Australia is falling down on the “entrepreneurial supply chain” from research to industry, meaning that many promising start-up ideas are not being commercialised, according to a new report.
Dr Fiona Q Wood, of the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, compiled a report on the nature of entrepreneurship in Australia and how it compares with other countries.
The report is based on an extensive review of international professionals and grey literature.
“On the basis of this review, there is no question that Australia is faced with many challenges in better connecting its innovation policy to the realities of a service economy,” Wood says.
The report highlights the growth of Asian economies and the opportunities this provides for Australia, particularly in relation to education, tourism and professional services.
“If Australia is to capture the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity provided by the transfer of economic supremacy from West to East, we must urgently tackle the missing links in the entrepreneurial supply chain,” Wood says.
Wood says unlike the United States, Australia has a reputation as a risk-averse culture, which makes it difficult for projects to get off the ground, let alone succeed.
“One of the most notable examples of this is the failure to support [University of NSW student] Zhengron Shi’s solar energy research, which was subsequently taken to China where he was provided with start-up funding and government support,” Wood says.
“Suntech Power, which Dr Shi founded, is the now world’s largest producer of solar panels.”
“Similarly, part of high-profile expat materials engineer Saul Griffith’s work is on how to develop low-cost ways to adjust solar cells during daylight so that they always point directly at the sun to absorb more energy.”
“He says that he would be unlikely ever to move home to Australia to work because of the lack of resources and an aversion to risk in the technology sector here.”
Wood’s suggestions include building an entrepreneurial culture that supports risk rather than penalising failure, and embedding an entrepreneurial mindset within the education system.
This would include removing barriers to commercialisation with universities, and fostering relationships between universities and the business sector.
She also places emphasis on the immigrant population, arguing more needs to be done to leverage the entrepreneurial potential of immigrants through better designed policies.
Her other points include addressing inefficiencies in government bureaucracy, and maintaining international efforts to improve measurement of entrepreneurship and its relation to innovation.
“Above all, we need to collaborate as a nation rather than compete,” she says.