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​WA opposition pledges AU$14.5m for startups

Western Australia's opposition leader has pledged AU$14.5 million to support tech-focused startups as the mining sector continues to slow down.

Western Australia's opposition wants to spark local innovation, pledging AU$14.5 million for a new industries fund to support startups.

Under Labor's plan, startups could access the funds for business skills, marketing support, investment strategy, and advocacy work in the technology and computer gaming sectors.

State Opposition Leader Mark McGowan said the funding would be spread over five years, with AU$10 million slated for city-based projects, and the remainder given to those in rural locations.

McGowan said the new program would be Labor's way of diversifying the state's economy as the mining sector slowed down, with the focus shifting to those in specialist fields such as digital media, app development, computer animation, and computer game development.

"I want to ensure that our best and brightest remain in our state, go on and use their creative abilities to create great businesses, great companies, great opportunities for West Australians," he said. "This is a major part of our state's future."

The startup funding builds on the AU$17 million Science in Schools program McGowan launched last month, aimed at igniting kids' passion for science at an early age.

At the time, McGowan said the policy would be a key component of the opposition's vision to broaden the state's economy, grow local industries, and create more jobs.

"The lack of exposure to science in our primary schools has been a missed opportunity. If we're serious about diversifying our economy we need to get serious about preparing students for jobs outside of the resources industry," he said. "It's crucial to ignite a passion for science at an early age to ensure our kids receive a quality education in science, starting in primary school."

According to the opposition, AU$12 million of the total AU$17 million Science in Schools fund will be used to convert existing classrooms into science labs, with 200 schools to receive grants of AU$25,000 to purchase resources to equip their labs with the remaining AU$5 million.

McGowan conceded the proposed funds did not provide a lot of money, but said they would foster much-needed innovation in the state.

The opposition leader also said while the Victorian and New South Wales governments had each supported startups, WA lagged behind in comparison, saying the current state government had shown little interest.

He said two-thirds of Australia's startups operated out of Sydney, while 40 percent of games produced in Australia came from Victoria where state funding was provided for game development.

The Victorian government unveiled its AU$60 million startup fund in November, which the Minister for Small Business, Innovation and Trade Philip Dalidakis said was aimed at giving entrepreneurs in the state every opportunity for success.

"We want to make sure that the startups in Victoria have the best opportunity for success," he told ZDNet. "We already have some amazing incubators and accelerators right now, but what we want to do is we want to grow; we want to grow the sector and so by providing that funding to assist in that way, we think we can grow the whole system."

According to Dalidakis, governments need to change their thinking, with the minister saying governments need to walk the walk, and not just talk the talk.

On the eve of Queensland's 2015-2016 state budget, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced a AU$24 million startup initiative, which formed part of the AU$180 million Advance Queensland scheme.

"As a government, we know that the real driver of economic change are entrepreneurs and ambitious businesses," Palaszczuk said at the time.

"Every big corporate starts as an emerging business that took a chance. Startups can reshape entire industries through technology and business model innovation. They are vital to job creation and prosperity -- in fact studies have found that each technology job created leads to five additional jobs in other sectors."

NSW is currently waiting for its data-driven innovation policy, which Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation Victor Dominello has slated for May, following in the path of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

In December, the federal government unveiled its AU$1.1 billion National Innovation and Science Agenda, which covered over 20 measures that were centred on its "Ideas Boom" rhetoric.

As part of that agenda, the Turnbull government established a AU$11 million startup landing pad initiative, designed to help Australian entrepreneurs bring their ideas to market and build high-growth and high-return enterprises.

The government expects these five landing pads to accelerate Australia's access to international business networks, entrepreneurial talent, business development, and investors by creating a unique ecosystem for innovation to thrive.

The first pad has kicked off in Silicon Valley at RocketSpace, which has been working with tech startups and corporate innovation professionals since 2011. The second space will be in Tel Aviv, the third is pencilled in for Shanghai, and the remaining two are expected to be positioned in Europe and in another capital city in Asia.

With AAP