Is COMET to be cut too?

The small and medium business community, still reeling from almost $1 billion of cuts in the federal budget, woke up to reports that the COMET program was the latest to be cut.

The Australian Financial Review reported this morning that the Government has decided unexpectedly to shut down the COMET (Commercialising Emerging Technologies) program. COMET supports early-growth stage and spin-off companies to successfully commercialise their innovations. It has proved a very popular program that provides a pipeline of well prepared companies to private equity investors and venture capitalists for funding.

The COMET program is structured differently to Commercial Ready, which has been scrapped in the federal budget. While Commercial Ready was run by bureaucrats, COMET uses contractors to deliver the service, and if it were suddenly to shut, contractors would have to be paid out for the remainder of their contracts. The program in federal budget papers has funding of $107.9 million from 2001-2002 until 2010-2011.

However a spokesperson for Small Business Minister Craig Emerson says the story is wrong. A spokeswoman from AusIndustry says the story caused panic in the ranks. “COMET is staying.”

Only last month Kim Carr, Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, announced 36 Australian projects that will receive $12.1 million in the latest Commercial Ready and Commercialising Emerging Technologies (COMET) grants.

“Australia has an outstanding record when it comes to innovation. Finding better ways to do things is critical to Australia’s future and it is pleasing to see so many local businesses continually coming up with brilliant projects,” Senator Carr said at the time.

The projects included a $64,000 COMET grant to Bond Innovation 1 to market its computer-aided diagnosis system that can identify early-stage breast cancer in women.

Carr said the innovative software can display mammogram readings with an 85% accuracy rate, compared with current indicative readings of 50%.

“The software will also rapidly increase assessment time, saving costs for radiologists and patients,” Senator Carr said.

Nevertheless, the rumours have got pundits concerned. Given that Commercial Ready has been scrapped, early stage ventures already finding it harder to get start up funding and assistance due to the credit crunch, would find the scrapping of COMET a terrible blow.


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