Amsterdam, Denver-Boulder and Bangalore now all rate as having a stronger environment for innovation than the east coast of Australia.
It’s a reality that doesn’t surprise many in the tech community, where there is an undercurrent of discontent despite politicians claiming there’s plenty of innovation policy on the table.
More than two election cycles on from Malcolm Turnbull’s innovation agenda, founders and lobby groups say they want a clear blueprint for startup support and digitisation of work, but they’re not seeing it.
Both sides of politics vehemently deny they’ve left startups in ths shadows and insist they have a plan for future growth.
A number of individual policies have been outlined. Labor has pledged to raise research and development expenditure to 3 per cent of GDP by 2030 and will offer a ten per cent premium on tax offsets if businesses collaborate with universities.
The Liberal Party’s small business growth fund can be used by startups for long-term capital. Both parties have unveiled plans for advanced manufacturing.
Founders like clean energy finance platform Brighte’s Katherine McConnell said there were encouraging signs, like Labor’s focus on renewable energy.
However, there needs to be a more consistent message that building world-leading companies is the top priority.
“I would encourage policy makers to focus on consistency, as well as making innovation a central part of their economic and industry policy.”
“Neither party has done enough yet to really be the party of choice for the sector,” StartupAus chief executive Alex McCauley said.
“I don’t think there’s a lot of appetite for particularly bold rhetoric.”
Words are key
The startup world came into this election cycle on the back of multiple fights with policy makers, including the passing of anti-encryption legislation and social media laws.
As it faces down the federal vote, concerns about access to talent, research and development incentives and digitisation of businesses are front of mind.
Some in the space believe politicians are reluctant to come out and make a pitch for future tech and jobs as a centrepiece, with some parts of the community worried about job losses.
“The problem is what people are voting for. We’re in a situation in Australia where we have a relatively tiny tech industry, and there are not enough people to build a significant voter base,” director of entrepreneurship at UTS, Murray Hurps, said.
Co-founder of Melbourne extended reality startup Snobal, Ann Nolan, believes the past five years have seen too much disruption about a future vision and there’s no cohorent startup strategy cutting through from any party.
The business, which offers virtual reality tools to help designers and engineers work on projects, is anticipating significant future growth but wants certainty on issues like research and development plans.
“We’re in an unfortunate situation where tech startups have become a bit of a political football,” Ms Nolan said.
“We need stability and we need vision.”
Both major parties say the idea that the tech sector is being forgotten in policy debates are incorrect.
“We’re providing the financial support: in artificial intelligence, in digitisation – we’re making specific, concrete support available,” shadow minister for innovation Senator Kim Carr said.
A Labor government would offer stability of policy and look to build conversations right across the community about the future of business, Senator Carr said.
Minister for industry, science and technology Karen Andrews said: “The Liberal-National government has a long-term plan for the startup sector, and we are supporting it through our $1.1 billion National Innovation and Science Agenda, including $200 million for the CSIRO Innovation Fund, tax incentives for early stage investors and crowd-sourced equity funding legislation.”
Blueprint needed for digital businesses
There’s also a concern that a divide is emerging between traditional small businesses and startups which is not helpful given all companies need to be aware of digitisation.
Elyse Maberley, co-founder of Meeuym, a coding education startup, works with early stage businesses of all kinds to help them learn digitisation and coding skills.
“In our experience, I think there’s an over-emphasis on tech and digital in startup land… and there’s a lack of emphasis on digital for small and family businesses,” Ms Maberley said.
Ms Nolan believes any divide between tech startups and traditional family businesses is not helpful given tech-focused policies now apply to all business.
“I think that can be an artificial and unhelpful split. Technology is becoming embedded across all organisations, and it just becomes more artificial to split them.”
Startup city rankings:
- Silicon Valley
- New York City
3 to 4: London and Beijing
6 to 7: Tel Aviv and Los Angeles
Emma is the small business reporter for The Age and Sydney Morning Herald based in Melbourne.