‘Fix crappy rules, then get out of our way’: Startups disagree on government’s place in growth

AirTree-Web3

Elicia McDonald (third from left) and the AirTree partners. Source: supplied.

As the tech and startup communities weighed in on the government’s budget commitments for the sector, an array of diverse voices served to spotlight differences in opinion. 

Where the government should step in emerged as a point of contention, with contrasting views.

The Tech Council of Australia welcomed measures to boost digital skills and adoption of technology for small businesses, with chief Kate Pounder saying in a statement on Wednesday the measures, including $1.6 billion in tax relief for businesses to upgrade their digital skills and equipment, will work towards the Council’s goal of getting more people into tech jobs.

However, Pounder told SmartCompany she wanted to see targeted measures to get more women into tech, government-driven training programs and modernised apprenticeships tailored for the tech sector. 

Of these, the budget allocated $3.9 million to support women in mid-career transitions to the tech workforce.

Regardless Pounder welcomed proposed reforms to employee share scheme (ESS) regulation, saying this is “more critical than ever as we encourage talent to transfer and retrain into the tech industry”.

‘Fix crappy rules, then get out of our way’

Several VCs and founders suggested that while they welcomed employee share scheme changes that would help attract local and overseas talent, the startup sector’s growth in Australia had been driven by private innovation.

AirTree partner James Cameron tweeted ahead of the budget that it “shouldn’t be the government’s job to pick winners.”

“Targeting particular spaces or startups for gov funding hardly ever works,” Cameron tweeted

Instead the government’s role should be in removing roadblocks for founders and making Australia a more attractive place to build companies with measures like the improved ESS framework.

Nigel Freeman-Fellowes, chief executive at insurance platform Kanopi said the key measure startups were looking for from the government was streamlining the Skilled Visa process for tech workers. The only measure that would have an immediate, real-world impact was providing companies with access to talent, Freeman-Fellowes said.

Government must provide “formal” training 

Many startup founders, particularly those running companies involved in crypto and blockchain technologies, said the broad strokes of the budget’s funding served long term goals and failed to address current issues.

Lachlan Feeney, founder and executive director at blockchain consultancy Labrys said the budget “missed an opportunity to create a formal education stream” for training around blockchain and crypto technologies.

As there is no formal education stream for blockchain technology, currently self-teaching is the path into crypto roles.

“Policymakers have a duty to teach the skills and subjects that reflect the world of work young Australians are being prepared for,” Feeney said.

Sam Kroonenberg, executive strategic advisor at Pluralsight, said the small business skills spend is “unlikely to push the needle at all” without formal government programs dedicated to upskilling Australians. 

“We are again disappointed to see the federal budget fail to adequately address the Australian technology skills gap,” Kroonenberg said.

Chief executive of FinTech Australia Andrew Porter said further government funding toward training was essential for the sector, claiming the only benefit from the budget would be early stage fintechs “able to capitalize on the budget’s incentives towards retraining.”

However startup accelerator Startmate’s head of programs Paul Redfern said skills programs developed by private companies would continue to be an important part of plugging the skills gap.

The accelerator’s Women Fellowship funnelled more than 100 women into jobs inside the AU and NZ startup ecosystem, Redfern said, and its recently launched Talent Engine sought to achieve similar.

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