Budget 2017: Government to 'refocus' on regional startup incubators

The government has said it will refocus its Entrepreneurs Program to support regional startup incubators across Australia with a grants system.

The Australian government has announced that it will "refocus" its incubator support tranche of the Entrepreneurs Program to provide extra support for businesses in regional areas.

"This measure will include additional regional incubator facilitators and provide grants to support the establishment of regional business incubators," the government said.

The cost will be supported by the existing resources allocated by the Department of Industry, Innovation, and Science under the program, with the regional refocus to cost AU$1.5 million in 2018-19 and AU$1.8 million in 2019-20.

"Our investments in science and innovation and our defence industries are breaking ground," Treasurer Scott Morrison said in his Budget 2017-18 speech on Tuesday.

The Entrepreneurs Program, funded under the government's AU$1.1 billion National Innovation and Science Agenda in December 2015, was originally announced as a AU$8 million initiative but was allocated an additional AU$15 million over four years as part of Malcolm Turnbull's election campaign last year.

The program was hailed as contributing to the government's economic growth priority by supporting incubators, accelerators, and businesses to foster the development of startups.

"Incubators are a vital part of any effective innovation ecosystem, helping high-potential startups realise their economic potential and global ambitions," former Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science Christopher 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."

As part of the Entrepreneurs Program, the government kicked off its AU$23 million incubator support program in September last year.

The government's incubator funding pool is distributed via an application process, where matching grants of between AU$10,000 and AU$500,000 are awarded to successful candidates for the creation of new incubators, as well as for existing incubators to expand their services.

The government also spent AU$280,000 earlier this year to bring US startup accelerator MassChallenge to Australia to encourage and assist local entrepreneurs through idea-pitching competitions, startup boot camps, and local and international mentoring.

The government then began consultation for an Entrepreneur Visa earlier this year, releasing a discussion paper to tackle concerns including: Individual nomination procedure, third-party backing, length of stay, visa extension length, and whether the individual should be given permanent residency if their innovations prove to be a success.

"It is critical for Australia's prosperity and growth that we not only tap into the best entrepreneurial minds in Australia, but we also make it easier for talent from overseas to contribute to this country's innovative future," Christopher Pyne said at the time.

"We are also keen to retain those educated and talented people who have come to Australia and developed their knowledge base during their time in this country."

Since then, however, the government has committed to an "Australia-first" policy when it comes to foreign workers, abolishing the 457 visa and replacing it with the TSS visa -- which the government earlier on Tuesday said will charge a levy to go towards the new "Skilling Australians Fund" focused on training "Australian" workers in new skills.

The federal government also used its 2017-18 Budget to announce that it expects overall research spending to increase over the next five years under the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy as part of the National Innovation and Science Agenda.

Research in science services and innovation fund will be funded with AU$1.08 billion in 2016-17, AU$1.06 billion in 2017-18, AU$1.12 billion in 2018-19, AU$1.15 billion in 2019-20, and AU$1.154 billion in 2020-21, the government said.

Likewise, AU$0.6 million will be given to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility in order to maintain its online platforms.

"This measure supports existing online platforms that inform decision makers seeking to adapt to changes in climate," the government said.

The climate change platforms will be funded by redirecting existing Department of the Environment and Energy finances, the government said, adding that it is taking a "technology neutral approach" to improving the energy sector's security and reliability.

Under the 2017-18 Budget, the government will also provide AU$1.5 million over four years, and AU$0.4 million per year thereafter, to support IP Australia's activities.