UK government


Want your kids to learn another language? Teach them code

9:20AM | Tuesday, 22 September

Among Malcolm Turnbull’s first words as the newly elected leader of the Liberal Party, and hence heading for the Prime Minister’s job, were: “The Australia of the future has to be a nation that is agile, that is innovative, that is creative.”   And near the heart of the matter is the code literacy movement. This is a movement to introduce all school children to the concepts of coding computers, starting in primary school.   One full year after the computing curriculum was introduced by the UK government, a survey there found that six out of ten parents want their kids to learn a computer language instead of French.   The language of code   The language comparison is interesting because computer languages are first and foremost, languages. They are analogous to the written versions of human languages but simpler, requiring expressions without ambiguity.   They have a defining grammar. They come with equivalent dictionaries of nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs; with prepositions and phrase patterns, conjunctions, conditionals and clauses. Of course the dictionaries are less extensive than those of human languages, but the pattern rendering nature of the grammars have much the same purpose.   Kids that code gain a good appreciation of computational thinking and logical thought, that helps them develop good critical thinking skills. I’ve sometimes heard the term “language lawyer” used as a euphemism for a pedantic programmer. Code literacy is good for their life skills kit, never mind their career prospects.   Scratch is one of a new generation of block programming languages aimed at teaching novices and kids as young as eight or nine to write code.     The Scratch language uses coloured blocks to represent the set of language constructs in its grammar. A novice programmer can build up a new program by dragging-and-dropping from a palette of these blocks onto a blank canvas or workspace.   The individual shapes of the blocks are puzzle-like, such that only certain pieces can interlock. This visually enforces the grammar, allowing the coder to concentrate on the creativeness of their whole program.   The Scratch language (and its derivatives) are embedded in a number of different tools and websites, each dedicated to a particular niche of novice programmers. The website is a prime example and has a series of exercises using the block language to teach the fundamentals of computer science. is a non-profit used by 6 million students, 43% of whom are female. It runs the Hour of Code events each year, a global effort to get novices to try to do at least an hour of code.   For a week in May this year, Microsoft Australia partnered with to run the #WeSpeakCode event, teaching coding to more than 7,000 young Australians. My local primary school in Belgrave South in Victoria is using successfully with grade 5 and 6 students.   Unlike prose in a human language, computer programs are most often interactive. In the screenshot of the Scratch example (above) it has graphics from the popular Plants vs Zombies game, one that most kids have already played. They get to program some basic mechanics of what looks a little like the game.     But has a ‘Show Code’ button that reveals the JavaScript code generated behind the coloured blocks (see above). This shows novices what they created in tiles, translated into the formal syntax of a programming language widely used in industry.   It’s not all about the ICT industry   Both parents and politicians with an eye to the future see the best jobs as the creative ones. Digging up rocks, importing, consuming and servicing is not all that should be done in a forward-thinking nation.   But teaching kids to code is not all about careers in computer programming, science and software engineering. Introducing young minds to the process of instructing a computer allows them to go from “I swiped this” to “I made this”. From watching YouTube stars, to showing schoolyard peers how they made their pet cat photo meow.   It opens up young minds to the creative aspects of programming. Not only widening the possible cohort who may well study computer science or some other information and communications technology (ICT) professions, but also in design and the creative arts, and other fields of endeavour yet to transpire or be disrupted.   For most kids, teaching them to code is about opening their mind to a means to an end, not necessarily the end in itself.   This article was first published on The Conversation.

Bill Shorten’s STEM policy wins startup support: “The best thing we’ve heard from either party in 20 years”

5:20AM | Friday, 15 May

Labor leader Bill Shorten has unveiled his party’s STEM (science, technology, education and maths) education policy as a key focus of his budget reply speech, with one leading startup investor calling the policy “the best thing we’ve heard from either party in 20 years”.   Labor’s Futuresmart policy aims to have coding taught in every Australian every primary and secondary school by 2020. In order to accomplish this, Labor will provide additional training in STEM disciplines to 25,000 existing teachers at a rate of 5000 per year.   It will also encourage an additional 25,000 STEM students to become teachers by paying them $5000 to take up a teaching degree, and a further $10,000 after their first year in the classroom.   The policy will also write off the HECS debt of 100,000 STEM students, and encourage more women and minorities to study, teach and work in tech-related fields.   Other parts of the proposal include investing $9 million in creating a National Coding in Schools centre (NCIS) to support the teaching of coding in schools, and boosting R&D spending to 3% of GDP.   Wow. Labour budget reply is amazingly smart. 100k IT scholarships, CS in schools, VC fund matching & 3% of GDP in R&D by 2020?! Incredible. — Mike Cannon-Brookes (@mcannonbrookes) May 14, 2015   “Nothing matters more to Labor than securing the jobs of the future… And the new jobs of the future require new skills. Designing skills, coding skills – building, refining, adapting and servicing the machines and supply chains of a new age,” Shorten said.   “Yet today, two out of every five science and maths teachers for years 7 to 10, don’t have a degree in these subjects.   “Digital technologies, computer science and coding – the language of computers and technology - should be taught in every primary and ever secondary school in Australia. And a Shorten Labor Government will make this a national priority.   “We should aspire, together: universities, industry, the people and the Parliament to devote 3% of our GDP to research and development by the end of the next decade.”   99designs founding investor Leni Mayo says while there’s not enough detail to discuss the specifics of how the plan will be implemented, the policy is “well thought out” overall.   “This is the best thing we’ve heard from either party in 20 years. This is a root-and-branch attempt to address the issues inhibiting Australia from tackling the best the world has to offer in terms of technology and innovation,” Mayo says.   “At a high level the policy is coherent. More focus on STEM subjects in university and HECS relief are credible mechanisms for getting more trained STEM teachers into our schools,” he says.   And I say - hallelujah! — Annie Parker (@annie_parker) May 15, 2015   Startup Victoria interim chief executive and Attendly co-founder Scott Handsaker also backs the STEM proposal.   “So many people have been calling for computer coding to be added to the national curriculum over the years that it is amazing to finally hear a politician call for it to be rolled out. The future workplace is going to be so different to what we are used to that it is critical we start preparing our kids for an era powered by technology,” Handsaker says.   “The policy of writing off the HECS debts for 100,000 students who complete a degree in a STEM based University course is a fantastic initiative. STEM skills are required for the jobs of the future and we are not producing anywhere near enough qualified students to meet ongoing demand.  To then encourage a portion of those graduates to go on and complete a teaching degree is cleverly structured and a super policy.   “Big thumbs up from Startup Victoria.”   A spokesperson for the Australian Computer Society told StartupSmart coding and computational thinking “are an absolute necessity if we are to give our children the best possible chance to become the leaders of the workforce of the future”.   “ACS has long called for mandated teaching of coding and computational thinking,” the spokesperson says.   “It is no secret that Australia’s economic future is in the knowledge and service space, so seeing these initiatives brought to the fore is something we strongly support. Schools in the UK are already teaching coding from the age of five, and if Australia does not get on board we will be left behind.   “Looking at the UK implementation, the UK Government engaged the British Computer Society and others in the ICT industry to assist in teacher training. We – and the industry more widely – stand ready to assist the Government in the training of teachers and believe that, while this is certainly an ambitious goal, it is an achievable one with the right funding and policy framework and importantly commitment in place. It should be clear though that the training needs to be of a high standard, and cannot simply be seen as a crash course in technology. We need to produce teachers who can be genuinely passionate about technology education, and pass that on to their students.   “We believe that the time for talking is past. If we are to give our students the very best shot at being the digital leaders of the future, we need to start a program of coding and computational thinking now. It simply cannot wait until 2017. This represents a great chance for the Government, business and community to come together and build the digital workforce of the future.”   Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Turnbull’s new government startup will push open data, unitary sign-in

1:55AM | Wednesday, 28 January

A new digital “start-up” inside the Canberra bureaucracy will explore more innovative uses of data along with bringing quality control to online service delivery — and it’s already attracted international attention.   More details have been released about the Digital Transformation Office, the new Department of Communications unit announced by the Abbott government on Friday. A “small team of developers, designers, researchers and content specialists” will drive the existing myGov digital platform and other projects focusing on “end-user needs in developing digital services”.   A recruitment process for senior roles in the new agency — including a chief executive — will begin shortly, looking for digital transformation experts regardless of whether they cut their teeth in the public or private sector. Whoever fills those roles will quickly get to know all of government’s service arms as it takes on a central agency-like position, assuming responsibility for leading all government ICT investment decisions relating to citizen-focused service delivery, as well as acting as “digital champion” and educator for agencies with limited digital expertise.   A spokesman for Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull told The Mandarin there are synergies in the Department of Communications between the digital-by-default ethos and practice that the public have come to expect — seamless interaction with government:   “This agency isn’t designed to operate in a silo. Some agencies do things already incredibly well … others have made very little progress. The point behind this agency is that it’ll be the first time that we will have that whole-of-government perspective.   “You won’t see dribs and drabs of good stuff and quite a lot of bad. You will see, hopefully, a level playing field of very good performance.”   Turnbull (pictured) said on Friday the unit will “operate more like a startup” than a traditional government agency.   One of the primary tasks will be to develop a unitary log-in for government services, while protecting privacy and security of digital identities. The myGov log-in process — which won the Silver and Collaboration Award at the Excellence in Public Service Management awards last year — will be expanded. According to Turnbull’s office:   “That identity assurance space is probably the most significant issue governments around the world are grappling with in the digital space. Are you who you say you are? And therefore once we’ve determined that you are who you say you are, we’re providing a seamless log-in process where that can be duplicated across agencies as opposed to having to do that countless times.”   The government’s vision includes a consistent “look and feel” that meets the needs and expectations of the user, fewer roadblocks, and digital from start to finish. Turnbull will also direct the new agency to look at all possible advances in digital service delivery across government. According to the spokesperson:   “The classic example is going to be how we utilise data. Obviously there’s been quite a bit push in the open data space already, so how have we leveraged that data, and how have we leveraged analytics to improve the services we deliver?”   Trials of more open data uses will be announced later this year.   So is this a complete takeover of ICT? Not according to a spokesperson at the Department of Communications:   “Government agencies will retain responsibility for ICT investment decisions that do not relate to citizen-focused digital service delivery.”   The Department of Human Services developed myGov for Centrelink, Medicare and other welfare transactions, but it now includes the Australian Taxation Office’s online system. The department had begun engaging other agencies on expanding the service.   Human Services senior executive Ben Rimmer was a significant driver of the project before he departed earlier this month for a post as CEO of the City of Melbourne.   The UK government’s Mike Bracken, executive director of Digital in the Cabinet Office and head of the Government Digital Service GDS, extended his congratulations to DTO on Monday, blogging that it was “exciting stuff”:   “Needless to say, you have our heartfelt support. If you need input from us, we’ll be happy to provide it. And if any of your team find yourselves visiting the UK, you’ll be made welcome at our office in Holborn. It will be the least we can do to repay the hospitality shown to Ben Terrett and Liam Maxwell when they visited Australia last summer at the invitation of Minister for Communications Malcolm Turnbull.   “Digital transformation is fast becoming an international effort, something we saw clearly at the D5 summit we hosted in London last December. The Australian team joins others in Mexico, Israel, the USA, Estonia, Singapore, South Korea and New Zealand — together, we’re building an amazing community of knowledge and experience. The pace of momentum is striking.”    This article originally appeared at The Mandarin.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

THE NEWS WRAP: Beats Music to be bundled into iOS early next year

11:36PM | Wednesday, 19 November

As part of Apple’s revamp of Beats Music, the recently acquired music streaming service will be bundled directly into iOS.   The service will be bundled with the operating system early next year, instantly making it available on hundreds of millions of iPhones and iPads, the Financial Times reports.   Beats will continue to be a paid service and will likely be rebranded under the iTunes umbrella. UK government funds free online startup education courses An initiative funded by the UK government and backed by the tech industry has launched, offering free online courses to those who want to learn commercial digital business skills, TechCrunch reports.   The Digital Business Academy is being overseen by Tech City, working in partnership with a host of educational institutions and tech mentorship organizations including Cambridge University Judge Business School, University College London, and Founder Centric, which in turn works with tech accelerators such as Seedcamp and others. 500 Startups launches 10 million mobile collective fund Global seed fund 500 startups has launched a new micro-fund, a $US10 million ($AU11.6 million) fund it’s calling the 500 Startups Mobile Collective, TechCrunch reports.   The fund will be headed up by Edith Yeung, who joins after running marketing and business development for Sequoia-backed mobile browser Dolphin Browser. She also co-founded angel investment firm RightVentures, where she made more than 20 investments. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 2.09 to 17,685.73. The Australian Dollar is currently trading at US86 cents.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Creatives + coders = massive startup opportunity? The emerging startup power industry

4:44AM | Monday, 7 April

Innovation experts and incubators are tipping creative sector startups as the next big thing, and are calling for Australians and investors to back them.   Nowhere is this rise of art and tech fusion clearer than in Queensland, where Brisbane is home to Australia’s first creative startup fund and the Gold Coast to incubator Silicon Lakes, which is running a creative industries themed Startup Weekend this week.   A Startup Weekend is a three-day event to turn ideas pitched on the Friday night into new businesses by the end of Sunday.   Cofounder Greg Burnett told StartupSmart this will be Australia’s first creative industries focused hackathon-style event.   “Our feeling is the creative and tech industries do go hand in hand. Both are strong industries here but there hasn’t been much collaboration yet,” Burnett says. “We want to help creatives go from hobbyist to business owner and grower.”   He adds some of Australia’s biggest startup success stories are essentially creative startups, such as design crowdsourcing platform 99designs and art marketplace Red Bubble.   Australia’s only creative industry focused incubator, Brisbane-based Creative Enterprise Australia launched several years ago.   CEA chief executive Anna Rooke told StartupSmart there has been a rapid rise in both interest and success of creative startups since then.   “There are a combination of factors that make this the really exciting sector at the moment including a phenomenal amount of investment worldwide from universities, governments and venture funds,” Rooke says. “We’ve been working really hard to show there is a clear path to market for creatives that goes beyond hobby businesses.”   The success of startups such as 99designs, music app We Are Hunted and games development Half Brick Studios have had an almost evangelistic impact on the creative and startup communities.   The escalating interest and growing talent base enabled CEA to launch a $1.2 million fund late last year.   Over 200 startups have applied so far. CEA announced their first investment, in visual search engine for trademarks startup See-Out, last week.   “We wanted to highlight at startup that had thought about the international scalability from day one, so that creative ventures could see that was what we’re looking for, and that global goals are possible for creative startups,” Rooke says.   Rooke is confident the creative industry will continue to thrive over the coming years as Australia has both the talent and startup incubators and accelerators to support it now.   But for any startup ecosystem to take off, there also needs to be enough capital available to fund high-growth early stage companies.   At a startup investors event in Sydney in August, startup mentor Hamish Hawthorn tipped creative startups as the best industry to back in the coming years.   “Some of the most brilliant people around are in the creative arts and industries. When you combine that with tech to get the ability to scale, you’ll get a boom and they’ll be off.”   Hawthorn is also the director of accelerator program ATP Innovations. They recently ran an evening workshop to equip creative startup founders with the professional skills they need to turn their great ideas into profitable businesses.   At the time, Hawthorn told StartupSmart creative entrepreneurs face subtly different challenges to the wider start-up scene, especially around raising capital.   “Often creative entrepreneurs are focused on the essence of their ideas, but investors want to invest in the business on top of being attracted to the essence,” he says. “You need to speak in the language of the investors and be able to articulate the value proposition so an investor can latch onto it.”   The Australian creative industries sector employs more people than the mining sector and contributes $35 billion to GDP every year.   Several years ago, the UK government launched a series of policies targeted at supporting startups to boost the creative sectors, which are now estimated to bring in 20 million pounds an hour.

Aussie tech start-ups invited to become million pound poms

5:08PM | Sunday, 26 May

Australian start-ups are being encouraged to enter a global competition called the Million Pound Startup, which will award £1 million ($1.55 million) to a technology company willing to relocate to London.   The Million Pound Startup, facilitated by UK-based not-for-profit Digital Shoreditch, is designed to encourage young tech companies to set up operations in London in return for £1 million.   The winner will not only receive £1 million but will also receive support and assistance from competition partners including the Tech City Investment Organisation, and Schools for Startups.   Competition entrants will need to demonstrate they have the capability of using the £1 million equity investment to build a £100 million company based in London.   Entrant turnover must be less than £1 million per year and the company must have been trading for less than 10 years. The competition is open until August 29, with the final in December.   The £1 million is being sourced through a combination of angel funding, institutional capital and equity crowdfunding.   The investment process will be managed by Seedrs, a UK-based crowdfunding platform regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.   The competition partners and judges will work together to ensure the winning company is not only of a high calibre but successfully completes due diligence.   The competition also offers a small equity stake to the company or individual who promotes the winner. Promoters are required to pre-register on the Million Pound Startup website.   If there is a specific promoter registered to the winner of the competition, they will receive a 1% equity stake in the company.   According to Mayor of London Boris Johnson, London is a “terrific home” for tech start-ups and a world leader in the sector.   “This competition is an aptly innovative approach, which I hope will unleash even more of the entrepreneurial talent for which this city is renowned,” Johnson said in a statement.   Similarly, TCIO deputy chief executive Benjamin Southworth said in a statement the competition “perfectly demonstrates how London and the UK are open for business”.   “Entrepreneurs based here can benefit from the world’s most ambitious package of policies, businesses incentives, tax and visa support as well as the diverse and vibrant start-up ecosystem in Tech City,” he said.   This isn’t the UK’s first attempt to lure start-ups from other countries.   In January last year, 300 tech start-ups from around the world were invited to the StartUp Games, held at the same time as the London 2012 Paralympics, in a bid to attract young companies to London.   The UK government is also keen to boost entrepreneurship in its own ranks, particularly among young people.   In March last year, UK Prime Minister David Cameron unveiled the StartUp Loans scheme for budding entrepreneurs aged 18-24, who will receive loans of around £2,500.   Cameron said he hoped the initiative will lead to 30,000 additional start-ups.   Cameron told the BBC he wants young people to have the confidence and support to turn “that spark of an idea into the next global brand”.   The UK also saw the launch of StartUp Britain in March 2011. StartUp Britain, which is built around an online portal, delivers support and advice to start-ups.

Three ways to encourage the banks to lend to start-ups

9:30PM | Monday, 17 September

It’s a story heard time and again from start-ups across Australia since the global financial downturn – the banks simply aren’t lending money to help businesses get up and running.

Ireland the latest nation to cast net for foreign entrepreneurs

3:45AM | Monday, 11 March

Ireland is the latest nation to appeal to foreign entrepreneurs to do business in the region, in a desperate bid to boost employment, following similar initiatives in the United States and Britain.

Economist dismisses dollar-pound exchange strength

3:12AM | Monday, 11 March

Companies looking to do business in the United Kingdom shouldn’t expect any short-term gains, an economist says, despite the Australian dollar hitting a 27-year high against the British pound.

VCs call for UK-style tax breaks to spur start-up market

11:05PM | Wednesday, 30 November

The Federal Government has been urged to do more to spur start-up investment, following the unveiling of a UK government initiative that gives a huge tax break to venture capitalists.

THE NEWS WRAP: Murdoch abandons BSkyB bid

7:34PM | Wednesday, 13 July

Rupert Murdoch has pulled the plug on the attempted takeover of UK broadcaster BSkyB in the wake of the phone hacking scandal that has engulfed his media empire.

Red Tape Challenge unlikely to hit Australia

4:09AM | Tuesday, 19 April

The Australian Federal Government says it is unlikely to adopt an initiative like the Red Tape Challenge, a high profile blitz on regulation that has just been rolled out in the UK.

10 reasons why we need a Start-up Australia

4:08AM | Monday, 4 April

We looked on in a mixture of wonder and envy last week as the UK Government launched StartUp Britain, a scheme aimed at propelling wannabe Richard Bransons into business.

10 great start-up schemes from around the world

2:52PM | Sunday, 6 February

It’s official: Australia is the second easiest place in the world to start a business, according to the World Bank.