Politics

Coalition unveils $2.5 million in space grants, but there’s a big question mark for startups

Matthew Elmas /

The Coalition says it will spend $2.5 million on space grants to support SMEs in the fledgling industry, but has yet to finalise eligibility requirements, which could exclude many startups.

As the federal election campaign enters its final working week, Innovation, Science and Technology Minister Karen Andrews has tried to hit the ground running, unveiling the taxpayer support on Monday morning.

Under the policy, a total of $3.5 million in funding has been committed to helping local companies building space equipment, 71% ($2.5 million) of which will be used to pay for grants.

“This initiative will provide the infrastructure for small and medium enterprises to test and validate space equipment in Australia, without having to send work overseas,” Andrews said in a statement circulated early on Monday morning.

“The Morrison Government wants to improve our sovereign capabilities in all things to do with space — our aim is to make Australia a leader in the great space adventure we have embraced.”

However, continuing a running theme which has concerned those in the Australian startup industry, the Coalition opted to omit the term ‘startup’ from its announcement, and has yet to finalise key details.

Andrews’ office confirmed on Monday the specific requirements around eligibility for the grants are still being finalised by the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science.

If a minimum revenue threshold is imposed, as was done with the Coalition’s Australian Business Growth Fund, startups in the R&D stage without products in the market could miss out.

A decision is expected in the coming weeks, which could fall after voters have their say on Saturday, May 18.

SmartCompany asked Andrews’ office for clarification on the Coalition’s view about startup participation in the grant program but did not receive a response prior to publication.

Matt Salier, director of the South Australian-based New Venture Institute (NVI), an incubator for more than 80 startups, says the devil will be in the detail.

“Startup language is de-emphasised in a lot of their announcements and that can be a concern,” he tells SmartCompany.

“If you’ve had to be around for 10 years and have 100 staff or turnover of $10 million it’s certainly supporting incumbent SMEs and not emerging agile players.”

Salier says there’s “a lot of concern” among startup founders at NVI about how federal policy settings are helping them.

“It’s very unclear at the moment.

“In comparison to the last election it’s a really stark difference, there’s a really strong de-emphasising by both majors of the space.

“We’ve had some good traction in limited policy areas with both sides but nothing of the scale of the innovation agenda,” Salier says.

The grants will fall under the Payload Qualification Facilities project, while an additional $900,000 is being provided to fund research on Australia’s “readiness in launch capability”.

The undertaking will investigate the economic and policy issues facing Australia’s space industry, dovetailing into work already underway in states and territories.

Earlier this year, in a budget largely lacking in startup support, the government committed $19.5 million to a Space Infrastructure Fund, part of a plan to create 20,000 jobs and $12 billion in revenue within the industry by 2030.

NOW READ: The government has abandoned Australian startups and left innovation for dead

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Matthew Elmas

Matthew is the news editor at SmartCompany. You can contact him at [email protected].

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