The federal government’s venture capital organisation is on hold, with the Department of Industry announcing applications will not be accepted or processed until after the May 2014 budget. This is not the first time the Commercialisation Australia grants have been frozen pending a review, with an earlier freeze occurring in late 2012. StartupSmart understands from several sources that there is concern within the department that a component for startups, rumoured to be the early stage commercialisation funding segment, may be abolished post-May. To get a sense of the importance of Commercialisation Australia to the industry we took a look at its currents stats. Commercialisation Australia chief executive Doron Ben-Meir also declined to comment on the speculation. Since its inception, Commercialisation Australia has invested over $213 million in 503 companies (as of February 2014). The organisation funds companies at four key stages. These include a grant of up to $50,000 to access specialist advice; up to $350,000 to hire experienced senior executives; up to $250,000 to prove commercial viability of an idea; and between $50,000 and $2 million to assist early stage commercialisation. Queensland has received the most funding deals with 134, followed by New South Wales at 126, Victoria at 116, Western Australia 63, South Australia 34, Canberra 15, Tasmania 12 and the Northern Territory three. Almost half of the funding (42%) went to manufacturing and engineering startups, 33% to software and web design, 13% computer systems and hardware and 12% biotechnology. Government venture capital can be particularly potent in emerging ecosystems. For example, much of the investment in Perth tech companies so far has included backing by Commercialisation Australia. Recent investments include admin efficiency app Breezedocs, workplace app SafetyCulture, customisable radio app Omny, campus surveillance app CriticalArc, and epublishing software LiquidState. The full list of grant recipients, amounts and industries is here.
A co-working space for start-ups in the advanced technology industries such as medical devices and nanotechnology has launched in Melbourne. The Tap co-working space is an initiative of the Small Technologies Cluster, which has been running an incubator for similar start-ups for years. STC’s head of marketing and business development, Laura Faulconer, told StartupSmart while start-ups all face similar challenges, advanced technology start-ups face complicated hurdles such as regulatory approval. “We were looking at the emergence of co-working spaces globally and really recognise the value in that, but didn’t see any in Melbourne that really catered to the needs of the advanced tech sector,” Faulconer says. “If you’re a medical device start-up, it’s not as useful to set opposite to someone who is selling shoes online. There just aren’t the same synergies to work together.” The space can fit up to “30 butts on seats” at any one time, but Faulconer says 30 is a conservative estimate of how many people will use the space as the majority of it will be flexible. They will also run networking and education events in the space. “We designed it promote that collaborative work environment that has been embraced by the digital start-up sector, but has been slower to emerge here. Some of that is about culture and personality of the people involved, so we’ve taken that into consideration when designing the space,” Faulconer says. Advanced technologies also include biotechnology, life science and information technology.
Recently we looked at federal government grants available for small businesses and start-ups looking for funding support. If businesses are looking at commercialising a product, conducting research and development or keen to branch out into export, there are a number of grant opportunities. Here we cast our net wider and look at some state government grant programs that are also available to businesses based within their borders, as well as grants offered by capital cities that businesses may also be able to tap. New South Wales Innovate NSW Minimum Viable Product: This scheme supports small to medium-sized technology businesses to engage with a potential customer. Successful applicants receive matched funding of 50% of project costs to a maximum of $15,000 to demonstrate an idea, prove a concept, develop a prototype or customise a solution. Innovate NSW Collaborative Solutions: Here the government provides grants of up to 25% of project costs to a maximum of $100,000 to consortia to develop an innovative, new-to-market business-to-business solution. The program’s website says the consortia must include three entities: a technology SME with the ability to develop and commercialise the solution; a pilot business customer in a key sector that is willing to test the solution; and at least one partner that will provide additional technology, research capabilities, or assistance to scale the solution. It says the purpose of the program is to foster collaboration between industry partners toward delivering a compelling, new-to-market solution. Innovate NSW TechVouchers: The program aims to help technology SMEs to collaborate with a NSW research organisation to overcome a technical challenge or test a new technology. It provides grants of up to $15,000 in matched funding. For more grants, check out the state government’s trade and investment grants and funding page here. Sydney Sydney City Council also has a range of support programs including grants of up to $30,000 in matched funding to encourage small-scale businesses to use underused city spaces, up to $20,000 for events, and up to $6000 in matched funding for improving shopfronts. Victoria Innovation Voucher program: This program aims to support companies wanting to explore ways to improve their competitiveness and productivity. Under the Business R&D Voucher, businesses can apply for up to $25,000 while the Innovation Skills Voucher lets businesses apply for up to $10,000 to develop innovation relevant skills. Employment Start-up For Business: The program helps businesses across Victoria hire unemployed young people and offers up to $4000 for each successful employment opportunity. Technology Trade and International Partnering (TRIP) Program – Biotechnology and Small Technology: This program provides help for Victorian businesses to attend international conferences, trade events and regulatory authorities. It aims to support the growth and internationalisation of Victoria’s biotech and small tech companies. More Victorian government grants can be found here. Melbourne Like its northern rival capital, Melbourne’s city council also provides a range of business support grants, but through its Enterprise Melbourne body. Some of the grants include funding of up to $30,000 to establish new and innovative businesses, up to $30,000 to expand existing businesses, and up to $10,000 to help enter and expand into overseas markets. Queensland The Sunshine State won’t be left behind by the southern states when it comes to business grants. It offers a range of grants for businesses which can be found here. Brisbane Affectionately known as ‘Brisvegas’, Brisbane is developing a fertile start-up community. Helping with that is the Brisbane City Council’s Budding Entrepreneurs Program which offers $5000 to support digital start-ups. South Australia Innovation Voucher Program: Like other states, South Australia has an innovation voucher scheme that encourages collaboration between SMEs and research and development organisations. In South Australia the scheme offers grants of $10,000-$20,000 to eligible research and development projects that partner with SMEs with an annual turnover less than $20 million. Business Development Initiative (BDI) Grant: This grant is available to help start-up and early stage South Australian bioscience companies to develop their business model. Grants of up to $250,000 can be used for business planning, marketing and proof of commercial concept experiments. Western Australia Designer Fashion Grants Program: Western Australia isn’t necessarily all about mining and digging holes in the ground. This program aims to help fashion designers and businesses to access commercial markets for their products. Grants can include funding of up to $20,000 to improve business viability, up to $10,000 for research and skills development, and up to $4000 to attend international fashion events. Perth The Perth City Council also has a business grants program and offers funding of up to $2000 to small businesses in its local government area to help with starting a business, growing, or other creative business-related projects that benefit the city. Tasmania Marketing Assistance Scheme: This scheme helps Tasmanian SMEs with turnover of $300,000-$15 million with marketing activities to develop national and international markets. The scheme provides assistance for advertising, develop promotional materials and travel. Micro Business Loan Program: The program is aimed at helping people to start a business or grow their existing business. It’s also available to people on low incomes with Health Care Cards and provides small, interest-free loans. Tasmanian Government Innovation and Investment Fund: Launched last year, the fund helps Tasmanian businesses to accelerate their growth. It provides one-off project grants of up to $250,000 per project to eligible applicants who have a project that, primarily, leads to improved competitiveness and efficiencies, increased exports or import replacement and demonstrated innovation in Tasmanian business practice. Further help: Another resource for finding government business grants is the federal government’s grants and assistance finder here.
Above: AusBiotech chief executive Dr Anna Lavelle. Superannuation funds have been urged to offer more support to Australian biotechnology companies, amid fears they risk being sold cheaply to overseas investors. According to Jeremy Curnock Cook, managing director of biotechnology fund BioScience Managers, the Australian biotechnology industry needs more support from local super funds. Curnock Cook told The Australian there is not enough capital available to support innovative biotech companies. As a result, these companies “run halfway round the track and still had the other half to go”. “When they finally run out of money, they will be sold for cents in the dollar… What is the point of selling chunks of assets to foreign investors when you shouldn’t have to?” he said. Dr Anna Lavelle (pictured above), chief executive of Australian biotechnology organisation AusBiotech, told StartupSmart she agrees with Curnock Cook’s views and concerns. “I add my voice to the growing chorus of eminent Australians who believe that the government has a role to play in encouraging the superannuation industry to invest in next generation industries, which require a long-term view of sustainability and growth,” Lavelle says. “Australia’s fast-growing superannuation funds – the world’s fourth largest pool of managed funds – totals $1.3 trillion at present and is expected to grow to $3 trillion by 2022. “Even a tiny fraction of a percentage invested in innovation can support the building of a knowledge-based economy, leading to jobs and wealth creation. “A tiny portion of the country’s superannuation ‘nest egg’ directed to innovation and biotechnology would give invaluable support to the growth of innovation-based industries.” Super funds tend to steer clear of biotech companies because they are considered high risk. Rather than distributing money to all biotech companies, Curnock Cook said super funds could invest in specialised managed biotech funds, which in turn invest in local and foreign companies. He said the investment risk could be lower if the biotech companies targeted by specialised biotech funds have already advanced to clinical trials on patients.
A new crowdfunding platform aimed solely at local sporting clubs has highlighted the growth of niche crowdfunding websites, suggesting there are opportunities for other start-ups to specialise. Sportaroo, which has a team of six based in Australia and the United Kingdom, allows sports teams to raise funds for team projects by offering merchandise, experiences and sponsorship. According to Sportaroo spokesperson Jim May, it’s been an exciting few weeks. “Our first campaign for the Australian Women’s Olympic Bobsled Team is going great guns and is close to achieving its target,” May wrote on Silicon Beach Australia. “The girls are offering all sorts of supporter packs including great value sponsorship and the chance to ride in an Olympic bobsled.” Sportaroo isn’t the first start-up to carve a niche in the increasingly popular crowdfunding space. Here are a few others that are homing in on specific areas. Start Music Unlike Pozible – which encompasses all kinds of creative projects and ideas – Start Music is aimed solely at Australian music artists, allowing them to connect with fans and fund music. “A lot of musicians and artists haven’t heard of the concept of crowdfunding but I find they get it very quickly when I start explaining it,” founder Andrew Sellen told StartupSmart in July 2011. “I’m also going to have a system of milestones rather than a simple success/failure system… so fans are still engaged in helping them reach their 100% target. “My marketing strategy will revolve around contacting the sort of artists I’d like to see on the site. I’d like to see bands on there that are buzz bands – newer bands but growing in popularity.” StartSomeGood StartSomeGood is a US-based platform for social good initiatives to raise funds and grow a community of supporters. According to its Australian co-founder Tom Dawkins, StartSomeGood is “Kickstarter but for social change”, which is “lowering the barriers [for] people… who want to make a difference”. “Currently, you’re told you have to register as a charity before you can access most fundraising platforms, which builds in costs and delays, and excludes social enterprises,” Dawkins told StartupSmart in January last year. Dawkins – who is part of the Australian delegation for the 2013 G20 Young Entrepreneurs’ Alliance Summit – said StartSomeGood enables social enterprises to raise funds “based on their vision, plan and credibility, not their tax status”. GoFundMe US-based crowdfunding platform GoFundMe, which was founded by Brad Damphousse and Andrew Ballester, has been described as “Kickstarter for the rest of us”. GoFundMe is a do-it-yourself online fundraising service, which helps people raise substantial amounts of money in online donations for their various causes. In September last year, it was revealed GoFundMe will launch a new partner program, which will see it partner with organisations whose members raise funds through the site. GoFundMe already takes a 5% cut of all funds raised on its platform. Through this program, it will split that with the organisations it partners with. This means GoFundMe and Member Networks will each receive 2.5% of the funds raised in associated campaigns. Seedstarter Realising that scientists regularly look for funding in order to commercialise their innovations – but are often underwhelmed when communicating with investors – Michael Dawson and Stephen DeVilliers created a crowdfunding site specifically for the science sector. “Seed Starter is all about getting the community involved and interested in science,” the website says. “We’re interested in research projects from all fields of science including biology, biotechnology, nanotechnology, astronomy, technology, engineering, social science, medicine, agriculture and many more. We are looking for projects from researchers with affiliations at universities, nonprofits or other research institutions. This includes tenured faculty, post-docs, and graduate students. We also accept proposals from industry bodies.”
Female entrepreneurs in high-growth sectors are being encouraged to submit an application to Springboard Enterprises, which aims to help them secure funding from local and US investors.
The Victorian Government has unveiled the $8 million Technology Voucher Program in a bid to drive the use of cutting-edge technologies, offering vouchers worth up to $250,000.
Frankston City Council recently announced a new grant scheme for start-ups, one of the few local councils around the country to offer grants to early stage ventures.
Government grants are notoriously hard to snare for start-up businesses and can involve completing a mountain of time-sapping paperwork in the application process.
Advance, the Federal Government-backed network of Australians living overseas, has launched an awards program aimed at boosting innovation within Australian universities.
The scope of a competitive grants scheme has been questioned after it was revealed university research and development supporting grants totalled $22 million less in 2012 than in 2011, despite the government’s heavy focus on this area.
Early Facebook investor Peter Thiel has used the fortune he made from Facebook’s IPO to launch a new $402 million venture capital firm, which is looking globally for potential deals.
A University of Queensland associate professor will collaborate with a US biotech company on an innovative biofuel production system, thanks to an R&D contract facilitated by UniQuest.
The founders of Smart50 entrant Catch of the Day, Gabby and Hezi Leibovich, have been revealed as being among the country's richest people, with a fortune of $240 million, according to the latest figures from BRW.
The Federal Government should introduce more incentives to boost investment in biotechnology, a major industry player has argued, despite some recent high-profile deals in the high-risk sector.
A $15 million investment in an Australian biotechnology start-up has been judged the Best Venture Capital Investment at the 2012 Vaccine Industry Excellence Awards in Washington.
Melbourne Population: 4.07 million Start-up survival rate: 74.3% (2007 to 2009)
Australian angel investors will give preference to projects in biotechnology, clean technology and web-based software this year, according to the results of the 2011 National Angel Survey.
Getting venture capital for any start-up is hard work. Even in the US, the world’s biggest venture capital market and the mecca for start-ups, only two out of every hundred get funded.
The Victorian Government has opened applications for funding of up to $250,000 for the state’s small businesses to trial and develop productivity-boosting technology.