The news yesterday that the Federal Government has unveiled details of its $196 million Commercialisation Australia (CA) initiative has been welcomed by many entrepreneurs and innovation consultants. These same intended beneficiaries might also be forgiven for wondering whether it is an improvement on the $1 billion Commercial Ready Scheme it is designed to replace.
The $196 million budget allocation for what was then known as the Commonwealth Commercialisation Institute was first announced in the Federal Budget in May. Since that time, the government has been consulting with over 250 key stakeholders to determine the best structure for the Commercial Ready replacement — at the time we argued that the process should have been more open. CA is outcome of these discussions.
Successful CA applicants will have access to support of up to $250,000 for proof of concept activities, and repayable funding of up to $2 million for early stage commercialisation activities. In addition, they will be assigned a case manager to “guide them through the commercialisation process and facilitate access to volunteer business mentors, including CEOs, and other support”.
Announcing the program in a statement yesterday, Senator Kim Carr, Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, said:
“Commercialisation Australia will open early in 2010 and will help researchers, entrepreneurs and innovative firms turn the best ideas into internationally competitive commercial realities, and create high-skill, high-wage jobs.
“Commercialisation Australia is specifically designed to boost early stage commercialisation by leveraging private sector capital and expertise.”
While there is relief that the government is finally filling the early stage funding void left by Commercial Ready’s axing in 2008, the $196.1 million over four years and $86 million each year thereafter falls well short of the $1 billion Commercial Ready injected into promising Australian companies.
CA supporters, including many consultants who stand to benefit from the new program, would argue that CA is a smarter, more surgical deployment of government dollars. It seems that there will be more emphasis placed on providing successful applicants with access to key services, advice and personnel. The success of that remains to be seen.
And while the funding payback requirement adds a necessary dose of responsibility to the grant process, there are also concerns over what benchmarks will govern this process and how bureaucratic it will end up being.
Senator Carr has announced a call for expressions of interest for board membership of Commercialisation Australia and registrations of interest for the roles of case managers and volunteer business mentors.
In short, will the program truly support the interests of the companies being commercialised (its intended beneficiaries) or simply feed the “process” (and the many hangers on who perpetuate it)?