​Wyatt Roy wants Australia to adopt a 'chutzpah' mentality

Assistant Minister for Innovation Wyatt Roy has been inspired by a visit to Israel's thriving startup hub and believes Australia has a lot to learn from the risk-taking entrepreneurs of Tel Aviv.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

During his current visit to Israel, Assistant Minister for Innovation Wyatt Roy has found himself immersed in the Tel Aviv entrepreneurial startup scene, and as a result, wants Australia to follow in its footsteps.

Speaking via video conference to the Open Opportunity Forum in Sydney on Thursday, Roy said Israel is a world leader in innovation and entrepreneurship. He said his purpose for visiting the Middle Eastern country was to see what Australia can learn from the Israelis, and in turn, what we can gain from a cooperative relationship with the nation regarding innovation and entrepreneurship.

"There are amazing opportunities for our two countries," Roy said.

"They have more startups per capita than any other country on earth, they have more investment in research and development per capita than any other country on earth, and more venture capital invested per capita than any other country on earth. They really are the global golden standard when it comes to innovation."

Roy said there is a strong cultural element in Israeli innovation and believes there is a lot Australia can learn from this.

"I've often said that we need to embrace the best elements of our culture -- that aspirational mindset, that 'have a go' mentality -- and support the underdog," Roy said, "Here in Israel, it's very much evident in every element of their society they embrace that Hebrew word, 'chutzpah', where they go out and they are prepared to take on an enormous amount of risk to have a go -- and they're not afraid of failure.

"Here in Israel they do fantastic research, and that's with scientists, much like we have at home, but they really are quite able to cooperate in a very effective way between the government, higher education, science, research, and the private sector," he said. "And I think there's an enormous amount that we can learn."

Roy disagrees with the perception that Tel Aviv is stealing Australia's best and brightest talent, in what he said has been labelled the "brain drain". Embracing the idea of talent sharing, Roy believes there is a lot to gain by seeing the circulation of people through global innovation hubs.

"Here there are a lot of young Australians. I was talking to a couple of entrepreneurs last night, who have some incredible startups here and they're moving home at the end of this month," Roy said. "The fact that they're going home back to Australia -- partly because they're excited about the opportunities that our country now represents -- is a really valuable thing.

"The fact that they were [in Israel] means they've gained a really valuable skill set, and they've gained access to new capital markets. It's not one versus the other; you want to see circulation between the countries as they complement each other."

The 25-year-old assistant minister said he wants to see changes happen with Australia's 457 visas -- further improving them to make it a globally competitive system.

"It will be reasonable to expect that we treat people with visiting tech skills in the same way that we treat other skills that we are sponsoring," Roy said. "I think there's frustration around the waiting periods when it comes to visas. I'd also like to see measures, whatever they might be, that help attract entrepreneurs to develop."

"When it comes to capital, here in Israel, we see about AU$400 per capita invested in venture capital innovation. In Australia it's about AU$5 per capita," Roy said.

Drawing on his years of experience in the heart of California's Silicon Valley, Adrian Turner, CEO of the newly formed Data61, disagrees with Roy's assertion on capital funding.

"I don't think the problem is access to capital; capital will go wherever the good ideas are," Turner said. "The money is there, but I think the investors need education as much as the entrepreneurs."

Turner believes what Australian entrepreneurs actually need to do is think globally.

"We have the best in class, best in the world talent, but the framing is very domestic," he said.

"I think that another thing is a sense of alignment across different parts of the ecosystem and I came back to be a part of that solution.

"The definition of success is we tend to set out to build the Australian derivative of Airbnb or Uber. We're better than that. I think we need to set out to build fundamentally disruptive and new industries."

According to Turner, a support infrastructure is key, and he added that he wants to see a culture that tolerates failure, by encouraging people to get back up and "have a go".

Marita Cheng, 2012 Young Australian of the Year and the founder and CEO of robotics startup, 2Mar Robotics, visited Israel with Roy in a trade mission co-lead capacity.

"We visited a technology university here in Tel Aviv today and spoke with some PhD students, and I was really struck by how they all had such a broad academic knowledge about entrepreneurship," Cheng said.

"I asked them what kind of support they get if they want to start a company, and they said you have to go to your professor, not just with an idea, but you need to have a plan of some sort and you need to sketch something out, or start working on a prototype. They know how to start a company; they've seen it before, they've done it before.

Cheng said professors in Tel Aviv even offer students lab space to get started.

Last week, Professor Ian Chubb, Australia's chief scientist, said entrepreneurship is a human endeavour and is thus inseparable from education, not independent of it.

"Australians aren't short of talent but we need to get better at turning our creativity into successful products and services," he said. "To be a more innovative country we need to encourage an entrepreneurial mindset at every level of education -- starting in schools, continuing in higher study and enduring throughout working lives.

"In popular culture the entrepreneur is the rogue genius who succeeds without, or in spite of, education. And it would be extremely convenient if that were true," Chubb said. "If we cannot teach entrepreneurship, we can only recognise the born entrepreneurs and get out of their way whilst they get on with the business of change."

Chubb said entrepreneurship education should not be all about traditional classroom-based education; rather it should focus on giving students opportunities to experience entrepreneurship for themselves, outside of the classroom.

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