Government says businesses no longer need to repay early-stage Commercialisation Australia grants

In news that will cheer businesses looking for financial support for a new product or service, early stage commercialisation grants of up to $2 million will no longer have to be repaid and larger companies are now encouraged to apply.

In changes announced yesterday, businesses with annual revenue of up to $50 million – up from $20 million – are now eligible for the early stage commercialisation grant.

Under the new system, grants of between $50,000 and $2 million will no longer need to be repaid once certain sales targets are met.

Chief executive of Commercialisation Australia, Doron Ben-Meir, says the repayment obligation was lifted following feedback from recipients that it was cumbersome.

The former venture capitalist says the application process is designed to be quick and easy – and the quality of the applicants has been improving since starting up in early 2010.

“The idea is you don’t have to do terribly much work [to apply],” Ben-Meir says.

“It’s targeting a new product or service, and potentially a viable one.”

First, applicants submit their application and receive feedback from case managers; applicants are then encouraged to submit a more detailed application which is given formal feedback.

The application then goes to the CA board for consideration.

Once the application reaches the second stage, a determination is made within 75 days, Ben-Meir says.

Adrian Spencer, of grant consultancy GrantReady, describes the changes as an “early Christmas present” and says they’re likely to attract the “right people” to the program.

“The repayable loan caused some confusion and I think it was unclear for some people how that mechanism was going to work,” Spencer says.

He says the problem with any grant program is people see it as cash available and rush in, but forget that it’s also about making the grant-maker achieve its objectives.

These changes, he says, will help parties achieve their objectives.

Commercialisation Australia, which helps researchers, entrepreneurs and innovative companies convert their ideas into successful commercial ventures, is offering $60 million in grants next financial year. It also provides case managers to assist businesses to commercialise their development.

The funding arm has already distributed 177 grants worth $72 million for businesses in biotechnology, engineering, manufacturing, agribusiness and clean technology.

The latest changes, announced by Innovation Minister Kim Carr, bring the early stage commercialisation grant in line with the other three grants offered by Commercialisation Australia, which don’t require repayment.

Carr also flagged more announcements to support innovation in the manufacturing sector next year.

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