The Innovation Agenda: What’s in it for me?

We have all heard about the Federal Government’s A$1.1 billion Innovation Agenda, which it hopes will lead to an “ideas boom”. But how exactly will it help individual businesses?

The first and most important thing to understand about the Federal Government’s National Innovation & Science Agenda, better known simply as the “Innovation Agenda”, is that it is not just for young entrepreneurs presiding over start-ups, says Liz Kobold, “Business Ninja” at the Canberra Innovation Network.

“Funky, young entrepreneurs running start-ups understand what ‘innovation’ means,” Kobold says. “Owners of SMEs [small and medium enterprises] are busy working in established businesses and are probably doing some very cool things, too. But you don’t think of those things in terms of innovation. It is vital to realise that any time you are making changes, improving systems and products, developing new technologies and new ways of doing things, you are being an innovator.”

If you are making such changes and advances within your business, the Innovation Agenda and its many benefits could be for you. Its basics are clearly outlined on the Innovation Agenda website. They include:

  • tax breaks that encourage investment in innovative businesses
  • simplification of crowd-sourced equity rules
  • an increase in the maximum fund size for early-stage venture capital limited partnerships, essentially attracting greater levels of venture capital investment
  • a greater ability to offset losses against other profits
  • greater opportunities to reach global markets and be mentored along the way
  • support through incubators and accelerators.

And there is plenty more. On a practical level all of the changes are of great importance, so it pays to spend time on the site. But some of the greatest value, Kobold says, comes from the final two points, above.

“The Department of Industry, Innovation & Science offers a number of programs under the Innovation Agenda,” she says. “Every state has business advisers who are there to work one-on-one with innovative businesses. The Department has employed business advisers who are regionally based and local to you.”

Funding is also available for research purposes, whether in partnership with academics at a university or with experts in your area of industry.

“The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade helps support international market research, too,” Kobold adds. “There is additional funding for export advisers. The Canberra Business Chamber, for example, employs an Export Adviser who helps prepare businesses for the export market. I have also seen the Department of Industry deliver on that type of market research, with support from embassies and from people on the ground overseas.”

Smaller businesses can take advantage of assistance from the Australian Small Business Advisory Services (ASBAS) programs, which offer grants and assistance for various purposes. Outlines of these programs can be found in the ASBAS section of the website

Before beginning your research into the practical implications of the Innovation Agenda, consider whether your ambition is for your business to expand or if you’d prefer it stayed as is and provided you a specific lifestyle, Kobold recommends.

“The Innovation Agenda is targeting ambitious, high growth, innovative businesses,” she says.

“One of the key points of interest that we have observed over the last 18 months is that only a small portion of SME owners want to be world leaders and world changers. Part of this Innovation Agenda program will help to create more ambition for that. It will help seed the possibility. And I think that is important – you need to inspire in people the idea of being world leaders in their industry before you can make it happen,” says Kobold.

“In order for your business to become a world leader, you first need to acknowledge that it is possible. You need to connect with trusted advisers and be able to make a clear decision on what your ambition is. If you want to do it then the Innovation Agenda can make it easier.”

How well does Australia innovate?

Innovation is imperative in the Australian economy, but how well do we do compared to other nations? The Global Innovation Index 2015, a collaboration between Cornell University, INSEAD and the World Intellectual Property Organisation, puts Australia at 17th, below New Zealand, Canada, Singapore, the UK and even Iceland. But we’re above Japan, France, Belgium, China, Saudi Arabia and many more. Top of the list is Switzerland and bottom of the list, at number 141, is Sudan. So 17th isn’t completely unacceptable, but the Innovation Agenda hopes to drag us up this list by removing roadblocks that have long stood in the way.

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