StartUps and the Innovation Nation

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Tomorrow Malcolm Turnbull’s long awaited Innovation Statement is released with  huge promise, it is expected to cover five areas unlocking capital, access to Asia, greater collaboration across public and private sectors, growing the talent pool and government as exemplar in leading innovation culture. I am hopeful and a little optimistic that the statement encompasses definitive action that shifts us from talking about it to actually doing it…it’s time.

This week StartUp Muster 2015 , Australia’s largest survey of startups, was released with pertinent information on the state of startups in Australia.

The good news is that things are getting better, we are improving on gender at least when it comes to gender we are at 24% , up 8% from 2011. It’s also heartening to see that the majority of startups intend to remain in Australia. It will be interesting to see how many actually do.

 

Talk to some of the startups generated out of NICTA (now Data61), Fishburners, muru-D and, more recently, Australia’s s first FinTech hub, Stone and Chalk, that solve big problems and how hard it has been to remain in Australia. A lot of start ups need to re-locate their businesses overseas to access the incentives and tax deductions needed to accelerate and grow.

 

Challenges for startups

The survey found that the biggest external challenges faced by startups are the availability of tech talent, the availability of government scholarship and grants and non government funding.

There are a number of state and federal grants available to startups and business, outlined by Business.gov.au including the Entrepreneurs’ ProgrammeGrowth FundIndustry Skills FundInnovation and R&DCollaborationDefence IndustryEnergy and Fuels,Import and Export AssistanceManufacturingRegional Innovation FundsAustralian Small Business Advisory Services, and Venture Capital.

Access to global markets shouldn’t be an issue, especially now we have the Free Trade Agreements in place to help Australian business access China, Korea, Japan and the Trans Pacific partnership (Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, United States, and Vietnam). The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have resources with information and advice on How business can use FTAs which can unlock enormous potential.

Joining the dots 

The challenge remains, how to prepare business and start ups to understand and leverage the opportunities presented?

There remains a disconnect between government and the business, startup and entrepreneurial ecosystem. StartUp Muster has set the agenda of what we need to think about and, CEO, Mon Wulff has started the conversation with government and Ministers about what is needed. It seems to me, we need to just connect the dots between what is available and what is needed.

The Assistant Minister for Innovation has heard what the ecosystem wants and I know in my heart he has advocated fiercely for action, inspired by his recent mission to Israel, Minister Wyatt Roy has seen what happens when government creates the right conditions and gets out of the way of entrepreneurs and startups.

So as we await the Prime Minister’s  Innovation Statement, lets contemplate thecommunication and engagement required to connect the dots and really make this work, after all the agenda for innovation has been set long before this statement, it started with a renewed vigor across cabinet for Australia to become the #InnovationNation and it has been called for by the startup and entrepreneurial community for some time.

Anne-Marie Elias is a speaker and consultant in innovation and disruption for social change. She is an honorary Associate of the Centre for Local Government at UTS.

Anne-Marie has recently joined the Board of Western Sydney Women; the Australian Open Knowledge Foundation; Autism Advisory Board, and the Settlement Services International Foundation.

Follow Anne-Marie’s  journey of disruptive social innovation on Twitter @ChiefDisrupter or visit www.chiefdisrupter.com

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Is agile Government an oxymoron?

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Times are changing – whether in government or private sector we need to act swiftly and respond to opportunities – and they are coming thick and fast.

Take the start up community – growing exponentially in every corner of the globe, they are driving innovation and are becoming a force to be reckoned with in terms of their financial contribution to the economy. In a 2013 report commissioned by Google, PWC found that “Australian startup sector has the capacity to deliver $109 billion to the economy and create 540,000 new jobs by 2033” and that Startups may be missing ‘bigger picture’ opportunities for growth in the Finance and Insurance, Manufacturing and Health Care and Social Assistance industries.”

This is mind blowing right ? So why is it that two years on from this report little has actually shifted from the side of Government apart from good narrative from state and federal ministers about the need for innovation and the resounding support of small business and start up? Is it enough that Ministers talk about responding to the burgeoning ecosystem without the ability of government, at all levels, to match the narrative with action?

It got me thinking is agile government an oxymoron? I think anyone who has had the privilege of working in, around and with government can tell you it’s a “process” driven beast. So despite the dutiful nods and the encouraging reports, strategies and plans there is still an enormous gap between rhetoric and reality.

In the last year we really have seen a plethora of great ideas and initiatives being announced by NSW Premier Mike Baird and his cabinet colleagues – Minister for Industry, Anthony Roberts Minister for Finance and Services, Dominic Perottet, Minister for Small Business, John Barilaro and Minister for Innovation, Victor Dominello.

Some ideas seeded included the Premiers Innovation Initiative launched in August 2014 promised to draw out innovative responses to some key pain points for the NSW Government, namely Social Housing, Congestion, Open data and Open ideas priority areas. A year down the track and those that didn’t make the cut received a nice letter saying they missed out but we still haven’t heard of who won the challenge and what they are doing. I suspect that because of the PROCESS – flick to the section on selection and negotiation and you see the tai chi in cement forming nicely – a process that has obviously taken more than 12 months of selecting the successful innovation initiative including a steering committee, has been less than innovative in itself.

So here we are a year later still waiting to hear about where this got to – I wonder if the selected innovation is still as enthusiastic as they were a year ago – will they be gob smacked if they get a call that this initiative was still on the table – anyone’s table?

What I see in our innovation community are people on the go, constantly moving to the beat of a different drum than the public sector. They are agile, adaptive and responsive to the constant changing environment and my very deep concern is the missed opportunities that could very well improve tipping point problems if we could help bureaucrats think differently?

Think for a moment how expensive it will be to buy into the game when the music stops and everyone has a seat? How close is that? Very.

This week ten Israeli startups in Tel Aviv pitched to a room of invite-only Australian investors sitting in Sydney at BlueChilli. . It was a terrific opportunity to build bridges and learn from one of the world’s largest innovation ecosystems. It is also a clear example of what will happen if we don’t innovate. Someone, somewhere else will, Australian capital will follow it and soon Australian jobs. This isn’t an isolated incident. Just the other day, we had a visit from the British Government, which is trying to lure fintech hubs to the UK , and to keep them, it has committed $431 million to fintech firms through the British Business Bank. Why? That’s a good question. Maybe it’s because in just 5 years London has become the FinTech capital of the world employing 44000 people.

A more recent announcement by Premier Mike Baird on the formation of new Fintech Stone & Chalk in March 2015, and the project is supported by the NSW Department of Industry through its Knowledge Hubs Initiative. Even better was the further announcement by the Premier of Jobs for NSW, an innovative body that will drive the creation of 150,000 jobs over four years, to be Chaired by former Telstra CEO – David Thodey augers well for the initiative. The Jobs for NSW fund is expected to deliver the NSW Government’s commitment of $190 million over four years to support business development. Jobs for NSW will target the jobs of the future and guide the NSW Government on how best to maximise the state’s resources, talent and potential. Minister for Small Business John Barilaro was exceptionally enthusiastic that 30 per cent of the Jobs for NSW fund will be dedicated to regional job creation, and regional businesses will have a guaranteed voice on the jobs for NSW board.

So we really have to think how can we support the many innovative bureaucrats who are trying to shift but are equally stifled by tai chi in cement processes?

After all, many bureaucrats are attending stellar conferences, design innovation workshops, even completing MBAs – yet how is this higher learning actually shifting the monolith of bureaucracy they inevitable must face? They are also spending millions of dollars on consultants – to what end? I think the use of consultants is a tad misaligned because what I have seen is a de-skilled public sector as a result and very costly reports that don’t really change much by way of process. So we really have to think, how can we support the many innovative bureaucrats who are trying to shift but are equally stifled by tai chi in cement processes?

So my next question is how are we building the capacity of the three levels of government entwined in job creation and really make this idea fly?

Stone & Chalk launch with stellar line up of Ministers  including Stuart Ayres, Anthony Roberts, and and Parliamentary Secretaries, Paul Fletcher and John Sidoti, pictured with Christine Forster (@resourcefultype) and Aex Scandurra from Stone and Chalk, and  ALP’s Jason Claire and Ed Husic.

How can government with its process laden structures respond to such swift changes ? Frankly – it can’t. To be responsive and agile requires a new way of thinking – outcomes focus rather than process driven and it requires outward facing government. We have a long way to go but it’s not impossible.

In NSW we have a dynamic cabinet led by Premier Mike Baird – he is responsive, agile and courageous – his Ministers are too, or at least they are trying to be. Sadly, there appears to be some resistance from the bureaucracy that pares everything back to a snail pace because of process.

Honestly how important is process in the face of opportunity – are the risks greater in being agile than in remaining the same? Personally I think there is a greater risk in staying the same – slow and sluggish is not in the narrative of futurism or the new millennium.

Baird, Roberts, Barilaro, Perottet and Dominello are among the Ministers changing things, they are coming out with a more enthusiastic narrative about what they want to see in their respective patches, I feel for them and their advisers on the optimism trail – delving into different spaces and connecting new paradigms to their departments but there is still work to do, a lot of hard work to change the direction of the public service ship – its suck in an iceberg of process and requires agile and responsive thinking to flip the model to a new place where we are more concerned with outcomes rather than outputs. Even great initiatives like @ALP4Innovation supported by Jason Claire and Ed Husic won’t go far without systemic change in the way bureaucracy works.

Ministers Dominello and Barilaro at the Sydney GovHack awards at Fishburners.

In fact Gavin Heaton (@ServantofChaos) speaks a lot about the need for a recalibration of efforts to an outcomes focus. Gavin’s Disruptor’s Handbookprovides numerous insights and ideas of how to shift and a more recent free e-book by Joanne Jacobs provides tools and tips on How to innovate like a startup. These resources are freely available and are well used by start-ups and small business but haven’t quite reached the consciousness of government, yet!

A recent blog by Tony Featherstone from the Sydney Morning Herald  asked Why aren’t councils supporting start ups? I loved the article and felt myself nodding throughout except that I know that there are efforts to shift State and local government to be more amenable and integrated in start up, even more importantly Minister for Small Business, John Barilaro is deeply committed to innovating the way NSW supports the transformation of Small and Medium enterprises and start ups.

Another article by legendary Pete Cooper (@pc0) from Start up Society today said it even louder, he says “Government At All Levels Has Failed The Tech Startup Ecosystem”  and again I found myself in agreement with his frustration at the lag between rhetoric and action because that means we are losing. The Start Up Society has a grand vision “Our vision is for 2 to 5 thousand tech startups around every major population centre and major university. Today it is less than one tenth of that even in the major cities.”

So how do we get there? Pete suggests consolidating our efforts and holding a Start Up Summit – what a splendid and overdue idea – personally I’d like to see the Summit held in NSW where I see the Premier and NSW ministers for Innovation, Small Business and Industry becoming a more visible part of start up events and ecosystem.

As an Associate of the Centre for Local Government  at UTS,  I am working with Roberta Ryan to design a Master Class on Innovation for local government. Roberta is a key innovator globally, around transforming local government to better leverage research, design and innovation to meet growing challenges and very complex communities. Roberta is cognizant of the pressures on local government and the need to support their pivotal role in being more than they have before with fewer resources, this is only possible by leveraging the social capital in the community.

I think what is needed is more opportunities for government to immerse themselves in parallel paradigms outside government. Bureaucrats who aren’t on board yet need to see the world they may be missing out on. They need to know they are welcome to collaborate with the start up community – I’d hate for them to miss out on the growing numbers of starts up that are supporting government in some way – take Alan Mont’s blog @MuniRent showcasing 40 start ups that are helping government in the US – they range from legal platforms to make litigation on minor offences simpler right through to sharing government resources through procurement platforms.

I’d like to see a Government Innovation BootCamp – a day of reckoning with a virtual reality experience of their process and their data. I would love to see each head of department in a the UTS Data Arena surrounded by their data – I would show them two scenarios – 1 with their pain points and current responses and one with agile response – I imagine seeing their behaviour in this way will be more impactful than seeing a bunch of numbers on a spreadsheet. In the new world, data is your friend and it represents people, communities, and people’s lives – not just a bunch of numbers. And those wondering do we have the technology for that – YEP, we’ve had it for a while in many universities and at the National ICT Association (NICTA).

UTS Data Arena

Perhaps in this space they will see the very real consequences of loading up process and that life is no longer predictive and ordered in fact we know that our world is more complex and we understand that solutions to job creation and economic growth is no longer the domain of government alone – they require cross sector collaboration to shift something.

That’s why we are seeing more private sector involvement in the establishing NFP entities like Google and Optus funding Fishburners. Like Telstra funding muru-D and CodeClub they aren’t waiting for government – they’ve gone and done it anyway – so how is government going to leverage this extraordinary talent and connect with them in a meaningful way? Well we have clue with the not-for-profit Stone&Chalk launched last month. This a fabulous new model that brings together government, big business and think tanks to develop the Fintech ecosystem in Sydney. With over 50 startups co-located, many well along the way, they haven’t had to wait long to trumpet success. AMP has already taken equity stakes in Macrovue and MoneyBrilliant.

And it’s not all at the big end of town. Firms like Swaab Attorneys  are connecting the high net worth individuals and small-to-medium enterprises that include some of Australia’s most successful family businesses to startups both as customers and as potential investors both here and overseas.

The biggest flaw at present remains the process of government that is so jarred that little gets done and responses are in time delay – long after that ship has sailed, we are all wondering what really happened?

Government process happened and we need to reach out to our fellow disrupters in government and help them see what we see – help them readjust to face outward and see all the opportunities around them, take away the fear of failure because failure is getting closer to success and there’s a whole ecosystem out there willing to collaborate to get NSW cracking as the innovation, start up State. The conditions are right, the stars are aligning so there are no excuses left.

The Ministers are talking it up so now we (every one of us who are disrupters, innovators and alchemists) have to help the public sector deliver on the promises – otherwise we are well and truly behind the eight ball.

Anne-Marie Elias is a consultant in innovation for social change. She is an honorary Associate of the Design Innovation Research Centre and the Centre for Local Government at UTS.

Follow my journey of disruptive social innovation on Twitter @ChiefDisrupter

Sparking social change

Don’t you just love a crazy idea? It takes a lot of courage to try something new, especially something that you don’t know will work, yet entrepreneurs and start ups pursue crazy ideas every day and thank heavens they do. How else would the likes of Apple, Uber or AirBnB come about? I love and admire the hunger of start ups, the pure unadulterated desire to make shit happen, because their life depends on it. Their belief in an idea that overrides all the set backs and even failures that pummel them, their ability to experience this yet keep their eye on the outcome enables them to adapt and do whatever it takes to make it happen.

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I have worked in the field of social disadvantage for three decades – I started at the age of 16 as youth advocate, every job I have had was about finding a place to make a difference – journalism, policy, ministerial, state and federal government and NGO. While every one of those roles have a realm of influence to do good, I was always left wanting and believing that bureaucracy kills innovation and that we can do better.

I learnt long ago that in our ‘business’ , peoples lives are at stake and that means we’ve got to get moving to do all we can to innovate solutions to social disadvantage. I feel a sense of urgency with the state of social disadvantage in Australia, things a re getting worse not better and it seems despite the hundreds of billions of dollars and efforts we are not winning any ‘battles” against drugs, family and domestic violence, recidivism, suicide, child protection, poverty, homelessness and on and on. According to the Australian Council of Social Services “Poverty is on the rise in Australia, with more than 2.5 million people – and one in six children – struggling to fulfil their daily basic needs…” ACOSS, Poverty in Australia, 2014

I’ve seen it first hand in the state of NSW where remote communities are living in abject poverty, I’ve seen it in Sydney where thousands of passers by walk past a central park dotted with tents and a community of homeless, the people that have fallen through the cracks of a system that has failed its duty of care.

So rather than dwell on the system failures or limitations I want to give my heart and soul to finding solutions and showing government and NGOs a new way of working, empowering communities to collaborate for social change. For the past few years I have been developing a new way of working and I’m calling it Disruptive Social Innovation, a blend of social innovation, rapid prototyping and digital disruption. The status quo is unacceptable and I believe cross sector and discipline collaboration is the only way we can really make a difference to peoples lives.

“A social innovation is a novel solution to a social problem that is more effective, efficient, sustainable, or just than present solutions and for which the value created accrues primarily to society as a whole rather than private individuals.” (source Stanford, Centre for Social Innovation.) 

On the 7th of July 2015 in Broken Hill NSW we tested a new way of working with social disadvantage, Kathryn Greiner AO facilitated and chaired the first Social Innovation Pitch Event.

The event was shift in usual practice of forums and consultations that repeat a status quo approach of talking about the problems leaving little room for solutions. The concept drawn from start up pitch events where new business ideas are generated and pitched to venture capital and angel investors. The format of these pitches are simple and clear – they start with a problem, and idea that is a solution and a clear ask of resources.

The event replicated this and tested the method in community setting where people from three communities were invited to pitch to local stakeholders (business, NGOs and government). Those pitching were briefed on framing their pitch and stakeholders were asked to be generous in offering time, talent and resources to support the local projects. The key to the event was shared understanding of local needs and a desire to collaborate for social change.

Each pitch focused on improving communities, in particular employment opportunities and young people. Maari Ma focused on digital inclusion and education of children and young people. Menindee Central School focused on vocational and training opportunities for young people. Out back Astronomy focused on Astro tourism, Aboriginal cultural tourism development and social enterprise in arts and local produce.

The social innovation pitch event covered three footprints – Wilcannia, Menindee and Broken Hill. This initiative has set a new benchmark to support community aspirations and change the way we manage and address social disadvantage in the region

.Social Innovation Pitch Event Format

The design of the social innovation pitch event is disrupting the way communities drive change, it disrupts funding cycles and the notion that government is the only answer. My hope is that we encourage this type of disruptive  social innovation because it innovates the way we create social change and it flips the top down to bottom up – so the community decides what to support as a whole and government can get on with providing the right conditions for people to help themselves.

PITCH 1: Maari Ma – Wings Youth Centre Wilcannia

Wings Youth Centre provides an important service for children and young people in Wilcannia, a safe haven and a hive of educational activity. The young people love using the computers but they are old and there aren’t enough. The Centre has a mix of primary and high school aged children and expressed a desire to get tablets for the older children for privacy. They need programs and apps that support nutrition, health, well being, cyber safety and sex education.

shout out Maari Ma

We designed the pitches in a way that only asked time, talent or resources to help achieve a goal. People are willing to give in kind, participants were surprised how easy it was to help a project get off the ground, assist with writing proposals or sourcing the right avenue. As always when you bring people from different areas together, new partnerships and alliances emerged  and even those pitching could help each other. For example Outback Astronomy is now going to take the kids from Menindee and Wilcannia on a tour, Family and Community Services will purchase the periscopes so the kids have them to use when on excursion; the PCYC has offered accommodation for the kids whilst in Broken Hill.

The pitch event was incredibly well received, initially with a healthy dose of skepticism, but with a determination to continue to the conversations with the whole community. The event brought a renewed sense of common purpose and collaboration and unlikely alliances and partnerships. It gave those pitching an opportunity to gain a wider audience and it gave the businesses, NGOs and government the opportunity to support community initiative. It expanded every person’s view of their community and the untapped social capital around them.

I love bringing together people from different paradigms – the Mayor, the chamber of commerce, all levels of government and NGOs, the corporate sector rarely get the opportunity to mix it up and exchange ideas – this is the alchemy of collaboration and it inspires innovation and it works when applied to social disadvantage.

I’d love to hear your feedback. I hope you will continue on this journey of disruptive social innovation, follow me on Twitter @ChiefDisrupter

A Social Innovation Experiment

Twitter is a wondrous place, I believe it is more equal than Facebook and LinkedIn and it seems anyone can get traction on an issue with a little help from clever hashtags and virtual friends. I recently thought I would try a social innovation experiment, I tweeted “Who wants to help me organise a  Hackathon for disadvantaged youth in Wagga Wagga. In a matter of hours, with a little help from two new twitter friends – Dez Blanchfield @dez_blanchfield and Dev Mukherjee @mdevraj we started #WaggaWaggaHackathon and a google document, in a week we had eleven people including the Dean of Science at Charles Sturt University – Tim Wess, Wagga Wagga Mayor – Rod Kendall, and representatives from NICTA, Telstra, Google, NSW Government, CodeClubAu, and others. The list of stakeholders is growing and we now have the start of a roadmap to get young people, NGOs and community prepared to participate in a Hackathon in Wagga Wagga in October this year. The Hackathon is not the end game, rather it is the platform for new partnerships and collaboration and a demonstration of how technology can support innovation in solving social problems. It presents an incredible opportunity to empower communities to co-design solutions. The journey to the October Hackathon starts in July with a launch meet-up to explain the process of a Hackathon. Communities have to prepare to identify and pitch their “problem” , monthly meet-ups around the problem will identify the data needs and the types of project teams needed. We want to include a range of experts to support community ideas which could range from starting a social enterprise to developing and APP. I call this a Social Innovation Hackathon because its focus is beyond technology. The amazing experience for me and my colleague Donna Argus @Dargus is that people care, they want to help and are incredibly generous of their time, talent and resources to make things happen. Each stakeholder has a different skillset and without the likes of Dez Blanchfield, Tim Wess and Dev Mukherjee we would have found it difficult to progress the technical logistics of such an ambitious event. While we are definitely agile in our thinking there are stakeholders to manage – community, government and private sector who also have their needs and this prototype will help us show stakeholders the magical possibilities that come from cross sector collaboration for social good. Those that know me know how passionate I am- but this experience has blown me away, I am humbled beyond words at the generosity and willingness of people in tech to help those disadvantaged communities – especially in regional areas. As far as I am concerned this is just the beginning of limitless opportunities of a prototype for social innovation and ultimately social change. It is bringing together unlikely partners and collaborators that are willing to give this idea a go. Frankly I have no idea what this will look like but what I can say is that the journey is opening the hearts and minds of so many people to overcome usual constraints and barriers and to work together to improve the lives of disadvantaged young people in a regional area. If you want to get involved, connect with me on Twitter @ChiefDisrupter or follow our hashtag on twitter #WaggaWaggaHackathon Trsust and see what happens