The Commonwealth Government’s Ideas Boom is prompting a big focus on the start-up sector in Australia, pushing it forward as the way to replace role of the minerals sector in our economy.
We’ve long heralded ourselves as “the clever country”, and we have a track record of world changing technology and innovation to back it. We have lagged behind other economies with the way our broader business environment and regulations work though. The ‘Ideas Boom’ is all about catching up on those things, getting the nation up with the rest of the world.
The concept is good: a healthy business sector that produces ideas and products means a healthy economy, more jobs and more opportunities. However, as a nation we don’t really seem to know where to start; or, at least, the right people aren’t being asked.
Assistant Minister for Innovation, Wyatt Roy, has spent time in Silicon Valley recently, highlighting a “launchpad” for all the Australian talent the Government is apparently excited to be shipping offshore. He also spent time looking at the superstar start-ups in the Valley, the latest crop of “unicorns”.
At the same time as Mr Roy was in the USA, the Government has released more details of its visa plan aimed at attracting international entrepreneurs to establish in Australia. The details of the plan are currently out for consultation, but there is an important message the Australian Government is sending our grass-roots innovators.
It’s a simple message: you’re not good enough. The message from the Commonwealth Government to the Australian innovation community is moving more and more in the direction of saying “we want to be an innovative nation, but you aren’t up to it.”
With all due respect, Mr Turnbull and Mr Roy, rubbish. The talent we have in Australia, from grass-roots and start-ups to the high end research institutions, is phenomenal. Much as we do in the sporting arena, we punch well above our weight when it comes to innovation. Wherever you go in the world, find an innovation hot bed and before you know it you’ll also find Aussie talent.
The reason it isn’t happening here in the same way as it does overseas is that we refuse to celebrate it. We still hold on tight to the tall poppy syndrome – whenever someone rises up they get chopped straight down. Our innovation scene in Australia has been forced underground. We have great success stories, but they hide until they are near the top and too strong to be cut down.
The current plan from the Commonwealth Government seems to be focussed on the way our innovation ecosystem looks from the outside, not the actual benefit to us in the long term. When it comes to the entrepreneurial talent that drives it, there are two clear messages:
- If you’re Australian and can make it, get yourself overseas and get big. Then once you’re a success, please move back home so we reap the reward without providing support.
- We don’t have enough good entrepreneurs, or people who would make good entrepreneurs. If you live in another country, bring your idea here and we’ll help you make it!
It’s crazy. We have the talent. What we need is a system and culture that supports risk taking. Sending all our ideas offshore might help them grow, but it will still leave us with a big gap at home. We are in a different business environment, at a global level, to what we used to be. It is no longer a requirement to be based in a country to sell there.
Importing overseas ideas to fill the gap is counter-productive. It won’t bring a direct link to greater investment in the local sector. If anything it will push us towards the models of other places, rather than letting us create a prominent Australian innovation culture.
Changing the basis of an economy is not a one election term task. We need to be in it for the long haul, it needs to start in schools and in workplaces, we need to encourage a different way of thinking. It’s going to take time, but we can do it here. We have the knowledge, the experience and the ambition – we just need to celebrate it and support it.