Australians are, by nature, innovative. This is partly because many took the risk to come to Australia in the first place rather than stay put. And because it is still a relatively new country there are less impediments to "having a go" - less class structure, less old laws and restrictions.
My definition of innovation is a holistic one – innovation is the entire process by which ideas, discoveries and products are created, developed and taken successfully to the marketplace. The innovator is an entrepreneur and innovation implies both creativity and implementation.
The process of innovation in Australia takes place via a somewhat similar process to that in other countries. Someone has an idea or improvement that has to be researched and developed into a product or service and commercialised. However, the mechanics of our process are very different from our trading partners with a large number of discontinuities in it.
At the Australian Technology Park Business Incubator Programme, we have created a new entrepreneurial culture and experience. The new growth sector is the "Experience Economy", a phrase first used by B. Joseph Pine II and James H Gilmore. It views the customer as the product. We are using products and services to grow a new experience for our entrepreneurs. We have five incubator categories – IT&T, Biomedical, Multimedia, Environmental and Advanced Internet. These incubators have produced 55 companies so far with 14 graduating and a 95% success rate. This has been done in the "hostile" business environment for start up companies over the last 4 years.
There are many lessons that have been learnt that could be applied to the less hostile climate that is upon us now. But will people listen? We are claiming some high ground for Australia and use the term (UCM) Up and Coming Multinationals (i.e. with Australian head offices) to describe the types of companies we are selecting.
At the ATP we have instituted a development programme for final year university students called "New Business Creation". This unit is accredited at the three universities of Sydney, New South Wales and University of Technology, Sydney. This is the start of our plan to enable our Educational Institutions to produce graduates "who can create a job and not just look for one." This commercialisation unit is aimed at encouraging the commercialisation of the Intellectual Property locked up within our universities.
We have many institutions around the nation that commercialise intellectual property for their university. However this usually takes the form of licensing and very often doesn’t give the best returns to Australia for our investment in research.
Last year I instituted a Vice Chancellors Prize for the best "New Business Creation" of the year in each of the three universities. This prize is open to all students, researchers and academics within the Business Incubator Programme and has attracted significant interest both in Australia and overseas. We have also created innovative business models and provide entrepreneurial training for our CEO’s based upon Executive Fasttrac Technology. This programme is well respected worldwide and already has an Alumni of 45,000.
Australia needs to achieve a higher level of innovation than it does now, and innovation is, by its nature, risky, and alters the status quo. We in Australia have a high uptake of technology and we are in the top few countries that like to experiment. Technology has a significant status attached to it. But when it comes to investing in this ourselves we fall way behind other developed nations.
The entrepreneurial spirit that is necessary to undertake this risky adventure has all but been extinguished by the stigma of the so-called entrepreneurs of the 1980’s. I believe that we are now in a period of "Entrepreneurial Renaissance" and those who don’t catch the wave will miss out. The price of failure is more overseas ownership and control.
The current revolution is how the new technology can be applied to business and services. Much has been written about the internet. This is just another technology like roads and trains. The actual challenge is to benefit from what it does and create commercialisable businesses.
This is an edited extract of a paper submitted to the Australian Innovation Summit.
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