The Federal government launched its AU$251 million Enterprise Connect network last night, which it hopes will kick-start productivity for SMEs working in areas such as mining tech and clean energy.
The network will consist of a series of centres across the country, with SME hubs for networking, finding advice on how to improve the business, and researching available technologies, according to Innovation minister Kim Carr speaking last night at the launch.
The Enterprise Connect network will consist of five manufacturing centres: Mawson Lakes, South Australia; Dandenong, Victoria; Burnie, Tasmania; Sydney; and Perth. There will also be five innovation centres: mining technology in Mackay; remote enterprise, for businesses in isolated locations, in Alice Springs; innovative regions, for regions with high unemployment and other concerns, in Geelong as well as centres for creative industries, for arts practitioners and cultural entrepreneurs; and clean energy at unspecified locations.
The creative industries centre will receive AU$17 million over four years, the mining technology centre AU$14 million, the remote enterprises centre AU$10 million, and the clean energy and innovative regions centre AU$20 million each.
In addition, AU$10 million has been budgeted for "experts" who will work with companies for up to 12 months working on projects the firm wants using the latest techniques and technologies.
Business advisors will operate out of the manufacturing centres, providing companies with a free business review and benchmarking processes against best practice, as well as supplying contacts to prototyping and testing facilities to take ideas to the next level, and helping the SMEs get into government programs.
The centres will also be charged with helping the companies to find the latest research and tech to improve their products.
The research information stored in each centre will be made available to other centres across the network. "Each centre will be in constant communication with the other centres, and the network as a whole will be in constant communications with other networks — whether through partner organisations, state governments, the Industry Capability Network, Austrade or others," Carr said.
"This will enable us to build up a permanent, readily accessible and truly national knowledge bank — a storehouse of information about what research is being done, what research SMEs need, what trends are developing, what technologies are available to meet those trends, and much, much more," he continued.
According to a spokesperson for the minister, the connectivity between the centres will be provided by a Web-based CRM system and Intranet, developed by the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, which enables the centres and business advisors to share information and work from a common IT platform.
There are currently 45 advisors according to a spokesperson for the minister, who work with firms at their place of business at times that suit the company. Out of the 45, 19 are in non-metropolitan areas.
Only businesses which have turned over more than AU$2 million and under AU$100 million in the previous financial year are eligible to join the program. Applying to join the program takes a couple of minutes, and firms know within a day if they are eligible, according to the spokesperson.