at the time. "They provide startups with vital mentoring support and access to additional capital and networks to help them develop and commercialise their ideas."

The federal government spent AU$280,000 earlier this year to bring US-based non-profit startup accelerator MassChallenge to Australia to help local startup entrepreneurs expand and grow their businesses, in a bid to strengthen the nation's startup ecosystem through idea-pitching competitions, startup boot camps, and local and international mentoring.

At the time, Pyne said accelerators were an important component of the ecosystem as they help boost the skills of participating startups.

"That is the kind of opportunity we want to create for startups here in Australia whilst also helping upskill the Australia innovation ecosystem," he said.

Last month, Hunt announced that the government would be handing out grants of up to AU$1 million to Australian businesses and individuals to be spent on research and development projects with global partners.

The new initiative falls under the government's Global Innovation Linkages program, which will see AU$18 million over five years go towards "collaboration".

"This initiative aims to support Australian industry and research organisations to collaborate on industry-focused challenges with global partners," Hunt said previously. "If we are to realise our vision for an economy powered by innovation, we'll need a strong pipeline of people with the skills and capability to support it."

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