13 April 2023

UNSW Founders launches sovereign defence innovation accelerator program

| Andrew McLaughlin
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David Burt

Director of entrepreneurship at UNSW David Burt says locally based innovation and industrial capability are critical to developing solutions that are specific to Australia’s needs. Photo: UNSW.

The UNSW Founders Program has launched a new innovation accelerator program focused on strengthening Australia’s sovereign capabilities.

Dubbed ‘Defence 10x’, the accelerator program will provide six Australian startups with entrepreneurial experience, seed investment, research and development capabilities, and access to expert networks to accelerate the commercial development of Australia’s next generation of defence innovations.

Defence 10x is part of the $240 million Defence Trailblazer initiative, which is aimed at increasing collaboration between Defence, academia and industry to develop technologies and innovation capabilities designed to improve Australia’s national security and resilience.

The Trailblazer Universities Program is comprised of six universities with dedicated investment to accelerate Australia’s innovation agenda at speed and at scale.

The initiative is expected to play a leading role in securing Australia’s economic recovery, providing a net economic benefit of $1.5 billion in the next 10 years.

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“Startups and a vibrant innovation ecosystem have a key role to play in boosting Australia’s national security and resilience,” David Burt, director of entrepreneurship at UNSW, said in a 12 April release.

“While large foreign defence firms are important for Australia to access scalable manufacturing and systems integration, locally based innovation and industrial capability are critical to developing solutions that are specific to Australia’s needs,” he added.

“It is necessary to support the emergence of next-generation defence contractors like High Earth Orbit Robotics and Silentium Defence who can tackle this gap.”

UNSW Founders’ Defence 10x will provide each selected startup with $350,000 in seed funding, and is currently the only Defence-focused accelerator program in Australia. It is open to all Australian founders innovating across the sector.

The program broadly defines ‘Defence’ to include dual-use technology, and is recruiting founders who have technology that will strengthen Australia’s sovereign capability and defend its critical infrastructure. This could include capabilities such as weapons, equipment, quantum, artificial intelligence, or systems that protect critical infrastructure like energy and water.

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“There are fantastic startup ideas and powerful innovations being developed all around the country, but tricky market dynamics have meant innovations often struggle to reach commercialisation,” David Burt said.

“Defence-specific expertise, funding and networks are needed to accelerate our ability to develop and translate great ideas into deployable products, to the benefit of our national security. That’s why we’ve developed Defence 10x.

“UNSW is uniquely positioned to support founders with extensive expertise and specialist equipment, and together with the networks of the Defence Trailblazer we bring a unique support package for founders in this space.”

Dr Sanjay Mazumdar, executive director of the Defence Trailblazer, added, “There’s an urgent need for change within the defence innovation system, and it’s programs like Defence 10x which are tackling this head-on.

“Accelerating the development of sovereign capabilities in areas such as quantum, AI, cyber, hypersonics, autonomous systems and space technology will produce the cutting-edge technology our nation needs to be self-reliant,” Dr Mazumdar added.

“UNSW’s Founder 10x programs are a proven method for accelerating commercial development, and combining this with the deep networks of the Defence Trailblazer will enable us to uncover Australia’s next big defence solutions.”

Defence 10x will be run in two phases – a pre-accelerator and accelerator program,” he said. “Applications for the programs are now open. Teams will be shortlisted for a due diligence phase, and then six startups will be selected for the full-time accelerator with the boot camp starting in August 2023.”

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