“Big shoes to fill”: Victorian startup industry reacts to new Innovation Minister

Philip Dalidakis

Former Victorian Minister for innovation Philip Dalidakis.

Labour’s landslide victory in the Victorian state elections last week saw a shake-up in Premier Daniel Andrews’ cabinet, including an historic 50/50 gender split, but also heralding the end of the tenure of Philip Dalidakis as Minister for small business and innovation.

Dalidakis was popular on the Victorian startup scene, credited as instrumental in the launch of LaunchVic, the state’s startup agency, and the Goods Shed North innovation hub.

His stepping down was widely lamented, with supporters tweeting with both disappointment and thanks for his work in cabinet.

Speaking to StartupSmart, StartupAus chief executive Alex McCauley calls him “a real champion for the sector”.

“It’s not every day you get a Minister with genuine passion and dedication. Dalidakis was that guy for Victorian startups,” he says.

However, Martin Pakula, the new Minister for jobs innovation and trade, as well as tourism, sport and major events, was the first to admit he has large shoes to fill.

The new Minister told StartupSmart he will continue with his predecessor’s work “to create more tech jobs and welcome more of the world’s most innovative companies to Victoria”.

“Since December 2014 more than 4,600 new tech jobs have been created as a direct result of government facilitated investment,” he says.

“I look forward to working with the local innovation sector and LaunchVic to assist startup founders and entrepreneurs to establish and grow their businesses here in Victoria.”

A new Minister may mark a new direction for innovation in Victoria, and while it’s too early to tell what Pakula’s legacy may be, Victoria’s startup community has some ideas.

McCauley hails the “great community-building work” of LaunchVic, and says he would like to see this continued.

“That would start with money going into LaunchVic, and a strong vision for how to build on the success of the last few years to really cement Melbourne’s place on the global technology map.”

At the same time, Andrew Lai, co-founder and managing director of agri-tech accelerator SproutX, hopes for continued support for specific startup sectors.

“It’s difficult for the state of Victoria to be the startup centre for every startup industry, so I think continuing the focus on specific industry sectors makes a lot of sense,” he says.

Now is the time

While Dalidakis was Minister for small business and innovation and focused strongly on startups, Pakula’s portfolio includes innovation alongside trade, sport and tourism.

Having the Minister’s attention split between these relatively distinct sectors could lead to concerns that innovation – and startups specifically – may not be as much of a priority as it has been in recent years.

However, for Lai, even if this is the case, it isn’t a particular cause for concern.

“I’m very long on the benefits of innovation,” he says, “so I’m not particularly concerned whether it becomes less of a priority for now, as I’m sure it would come back even stronger at some point.”

He also notes that the sport and tourism portfolio covers major events.

“I wonder if, in fact, there are synergies with the innovation portfolio with recently funded events such as the Global Food Innovation Summit in Melbourne,” he says.

The overlap of the events and innovation responsibilities have also not escaped the notice of Dom Pym, co-founder of Melbourne-based digital bank Up, who says there are many “opportunities for technology and innovation to enhance the experience of sporting and tourism events”.

Technology can be used for anything from improving ticketing systems and moving people more efficiently to creating interactive experiences, he says.

“With the Minister having the sport, tourism and technology portfolios, I would hope he would use the latter to enhance the former.”

Pym also implores the new Minister to look at innovating Victoria’s transport system. Already in Sydney, he says, Up customers can pay for transport using their cards and digital wallets.

“We’d love to work with the Minister to help our public transit infrastructure match Melbourne’s major events stature as world-leading,” he adds.

“While it’s an issue that needs to be solved in conjunction with Minister Jacinta Allen and her transport portfolio, the technology for our public transport system is an obvious area for improvement.”

Ultimately, whatever Minister Pakula’s focus will be, McCauley doesn’t believe the Victorian State Government will take its eye off of innovation.

“This is an area that’s gone from strength to strength in Victoria. It has the potential to totally transform the State’s economy,” he says.

“Now is the time to be doubling down on the success this government’s already had in this area. There’s still a long way to go.”

NOW READ: A disappointment or no big deal? Startup industry reacts to Morrison government’s decision to scrap Innovation Minister role

NOW READ: Philip Dalidakis calls on the community (and men) to support women in tech


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