Why is the National Audit Office taking a closer look at the Entrepreneurs’ Programme?

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The Australian National Audit Office has opened a performance audit into the Entrepreneurs’ Programme, specifically focusing on the procurement process for the delivery partners through the scheme.

Those partners reportedly received $110 million in combined contracts, which are now coming under the microscope.

The Entrepreneurs’ Programme has been running since 2014 but it has undergone significant changes in that time. So what does the current program offer and why is it being audited?

What is the Entrepreneurs’ Programme?

An initiative run by the federal government, the Entrepreneurs’ Programme gives business owners access to practical advice and mentorship to help them grow their business.

Businesses can apply for the Growth Roadmap, High Growth Accelerator or SMART Project and Supply Chains schemes, or for guidance on accelerating commercialisation.

The program also offers access to grant funding, including to commercialise intellectual property; take advantage of growth opportunities; and connect with research collaborators.

In early 2020, the scheme added a Strengthening Business element, designed to help support businesses affected by the devastating bushfires of 2019-20.

The different schemes have varying eligibility criteria and rules. You can find out more about them here.

How has the Entrepreneurs’ Programme changed?

The Entrepreneurs’ Programme was first announced as part of the 2014-15 federal budget, under the Abbott government, replacing the Innovation Investment Fund and Commercialisation Australia.

The scheme was initially broken down into three streams: Accelerating Commercialisation; Business Management; and Research Connections, which was later renamed Innovation Connections. 

The scheme always offered a mix of mentorship and grants for small business owners, however, in April 2020, changes came into effect, meaning the program is now delivered through government partnerships with big businesses and organisations, called ‘delivery partners’.

According to the government’s website, the partners’ job is to deliver program services and help connect entrepreneurs with business experts, or ‘facilitators’, who can help them grow their business.

Providers include industry bodies such as Ai Group, Business Australia, Business SA and the Darwin Innovation Hub.

However, private company Deloitte is also a partner, servicing program participants in Queensland and providing digital, tech and design facilitators nationally. Commercialisation consultant i4 Connect is also a partner.

What is the audit about?

The audit centres around the procurement process for those delivery partners, which reportedly secured a combined $110 million in contracts related to the program.

The ANAO is setting out to assess whether the design and conduct of the procurement process for delivery partners complied with Commonwealth Procurement Rules, and whether contracts are being appropriately managed

Specifically, it will examine whether the procurement process achieved value for money, and whether the contracts are being managed in such a way that they achieve their objectives.

Is in progress now, with a report due to be tabled in May next year.

At the time of writing, the Department of Industry has not responded to SmartCompany’s request for comment.

Can I contribute?

Public contributions to the audit are open until Sunday, February 27, 2022.

The ANAO is particularly interested in insights into the administration of the program and any other “significant matters”.

On the website, it stresses the audit is not there to assess the merits of government policy, “but focuses on assessing the efficient and effective implementation of government programs, including the achievement of their intended benefits”.

You can contribute here.

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