What is written below is my opinion and is not that of Aykira
Given that Policy Hack is occurring today and that I wasn’t actually invited (long story, ask Alan). I thought it best to write up the thoughts that have been formulating in my head thinking that I was invited…
#1 Play to Win
Basically we need to focus on the long term goal – i.e. what would the innovation space in Australia look like in 20/30/40+ years? What do we want to be known for globally? What are our ‘innovation specialisations’?
The reason I frame it this way is because of an old saying ‘if you never measure your progress, you will always keep succeeding’ – essentially if we have an ill defined goal state it’s always possible to be seen to be progressing towards it even if you are not. Which is really dangerous as it leads to a false sense of greater success, which cannot be built upon.
Also the reason I say ‘innovation specialisations’ is simply because we need to recognise we do not have the depth of resources to be good globally at everything. Note: I’m not saying that we do not have our fingers in multiple innovation pies, rather just on some of them we are right in to the elbow – deliberately. Doing this will create a natural knowledge and expertise ‘hub’ – which will create its own center of gravity globally – making it self sustaining and able to grow all by its own.
As for what the specialisation areas we pick from? A possible short list:
- AgroTech – anything to do with farming and food production, be it automation, monitoring and control, etc
- BioTech – specifically genetics and tailored drug therapies.
- Robotics – there is a whole grey area atm around generic frameworks that can be easily applied – a robotics OS.. add into that material sciences and energy management.
- Additive Manufacturing (aka 3D printing) – there is an inflection point just coming up where multimaterial printing is becoming viable (mix up plastics, metals & electronics); big growth area.
- AI/Deep Learning – this is taking off at the moment like an Apollo rocket, the innovation possibilities here are enormous and can map back to all the areas above.
Also we must not forget that Silicon Valley as it stands now was built on specialisations to solve critical problems (world war 2 radar and technology developments, cold war & space programme; then the Internet) – that is a massive ‘depth’ and shared innovation mindset/culture which we cannot hope to reproduce without a similar laser focus, and we need to create an environment to get that focus.
Also I fear that at the moment we have an approach which is too ‘small’ in its outlook – we need to pick some truly hairy goals as a country and push towards them with a unified mindset – it can be done, but we need to agree to do it – The US space programme wasn’t built in a garage, and that’s what sowed the seeds for the Internet & the world we know today.
#2 Light the path
Okay, so we now know where we are going – now we need to get there! To me this requires the following:
- Fix the education system – at the moment innovative thinking tends to get beaten out of most kids by the educational system; those that survive do it by pure willpower alone (or leave early out of frustration). Also most schools use technology as a learning enabler rather than also as something in of itself that should be taught – no child should leave school not having a basic understanding of how a computer works, given they are key to pretty much anything you do nowadays.
- Closer links between government, finance funds and startups – essentially work to unlock the massive pool of money contained in Super funds and get it funnelled back into growing high potential innovation. Reward Supers that do with some form of tax break or contribution limit exception.
- Make Australia a more attractive place to operate out of – basically simpler Visa processes that operate for longer periods; tax incentives for businesses that structurally base themselves here; businesses able to apply for ‘innovator’ status – thereby bypassing a whole lot of form filling for access to services, etc; specific innovation hub’s that provide office space and facilities (thinking ATP here, but with regional offshoots).
- Government funded innovation meets and conferences – mainly in Australia but also do it offshore to attract talent back to Australia. This directly overcomes the perception side of the problem by being seen to be innovative and startup friendly.
- Encourage closer ties into academia – this could happen via the Innovation Hub’s. This way academia could get access to a larger funding pool through the new community dimension created and an easy path to commercialisation.
- Train for Innovation/Entrepreneurship – actually have a qualification in it! May sound mad, but a space for innovation needs to be made in the educational system and that usually only properly happens if there is a course on it.
Note: the above is very much focussed around the ‘big opportunity’ side of innovation – as it’s that side which grows innovation into something with a global value that will attract talent. The smaller ‘gap fill’ startups I’m deliberately not focussing on, they tend not to turn into the next HP or equivalent, we need to play this for the long play and play for keeps.
We can do a lot to improve the degree of innovation and general startup activity in Australia but without a specific long term goal of achieving a global status – we are going to be just another Silicon Valley wannabe.
Also, one thing I cannot stress enough – for $$cks sake – whatever you decide to do – keep it simple and keep it focussed! Otherwise there is a real danger you are actually just adding to overhead and general ‘noise’ without reducing the friction so we can think big, be big and yet move quickly. Anything that is complex and requires yet more forms, policy, procedures etc to tangle startups and innovators in should be avoided at all costs.
I say if we are going to go for it – go for it big!
I’d also like to take this opportunity to define to you what I regard as Innovation and it is this:
Innovation is when a person or business goes into a totally new area or knowledge domain where the rules, bounds, rubrics, learnings, etc – are yet to be strictly defined and they create new technologies or expertise previously undiscovered, then leverage it to financial advantage. Innovation is not going into new markets or business segments and ‘disrupting’ them using technology others developed – thats just good business.