Turnbull: Western Sydney the next Silicon Valley

Malcolm Turnbull visited Western Sydney University on Friday, urging locals to embrace the possibility that they may become the next Silicon Valley-esque entrepreneurs.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is looking towards Sydney's West for the country's upcoming batch of innovators, saying the area could become the next Silicon Valley.

Speaking at Western Sydney University on Friday, Turnbull suggested that the blue-collar workers of the region may soon become entrepreneurs, and urged residents to embrace the possibility.

"Be bold in your ideas when considering what Western Sydney's future looks like," the prime minister said. "Could this be our Silicon Valley?"

Key to Turnbull's vision is the second Sydney airport, which he believes will open up new opportunities for the region.

Announced in August, the airport will be built in Badgerys Creek, a stone's throw away from Sydney's Kingsford Smith Airport.

"The debate about a Western Sydney airport has gone on for decades. We have ended the indecision and uncertainty, getting on with the job of ensuring the right infrastructure is in place to cater for Western Sydney's rapid population growth and development needs," former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development Warren Truss said previously.

"The airport will be a game changer for the region, New South Wales, and the national economy. It will connect Western Sydney with the rest of the world, and deliver tens of thousands of jobs through both construction and long-term operation, returning around AU$24 billion to the economy."

Turnbull promised locals from one of the largest federal electorates in the country that his AU$1 billion innovation plan would create more local jobs by boosting startups and innovative small businesses.

In December, the Australian government unveiled its AU$1.1 billion National Innovation and Science Agenda, which covered more than 20 measures centred on its "Ideas Boom" rhetoric.

One of those measures included the promise for a focus on regional Australia to support startups and entrepreneurship outside of major cities, with a new Incubator Support Programme slated to receive AU$8 million.

According to Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science Christopher Pyne, 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.

On Friday, Pyne, alongside Assistant Minister for Innovation Wyatt Roy, published an Incubator Support Discussion Paper describing the draft program parameters.

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

The discussion paper asks three questions, with the first inviting respondents to discuss what lessons could be learned from similar programs, and how to incorporate these into the design and implementation of Australia's incubator initiative.

The second question asks how the federal initiative can best complement similar state and territory activities, with the final question asking what types of activities could be supported under the three components, and whether their suggested caps are appropriate.

The three components of the Incubator Support Programme that the government will offer funding support for are new incubators, existing incubators, and expert-in-residence.

For new incubators, the government said it will support the development of new incubators and accelerators in regions or sectors with high innovation potential. Providing that certain requirements are met, the funding will likely be capped at AU$200,000 with the government saying it will be provided through a competitive merits-based process.

Existing incubators will be given up to AU$50,000 in funding, aimed at boosting the effectiveness of high-performing incubators, including funding support to expand their services, and assist in running initiatives such as hackathons as well as community engagement and outreach events.

Expert-in-residence is intended to provide access to top-quality research and technical talent through secondments of national or international expert advisers. The government expects to match funding at a minimum of one-to-one with industry, provided that they meet such criteria as the individual's capability to spark innovation and the impact they have on startups and entrepreneurs.

Roy said there are already more than 30 successful incubators and accelerators in Australia, which have helped hundreds of innovative businesses get off the ground.

"Incubator Support will help establish new incubators in regions or industry sectors with high innovation potential, as well as expanding the services offered by existing incubators," Roy said.

Last month, Roy announced the first three locations for the government's AU$11 million startup landing pad initiative, aimed at accelerating Australia's access to international business networks, entrepreneurial talent, business development, and investors by creating a unique ecosystem for innovation to thrive.

Silicon Valley was revealed as the inaugural landing pad location, with the initiative taking up tenancy at RocketSpace technology campus in San Francisco; Tel Aviv was named as the second host city; and the third is pencilled in for Shanghai, with the remaining two expected to be positioned in Europe and in another capital city in Asia.

The consultation process for the Turnbull government's Incubator Support Programme will run from March 15 through to early April 2016.

With AAP

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