A privately initiated discussion has been gaining some momentum on the Anthill LinkedIn Group over the past week.
The discussion was triggered by an announcement from the Office of Senator Kim Carr, Australia’s Minister for Innovation, pertaining to the selection of Commercialisation Australian board members.
The reason why the appointment is likely to be of interest to Australian entrepreneurs, therefore prompting the discussion, is because it will be the role of these board members to analyse and approve Commercialisation Australia funding applications.
This is something that we have talked about in the past (before the announcement was made). On 8 February, we made the following comments, as part of a post titled, Would you like to be CEO of Commercialisation Australia?
While it is unclear how this board will operate at a functional level, it is obvious that the choice of these ‘decision-makers’ will be critical to the program’s success. We can only assume that it will be populated to reflect a range of industry backgrounds.
But just imagine how hard the job of the ‘biotech guy/gal’ on the board is likely to be – assessing a range of applications from the diverse and complex biotech sector.
We can only hope (once again) that the seven appointees will not purely be extracted from the halls of academia.
In the Anthill offices, we are currently running a ‘book’ on the likely number of private sector appointees. We’ll let you know which lucky Anthill employee picked the ratio of experienced business builders to public sector board members.
Our interest in the matter also prompted a note from the Minister’s Office, which we posted in full on Tuesday of this week, clarifying some points and answering some of our questions. The response and full list of appointees can be found here.
The LinkedIn Discussion
The discussion was triggered by Harold Dimpel, Founder and CEO of mHITs, under the headline No entrepreneurs on new Commercialisation Australia board. His initial comments are below:
Interestingly, from the members, it does not look like any of them are hard core entrepreneurs, experienced in the woes, ups and downs of building a start-up. Funny, I would have thought that start-up experience would be essential for a board position like this. I am concerned that the CA grant approval process will be run by bureaucrats.
The full thread of comments is an interesting one and worth checking out. It highlights the cynicism of many entrepreneurs toward government initiatives:
“Anything with a name as grand and as meaningless as Commercialisation Australia is doomed to fail. The Hitler clip says it all. Commercialisation Australia is intended by Rudd to siphon industry money off to his friends in the academic sector – it has absolutely nothing to do with industry, commercialisation or innovation.”
Nikolai Petrovsky, Professor of Medicine at Flinders University
It extracts some astute points about why entrepreneurs are rarely appointed to government roles:
“This inititative to me looks like a very good one. I think it has real potential. My observation over the years however is that true entrepreneurs are rarely sought out to assist with such Governement Initiatives. We’re usually in the trenches and too hard to find. Those with academic and larger corporate backgrounds (who schmooze in Government circles moore than we do) tend to look better on paper. Works better for the spin. Where it can fall down, as Harold points out, is that the real and practical entrepreneurial experience and skills of the board members looks rather lightweight…but good on paper!”
Peter J Cahill, Managing Director at Domain Hill Property Group Pty Ltd
It features some helpful reports from entrepreneurs engaged in the CA process:
“As a post DIISR meeting comment to my entry above, not considering myself a lightweight in the entrepreneurial field and then combined with a low expectation of the outcome of the meeting – saying i was pleasantly surprised by the calibre, capability and attitude of the ‘government’ people around the table would be a gross understatement. It was wonderfully engaging – with results to come.”
Jeff Swingler, Director at Infracap & Managing Director at Sondei
And, of courses, it raises that old chestnut about whether government should be involved in innovation in the first place:
“Their job is/should be GOOD progressive legislation to support the efficient allocation of capital, (ie private investment gets the same tax breaks/incentives as corporate investment, how radical?!), good laws and ‘safety nets’ to support entrepreneurs who fail, and support for commercialisation and entrepreneurship education.”
Peter Christo, Managing Director at Global Reviews Services Pty Ltd.
However, the comment I found most intriguing was presented by Steven Howard, a strategist and author. He says…
Another point — not a marketing person amongst the lot!
Does the government not understand that true commercialisation requires astute marketing, not just IP licensing, fund managment, and ivory tower experience in throwing other people’s money at new ventures?
There is a dire lack of marketing expertise in our corporate boardrooms. Now this is being mirrored in the government’s Commercialisation Board. I guess it was too much to hope that the government would get right what our businesses don’t.
It’s a strident declaration of perhaps the obvious. But one worth some real consideration.
And here’s why
In June 2008, I attended a book launch for Measured Success, edited by Peter Cebon of the Melbourne Business School.
The book itself is very informed and successfully highlights the main problems associated with innovation in Australia through case studies and commentary from experts.
In particular (pay close attention now), it makes the critical observation that innovative companies tend to focus either on the technology (the solution to the problem they’re trying to solve) or the market (what the market actually wants and how to reach that market).
It won’t come as a surprise that of the companies profiled those that focused on the market were more likely to be successful than those fixated on the technology.
According to the clarifying note we recieved from the Office of Senator Carr:
“The six members were chosen for their extensive skills, experience, knowledge and grasp of Commercialisation Australia’s goals. Three of the six board members are women. Three are from NSW, two from Victoria and one (the chair) is from Queensland. This reflects the general geographical spread of the expressions of interest received.”
And, indeed, they are an impressive lot. But here’s my question:
Does it take a great technologist or a great marketer to make a successful business?