Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Plan for Australian Tech Startups

StartupAUS have released a 182 page "Crossroads 2016 Report: An action plan to develop a vibrant tech startup ecosystem in Australia" (Colin Kinner, November 2016).

The action plan has six themes, with corresponding recommendations:
  1. "Startup ecosystems need to be geographically concentrated:
    • Recommendation 1: Support the establishment of innovation districts in major cities
  2. Australia needs a coordinated innovation and entrepreneurship plan:
    • Recommendation 2: Create a national innovation agency
  3. Startups need capital to grow:
    • Recommendation 3: Improve the R&D Tax Incentive by making it more favourable to startups
  4. Startups need access to world-class expertise:
    • Recommendation 4: Implement a national Entrepreneurs-in-Residence program
    • Recommendation 5: Implement and improve the Entrepreneur Visa
    • Recommendation 6: Make targeted improvements to Employee Share Schemes legislation
    • Recommendation 7: Establish a program to attract promising international startups to Australia
  5. Tech startups need tech skills:
    • Recommendation 8: Extend the Digital Technologies Curriculum
    • Recommendation 9: Relax restrictions on 457 visas for startups
    • Recommendation 10: Implement measures to counteract high cost of living for foreign skilled workers
  6. Australia needs to produce more entrepreneurs of its own:
    • Recommendation 11: Implement entrepreneurship programs in all Australian primary and secondary schools
    • Recommendation 12: Implement entrepreneurship programs in all Australian universities 
    • Recommendation 13: Introduce a Startup Scholarship for STEM graduates
    • Recommendation 14: Immerse Australian university students in Silicon Valley and other startup hubs

Education Related Recommendations

Five of the recommendations relate to education. Curiously, the first of these, "Extend the Digital Technologies Curriculum", is listed under theme 5, whereas the others are under theme 6.

The recommendation to extend the Digital Technologies Curriculum to be an elective in years 11 and 12, is reasonable. But making it mandatory for years 9 and 10, might be difficult to implement and counterproductive.

Implement entrepreneurship programs in all Australian primary and secondary schools is, I suggest, unrealistic. However, entrepreneurship programs in all Australian universities is feasible. However, this might be better implemented at a regional level, and also should be extended to the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector, not just universities. Canberra does this well, with local government and higher education institutions jointly running the Canberra Innovation Network (CBRIN), located in the center of the city's innovation district.

It is not clear why Startup Scholarships should be limited just to STEM graduates, or that "immersing" students in the startup hubs of other countries would be cost effective. Students from the creative industries should also be included and the on-line option should be explored. Students can learn to work together on-line, and this learning can be cost-effective, using peer-assessment and e-portfolios.

What is missing from the report is the use of on-line technology to provide the educational initiatives. There appears to be a contradiction inherent in the report and in start-up mythology, that "disruptive" on-line products can only be produced by people in close physical proximity talking face-to-face and using bits of paper. Perhaps it is time that the start-up industry was itself "disrupted".

ps: Unfortunately, at 42 Mbytes, this took a long time to download with my wireless modem. StartupAUS  might like to use responsive web design, rather than last-millennium PDF.