NSW government reveals Shark Tank innovation strategy

The New South Wales government has unveiled its innovation strategy with a number of key initiatives around streamlining innovation proposals, collaborating within and across government, and experimenting with ideas within regulatory sandboxes.
Written by Tas Bindi, Contributor

NSW Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation Victor Dominello has on Wednesday unveiled the state's multifaceted innovation strategy aimed at fostering a culture of new ideas and innovation within government in collaboration with technology entrepreneurs, startups, and small to mid-sized enterprises (SMEs).

As part of the innovation strategy [PDF], the government today launched the NSW Innovation Concierge (NIC), aimed at being the "front door" for entrepreneurs, startups, and SMEs looking to do business with the government.

Speaking at the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) NSW Government Innovation Forum, Dominello explained that the NIC will implement a "Shark Tank" process where proposals for the government to be more innovative and agile are judged in consultation with industry experts.

"The most frustrating thing for stakeholders that I've heard is their interface with government and not just from a procurement perspective," Dominello said. "We've heard comments like 'good ideas go nowhere in government'."

Importantly, Dominello said proposals can be tracked via NIC the same way we are able to track parcels.

"Time is key and people should be able to see how their ideas are progressing inside of government rather than going into the mysterious void," he said.

Another key initiative of the innovation strategy is the creation of a Ministerial Innovation Committee (MIC) that will oversee the implementation of the innovation strategy, seek advice and recommendations from subject matter experts, and address systemic barriers to innovation and collaborative practice within and across government.

"I've heard loud and clear that governments don't like being disrupted. We are conservative by nature and resistant to change," Dominello said. "We need a circuit breaker for this. If the gatekeeper is likely to be the person disrupted, you can safely assume the gate is going to have padlocks on it. Embedded in the innovation strategy is a significant culture change for government."

"The Shark Tank will serve as a check and balance against the gatekeeper. For this culture change to occur it requires political leadership."

The MIC will advise the government as to whether an idea should progress further into government.

The NSW government also launched the Innovation Launch program designed to provide entrepreneurs with seed funding of AU$150,000 to incubate and launch ideas around specific problems. The theme of the first round of the program is improving public transport access for people with disabilities as part of the Smart Cities agenda.

As part of the innovation strategy, the NSW government will also provide businesses in the state the ability to test out new technologies within sandboxes that are isolated from their regulatory obligations. Dominello said that by helping businesses experiment with ideas, the government can "rapidly adapt disruption" and unlock economic and social opportunities.

"When I say government is inherently conservative that is not a political observation," Dominello said. "Governments need to be, in many ways, conservative because you do not want governments being risky in the delivery of essential public services. There still needs to be safe harbours."

"We will work with NSW regulators to create sandboxes which will allow innovators to test new solutions, markets, and business models currently constrained by NSW regulations. Regulatory sandboxes are already being used in the financial services sector, but we want to push the boundaries and apply this concept to other areas."

Dominello advised businesses to alert the NSW government of specific regulatory barriers to innovation in agtech, blockchain, healthtech, energy tech, social innovation, and other areas via the NSW In novation website.

As a precursor to the launch of the innovation strategy, Dominello said the government introduced changes to procurement guidelines to make it easier for government agencies to do business with startups and SMEs. The changes have seen the upper limit of the procurement innovation stream -- a mechanism to foster innovation in the way government buys goods and services -- increase fourfold from AU$250,000 to AU$1 million.

Dominello also lamented the lack of collaboration within and across government agencies, explaining that the new innovation strategy aims to change that.

"We have recognised that we must collaborate not only with the non-government sector but different levels of government operating in NSW. The innovation strategy dovetails with the work of our federal counterpart," said Dominello.

"As part of our strategy we have established a partnership group with the City of Sydney at first instance to explore what both levels of government can do to unlock opportunities for our entire state."

Also announced today is Jobs for NSW allocating AU$10 million to grow the state's network of incubators and accelerators, and AU$3 million in 2016-2017 for direct grants to startups.

Dominello is also a big proponent of open data and will be pushing forth open data initiatives in 2017. He first announced the state's plans to create the Data Analytics Centre in August last year, saying at the time that data is one of the greatest assets held by government, but when it is buried away in bureaucracy, it is of little value.

Since then, Dominello has introduced a bill that requires each of the agencies and state-owned amenities to give his department their data within 14 days; appointed an advisory board charged with overseeing how the state government uses that data; and announced the addition of a chief information and digital officer to drive the government's digital agenda.

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