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

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

The Alchemy of Collaboration

In the world of social care and social disadvantage we are losing badly, despite countless efforts and $250 billion dollars spent annually, disadvantage is growing and we are seeing increasing instances of domestic violence, child protection, mental health and homelessness. In fact in this ‘lucky country’ one in seven Australians live below the poverty line. Social sectors are  largely separated and siloed so no-one ever gets the full picture and our solutions are merely band-aid and reactive. Collaboration exists as a means to an end rather than embedded within the culture, in the core of our work practices. I think it is imperative that we do something differently because in the end, in our ‘business’, peoples lives are at stake.
 Collaboration : Cooperative arrangement in which two or more parties (which may or may not have any previous relationship) work jointly towards a common goal.
Many of the large tech companies have started embedding collaboration days in their calendar, such as Atlassian with their ShipIt day  where staff get 24 hours to work on any project that they are passionate about with a team. Google give their staff one day a week to pursue their passion and 3M give their staff 15% of their time to work on innovation – in all these cases staff are happier and they often work on something that saves the company money or innovates a product such as 3Ms post it notes. Howard Baldwin from ComputerWorld says the frequency of these innovation days range from weekly to quarterly. The reason being that innovation slips off the radar if we don’t create the space for it. I suspect the same goes with collaboration.
My fascination with design, start up and tech is the effortless collaboration and the focus on solutions. This is where innovation thrives, bringing together different minds and perspectives to see the problem differently and imagine possible solutions. People and teams that are thrown together for an event maintain ties,
When I found out about these methods I was inspired by the intensity and creativity, by the focus and action oriented nature of the events and the longevity beyond. This is the alchemy of collaboration that I want to reignite in breaking social disadvantage.   So I started running thought leadership groups where we invite cross sector innovators with and without vested interests to keep things real.

Sadly Government and NGOs rarely get the opportunity to collaborate more widely than usual suspects, and are entrapped by the internal the vortex of meetings and workshops with the same people over and over again. Even the occasional exciting conference and forum ends there and we go back to our status quo ways and habits to talking to the same people but expecting a different result.
So I think Atlassian, Google and 3M are on to something that can shift the way we currently manage social disadvantage and takes to a new place of collaborative alchemy. The idea of ‘rapid prototyping’ solutions to social disadvantage is exciting and worth doing, it is happening anyway in parallel universes and its mobilising end users, tech’s, designers, policy makers and coders to co-create solutions that disrupt the status quo.
Collaboration quote - together we are brilliant
While we are dwelling on the problems and narrow casting solutions we are limiting our ability to be brilliant. Collaboration is the harmonic convergence of ideas from stakeholders and disruptors that share a purpose. Start ups, design and tech provide a structure to vision and rapid prototype solutions. It seems these methods are being adopted more across sectors. Coming up in August – SW/TCH a festival of collaboration to solve big business problems.  Founded by Mark Zawacki and Catherine Stace This is collaborative innovation on steroids with a range of cross sector and discipline disruptors and leaders. I wish that social problems were on the agenda as well. Imagine those great business minds applying their time and talents to solve some of our deepest intractable societal problems? We desperately need that cross pollination of disruptors and business leaders to think about improving the ROI (return on investment) on social disadvantage.
I am heartened to see that people are embracing the merits of disruptive innovation for social good. In the US San Quentin prison is running a tech incubator for prisoners to reduce the recidivist rate. A splendid idea given that recidivism is a product of failed rehabilitation and re-education in prison. Recently the Australian Government and People against Violent Extremism sponsored  CVE Hackabout to identify social impact solutions to extremism. The competition replicated a hackathon and sought collaborative projects that  could be deployed and iterated. Similarly Random Hacks of Kindness brought together techs with NGOs to help them design tech solutions, the winner BenJam – an app that a dad designed for his non-verbal son to communicate with the world.
In July I am trialing a social innovation pitch event in a remote town in NSW. A pitch event for community action where community pitch ideas to solve a local project. The aim is to identify project teams that will meet up beyond the event to develop and implement the project. The idea is to seek re calibration of existing efforts and funds to support community driven initiatives and to support the community to help themselves.  I am also excited to be on the organising committee for GovHack Sydney where we have been encouraging government and NGOs to participate. Rapid prototyping and Hackathons have collaboration in their DNA, they create the space for collaborative alchemy and new solutions.
The challenge with any collaboration is sustainability so ideally any event for social impact would be billed as a platform for ongoing engagement and collaboration. With the work in remote areas distance and lack of connectivity remains a concern. Establishing a blend of face to face and virtual communities of collaboration is important to sustain the excitement and practice. I was recently introduced to the world of google groups and google hangout free collaboration platforms and know these can be leveraged better by communities. I see a lot of opportunity for disadvantaged communities to benefit from cross sector collaboration and cast a wider net to stakeholders, innovators and disruptors that can facilitate their aspirations.
Stay tuned on my innovation for social change journey, follow me on Twitter @ChiefDisrupter

Innovation is key to shift social disadvantage

Last year(2014) a friend whom I call the goddess of Start up – Nicole Williamson – introduced me to the parallel universe of tech and start up – I was mesmerized by the innovation and the hunger for creation. I’m so grateful to Nicole for introducing me to her world and being so generous to take me along to the numerous events occurring in Sydney that foster, inspire and nurture innovation. It got me thinking how amazing it would be to apply these worlds and their methods to solve wicked social problems?

Id spent many years (almost 30)  in the vortex of policy, government, NGO and social disadvantage – getting frustrated at the seeming futility of hundreds of billions of dollars being plowed into disadvantage with little result – even worse I started to see that the return on investment (ROI) really sucked! Even worse – people’s lives are at stake and disadvantage is growing exponentially despite the investment of money, programs and attention.

Innovation is key – really, there is no other way because we have enough and we definitely can do better to protect the most vulnerable people. Solutions are really not that hard, they just require new thinking, thought leadership from across sectors and disciplines to apply their minds to these messy problems like domestic and family violence, recidivism, homelessness, disability and unemployment. Our current approaches are failing, even if some would argue that there has been some progress, its too slow and too many people are falling through the cracks.

This week, April 2015,  NSW Premier Mike Baird announced a new Ministry, most exciting for the startup and tech communities was the re-appointment of the Hon. Dominic Perrottet as Minister for Finance and Services and the new appointment of the Hon. Victor Dominello as Minister for Innovation.

Its not enough to get NSW moving without some bold moves including the lease of poles and wires to fund long overdue infrastructure and the commitment by the Premier, Brendan Lyon, CEO of Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, Tracy Howe, CEO of NCOSS and the Minister for Family and Community Services to contribute $1b to social housing. Its exciting to think of the opportunities that lie in exchange of ideas across sectors as to how we could turn that $1b into ten times more to create new solutions to social housing, shelter and homelessness

“Innovation is a hard, messy process with no shortcuts. It starts with making something that you’d like to use and that might make people’s lives better.”  Guy Kawasaki

The fact that innovation is messy makes it hard for risk averse public servants to embrace its tenets – risk, failure, courage, disruption. However there seems to be a growing appetite for innovation in the public sector like the Premiers Innovation Initiative (NSW), Transport for NSW Customer Central innovation hub Andrew Kendall showed me, the endless open data, open government initiatives by NSW Minister for Finance and Services Dominic Perrottet’s Finance and Services and  Apps4NSW and Federal Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s GovHack,

I believe having a Minister for Innovation brings all this together – its an opportunity for Minister Victor Dominello to identify and implement innovation across public sector agencies. It demonstrates a desire and necessity to innovate our responses to big problems, including wicked social problems. It will be great to have an innovation lens applied across portfolios, can you imagine the possibilities of new thinking? I can – I have been inspired by so many individuals and companies out there applying their talent to help people.

I recently met UTS Professor Hung Nguyen who is inventing amazing enabling tools such as the aviator smart wheelchair ( see Youtube Clip here), his contribution is leveraging design and technology to innovate solutions to social care including falls prevention, diabetes and more! In March 2015, Fujitsu Laboratories Ltd., Fujitsu Ireland Ltd., and Fujitsu Limited announced they have “developed a technology that uses sensors, embedded in smart houses and worn by patients, for the early detection of abnormalities in motor functions that might otherwise go unnoticed.”

“Innovation is the central issue in economic prosperity.” Michael Porter

Traditional thinking has only taken us so far in being able to reduce social exclusion, marginalization and increase opportunity for disadvantaged people. Globally we are seeing a number of innovative solutions such as the rise of social entrepreneurship, of cooperatives and mutuals and of greater emphasis on collaboration. My hero – Ben Hecht CEO of Living Cities is a constant inspiration in his vision to connect opportunity to disadvantage that is transforming lives in some of the most vulnerable people in the USA.

“We take risks, catalyze fresh thinking in order to test new approaches in order to creatively disrupt the status quo.” Living Cities

We can learn a great deal about how to emulate this to extend the $1billion anticipated for social housing in NSW and address the valid concerns of the homelessness and housing affordability sectors to ensure that we can really do something that will meet growing challenges!

So I hope that this trend continues and that we as a society continue to look outward, that we collaborate and innovate out of any problem!