The Federal Budget Has A Half-Baked Idea For A $484 Million Agency To Help Startups

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Startups are losing a number of programs which supply them with government funding, but will get some support through the establishment of an Entrepreneur’s Infrastructure Programme announced in the federal budget.

The new fund will be allocated $484.2 million over five years from July 1 to support the “commercialisation of good ideas” and boost small businesses.

The focus of the programme is to support “the commercialisation of good ideas, job creation and lifting the capability of small business, the provision of market and industry information, and the facilitation of access to business management advice and skills from experienced private sector providers and researchers”.

Industry minister Ian Macfarlane said in a statement that the programme “will bring research and business together to develop and commercialise home-grown ideas and equip small to medium enterprises with the management and business skills to lead change and expansion.”

There’s not much other detail on the programme in the budget papers, however. The Department of Industry’s portfolio statement says the performance indicator for the measure will be based on a number of “SMEs supported to strengthen their business management and commercialisation skills”.

The actual numerical targets, the statement adds, will “be developed following finalisation of programme design and consultation with stakeholders”.

In other words, they haven’t worked out how this will look in practice yet and need to talk to the industry about it.

To make way for the Entrepreneur’s Infrastructure Programme the Coalition is axing eight other government initiatives including Commercialisation Australia, the Innovation Investment Fund, Industry Innovation Councils and Enterprise Connect. Many of these were included on the Commission of Audit’s list of government programmes that could be abolished.

Commercialisation Australia is a government body which provides grants to startups and the IIF leverages private sector capital investment with dollar-for-dollar support.

“It’s disappointing the government has adopted the recommendations of the Commission of Audit,” Australian Private Equity and Venture Capital Association chief executive Yasser El-Ansary told Business Insider.

“It was always going to be important for the government to be seen as taking action to support innovation in Australia.”

El-Ansary said, however, that “on the face of it, [the Entrepreneurs’ Infrastructure Programme] does look to be a step in the right direction”.

Shuttering the existing programs from January 2015 will deliver savings of about $845.6 million over five years, the government estimates.

AVCAL said abolishing the innovation industry programs was an example of short-term policy.

The Department of Industry, which will be in charge of its implementation, says its overall strategy will improve competitiveness.

“Industry policy will no longer be an overlapping plethora of small grants and entitlements,” Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane said.

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