How the government can effectively engage with startups

The evolving startup ecosystem in Australia presents boundless opportunities for economic growth, innovation, and jobs creation, including playing a leading and proactive role in developing a coronavirus vaccine, writes Amanda Siqueira.

To keep the startup ecosystem growing and thriving, the government has developed a range of initiatives in recent years, including GovHack, a two-day hackathon aimed to find innovative ways to raise the profile of open government data that generates a range of new ideas and solutions to address significant government challenges.

Amanda Siqueira

However, there is still more the government can be doing to ensure the startup ecosystem feels heard, supported and backed by initiatives that help make Australia internationally renowned for our innovation. 

To further improve collaboration between the Australian government and local startups, there needs to be a two-way, open-minded and forward-thinking dialogue. 

Startups won’t succeed alone

As a recent recipient of a $490,000 government grant, which will make a significant and positive difference to how our business scales locally and internationally, I know first-hand the kind of impacts that effective government support can have on a growing and ambitious startup.

The Australian government has a range of supports, initiatives, and programs to help startups get up and running, and this is particularly critical for entrepreneurs with complex ideas that require up-front investments. 

For example, due to the nature of VAPAR’s products and services, which use artificial intelligence and machine learning to monitor and manage sewerage and water pipelines, there was a need for financial resources from day one to hire developers, build the product, and ensure the product met the unique standards and needs of the companies and councils we were looking to service.

Without this support, which we garnered first from a government grant of $25,000 back in 2018, the product simply could not exist. 

The government has clear opportunities to walk the walk on innovation

The best collaborations between government agencies and startups will occur when the government is not only looking to support the startup ecosystem financially, but is also open to engaging the services of these startups. 

As government organisations, like corporate enterprises, are faced with the needs and pressures of digital transformation, growing demand for digital services, and a glaring need for greater productivity and effectiveness of systems, innovative ideas and technologies hold many of the answers to these challenges.

Startups are uniquely positioned to be agile, flexible, and open to building new products and concepts from scratch, making them a high-opportunity starting point for government leaders to trial new concepts and collaboratively build bespoke solutions to suit their exact needs. 

Rather than buying a product that has existed for decades off the shelf, now is the time for government leaders to be looking to the very sources of innovation they have already supported. This will allow them to reap the benefits of home-grown technologies and solutions. 

Together, we can put Australia on the global innovation map 

Many state governments, including in New South Wales and Victoria, have been effective at supporting local startups with expanding their business internationally. Whether it involves making connections to professionals and consultants overseas, introducing entrepreneurs to like-minded leaders in their target international markets, or syncing individuals up with industry bodies, these various types of support help founders start off on the right foot in a foreign market. 

Imagine if a founder were to expand their business into another country, and found out their local government not only supported collaboration across international startup ecosystems, but was already using a range of products and services from local startups to keep their own organisation future-forward and on the cutting edge.

Imagine the message it would send to the international startup, business and technology sectors if the Australian government were to adopt new technologies and engage in two-way collaboration with the startups in their own backyard. 

While there is still plenty to learn from innovation hubs like Singapore, San Francisco and London, our local government and startup sector are making huge strides towards optimal collaboration. If we can improve the two-way discussion on both empowering and using the services of startups, we’ll be unstoppable.

Amanda Siqueira is CEO and Co-Founder of VAPAR 

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