WA banks on its warm climate to become APAC innovation launching pad

The Western Australian government has published its Innovation Strategy, hoping to use its AU$5 million annual innovation fund and its 'wondrous natural environment' to draw talent to Australia's largest state.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

The Western Australian government has released its AU$20 million Innovation Strategy, outlining its plan to lure the best and brightest talent to the country's west.

According to Minister for State Development; Transport; Innovation Bill Marmion, the four-year strategy [PDF] provides a framework and a platform from which WA can build its "innovative future".

"This strategy is designed to ignite innovation and position Western Australia as a launching pad for the entire Asian region," Marmion said.

"Western Australian innovators have repeatedly shown that they are among the best in the world, and the state itself is increasingly renowned for its innovation, development, and capital investment opportunities."

The introduction to the strategy notes that while innovation is often associated with technology, WA has taken the people path.

"Primarily innovation is about people. As such, this strategy is unashamedly people focused," the strategy says. "It takes the view that by developing people -- by providing opportunities for learning, networking, mentoring, and collaborating -- and by fostering an environment in which creativity can flow and even wild ideas can be pursued, innovation can flourish."

The strategy is based on four pillars: Talent and skills, investment and infrastructure, culture and collaboration, and marketing and promotion

Under talent and skills, the state government has so far committed AU$900,000 per year, for four years, through awards, hackathons, and entrepreneurial programs. It also hopes to kick off a government agency innovation program that will be funded from agency budgets.

Such initiatives include the Start IT Up WA Challenge which will see successful applicants work with a state government agency to develop a project that will benefit the agency.

The government said it will also continue to fund the Innovator of the Year award; sponsor events that grow and showcase Western Australia's innovation capability; hold an annual Innovation Summit; and provide funds to an unspecified entity to teach entrepreneurship.

The strategy hopes to address the investment and infrastructure challenge by co-funding -- alongside angel investors -- a new WA Start-up Program; providing "innovation vouchers" for a total cost of AU$400,000 over the next 12 months; streamlining the process to commercialisation by providing relevant support to innovators and reducing red tape; implementing an IP policy to make it easier to commercialise government IP; providing funds for "unsolicited bids" for proposed innovations that meet a government priority; and for an annual cost of AU$1 million, the state government will be creating a university innovation commercialisation fund to help universities spin-out commercial entities based on their own entrepreneurial activities.

It also wants to use Western Australian trade offices as landing pads for innovators to access international markets.

"The mining boom that greatly benefited Western Australia recently is often purported to be over and investment in resource sector infrastructure has declined," the strategy says.

"However, the infrastructure that was built during the boom is now coming into production, and the income stream generated from mining is continuing to grow"

When it comes to culture and collaboration, the government will be establishing a Western Australian innovation collaboration portal and will hold annual Innovation Summits.

"The portal is more than a directory, although it is also that. It enables anyone to look at what is going on in innovation in WA. Any organisation -- be it large and well-established, a small startup, or anything in between -- will be able to access opportunities to collaborate and to find co-working spaces," the strategy says.

"Perth is a relatively small place, but we can step up to occupy a big space in the world of innovation."

With its last focus area, the WA government will be marketing and promoting the state to the west by creating a brand campaign to lure innovations domestically and internationally.

The promotion will include an initial setup cost of AU$400,000 and a reoccurring investment of AU$200,000 per annum thereafter, and will include the creation of an innovation brand for the state; videos showcasing local innovations; a trade pack for delegations, missions, and trade offices; trade missions; and international programs.

"For too long Perth has been seen as an isolated city, without recognising the huge benefits of our location and how well we are connected with the region," the strategy says.

"Our warm climate and wondrous natural environment make Western Australia the ideal place to pursue healthy outdoor lifestyles."

The strategy will be funded by the AU$20 million innovation package the state government announced as part of its 2016-2017 Budget in May. At the time, the government said the package would promote innovation and strengthen, broaden, and build the state's economy.

Following the budget, Marmion brought together who he dubbed Western Australia's innovation leaders from across industry, business, academia, and the startup scene to discuss the role innovation could play in shaping the state's future, and then published the Innovation Strategy as a result.

According to the WA government, its strategy is "consistent and synergistic" with the ambitions and focus of Malcolm Turnbull's National Innovation Agenda, the Science Statement for Western Australia that was published in April last year, and a range of talent and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) related initiatives.

Turnbull unveiled his AU$1.1 billion National Innovation and Science Agenda in December that was centred on what he called the ideas boom, saying that unlike the mining boom, the ideas boom is one that can continue forever and is limited only by our imagination.

Although WA's strategy comes almost a year after Turnbull's, the strategy says that it is time for government to step up to be an exemplar of innovation, not a follower.

As a result, the strategy states that the WA government will be an exemplar of innovation by being a first customer to innovators, incubating innovations that address government problems, and having innovation programs running in all public sector agencies.

"It's time everyone knew that Western Australia is a great place in which to live and innovate," the strategy says.

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