Innovation leaders back growth program

CoOp Research
  • “Australia has a scale-up problem, not a start-up problem,” said Cathy Foley, Australia’s Chief Scientist. 
  • 94% of businesses in Australia employ fewer than ten people. This compares to 62 to 67% in Germany, Canada and the United States: IISA report. 
  • “Start-ups and SMEs are the ideas factory of our economy. But turning a good idea into a great product has been a bridge too far for many,” said Science Minister Ed Husic. 
  • “Government support saved Australia’s bionic ear from the Valley of Death,” said Catherine Livingstone. 
  • “We can create better conditions for scaling businesses, repeating Australian success stories like Cochlear,” said Jane O’Dwyer, CEO of Cooperative Research Australia.

Speakers at the National Innovation Policy Forum, have supported the $392 million Industry Growth Program, announced by Science Minister Ed Husic this morning.

The meeting of business innovators and research leaders aimed to capture ideas to help evolve the Australian innovation system to best support the country’s needs.

Over four themes, the Forum called for a maturation of the Australian innovation system, with a stronger investment in systems proven to be able to scale, and clear and long-term policy signals to unlock R&D investment from government and business.

Throughout the day, the Forum further explored ideas on how to support scaling innovation, better facilitate the timely transfer of knowledge across sectors, and finding ways to best build upon our current successes.

“Start-ups and SMEs are the ideas factory of our economy. But sometimes just having a great idea isn’t enough. Bridging that ‘valley of death’ and bearing the cost of turning a good idea into a great product has been a bridge too far for many,” said Minister Husic.

He made a call for businesses to look for growth into international markets, and acknowledged the impact policy has in supporting business to be innovative.

“Australian businesses are innovative – they are strong adopters of technologies and business processes. However, few innovate in ways that are new to the world. It is this type of innovation that will support our efforts to transform and diversify our industry and build our economic complexity,” he said.

Catherine Livingstone AO, in her 2023 Ralph Slatyer Address on Science and Society, reflected on the opportunities the Industry Growth Program represents for the sector.

“The announcement of the Industry Growth Program is very welcome because, even to the extent that venture funding for early-stage translation is available, the dilution through low valuations and subsequent funding rounds means that control, and IP, passes to the Venture Capitalists who often represent offshore interests.

“This is particularly important for IP in sectors which are just emerging, such as Space, Cleantech, and Quantum Computing and in which Australia has world leading IP and capability.

“We need to acknowledge that the innovation system is global and will not be optimising for Australia’s national interest.”

She reflected on the turbulence of business through the development of Cochlear’s bionic ear, and the important enabling function that the Government and Business sectors played in ensuring the innovation remained an Australian innovation. “In short, the Public Interest Grant saved the bionic ear from the Valley of Death,” she said.

Today, the company Cochlear accounts for more than 60 per cent of the global market for bionic ears.

Dr Cathy Foley, Australia’s Chief Scientist, posed that Australia has a scale-up problem, not a start-up problem.

“Medium-sized businesses, key to innovation, are underrepresented and struggling. By international comparisons, Australia’s industry structure is heavily skewed to micro businesses.”

She is also the Deputy Chair of the Industry Innovation and Science Australia (IISA) Board that today released their Barriers to collaboration and commercialisation report. In it, IISA shared findings that in 2017, 94% of businesses in Australia employed fewer than ten people. This compares to 62 to 67% in Germany, Canada and the United States.

“Our domestic market in Australia is small, and that’s why our businesses stay small,” said Dr Foley.

“Many priority industries in Australia have a low Revealed Comparative Advantage. These industries would require disruptive innovations to compete in international markets.”

Chief Executive Officer of Cooperative Research Australia, Ms Jane O’Dwyer, said the Forum provided a key opportunity in the year to capture the ideas of some of the most innovative leaders in the country.

“A key theme from today’s Forum has been how strong Australia is as a technology integrator. We have an international reputation of being a creative nation and for being able to solve global problems in novel ways.

“Our challenge is to support that Australian innovation while it’s still in Australia. Instead of our innovators having to take their ideas to other countries, we need to invest in the development and manufacture of Australian ideas on shore.”

Cooperative Research Australia will release a policy recommendation summary report in the coming weeks.

Chief Executive Officer of CRA, Jane O’Dwyer, is available for interview.

About Cooperative Research Australia

Cooperative Research Australia strengthens and promotes the transformative potential of collaborative, industry-led research through knowledge exchange, professional development, and advocacy. CRA supports Australian innovation, connecting research organisations and industry with private and public funding, data and insights, partnerships and best practice.

The National Innovation Policy Forum, organised by CRA, brings together Australian innovation leaders from business, research and boundary-spanning entities that foster industry-research collaboration with policymakers and parliamentarians to tackle common challenges. We are delighted to have two outstanding national leaders – Catherine Livingstone AO and David Thodey AO as co-patrons for the Forum. The 2023 theme was Australia’s Innovation Ecosystems – Building a Shared Vision.

The Forum captured ideas from national leaders and experts under four pillars of discussion:

  • Innovation Framework for Australia – Building on our Strengths
  • Making Innovation happen – Strategies for Success
  • Bridging the Gaps: From Start-up to Scaler
  • Our Superpower: Australia as a Technology Integrator
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