Small business minister Bruce Billson has a new job.
Off the back of a small business-focused budget, Billson told a round-table of female entrepreneurs and business leaders in Melbourne last night the Prime Minister has a new task for him.
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“I think I’m going to get a tasking from the PM to fix innovation,” Billson said.
“I’ve been running the argument that all the moving parts are all over the shop and they’re siloed.”
Billson was referring to measures as varied as commercialisation grants, intellectual property and procurement practices.
‘We’ve got some tax incentives that don’t actually join up with the ecosystem,” Billson said.
“Venture capitalists come here and go ‘we’ve had a look but it’s too hard, we’ll go back to Silicon Valley’.”
Billson said his new assignment has yet to be fleshed out but tackling innovation in the Australian economy is a broad task.
“I’m trying to get people to think about entrepreneurship, enterprise, economic prospects, the G20 conversation about where the big drivers are going to come from,” he told the room of business owners and industry representatives.
“Agility in the economy needs to be handled in a way that’s not quite as buttoned down.”
The room told the minister “fixing innovation” in Australia is not a straightforward task.
Holly Ransom, chief executive of HRE Global, said developing an over-arching innovation policy would be the one thing she would change for Australian entrepreneurs.
Ransom lamented that Australia’s digital performance has been classified as “slowly receding” and that there was a steady flow of entrepreneurs and innovative businesses leaving Australia.
“It is amazing to me how many Australian entrepreneurs have been poached,” Ransom said, picking out the UK as one of the nations “playing hard” at attractive innovative businesses.
“We’re losing a lot of our entrepreneurial talent.”
Ransom said the government needs to consider how to attract great international talent to local businesses.
“We don’t have the conditions or flexibility around entrepreneurial visa opportunities to keep these great businesses and this great activity in Australia,” she said.
For others in the room, including Rosie Thomas, co-founder and chief executive of social enterprise Project Rockit and fellow of the School of Social Entrepreneurs, a “risk averse” culture in Australian business works against young entrepreneurs. ‘
“Our ability to fail in this country is really difficult because it is set up in such a way that if you fail, you lose everything,” Thomas said.
“I would say from a young entrepreneur’s perspective, it’s almost like there is this really interesting phase in the life of a young entrepreneur before they kick into their 30s when you have a lot more to lose.”
“Your responsibilities change … you have a lot more to lose and so perhaps you are approaching these things a bit more cautiously … and caution to me is the absolute enemy of innovation.”
“The young people that I work with … they don’t have a lot to lose and so they can throw everything into these businesses.”
Other women in the room told the minister of the need to streamline government resources so it is easier for potential business owners to find the help they need.
Many pointed out that Australian schools do not teach entrepreneurship or even present “starting a business” as a viable option for high school leavers.
They also called on the nation’s political leaders to develop a longer term vision for Australia’s innovation policy and one that was not contingent on the electoral cycle.
“I’m sensing from the feng shui of the group that the innovation space needs a fair amount of love, care, work and attention,” Billson said.