In response to the Australian government’s $2 billion drive to transform university research into profitable endeavours, Steve Baxter, tech investor and star of reality TV series Shark Tank, said the focus should instead be on the country’s burgeoning start-up scene rather than tertiary sector.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, in late January, announced the AU$2.2 billion (US$1.56 billion) Research Commercialisation Action Plan, which includes a 10-year, $1.6 billion program called Australia’s Economic Accelerator (AEA).
The AEA—the culmination of ongoing consultations to revive the sector—is designed to bridge the “valley of death” where research projects are not advanced towards commercialisation due to risk.
The rest of the funds will be diverted towards the CSIRO’s Main Sequence Ventures program ($150 million), 1,800 industry-focused PhDs, and 800 fellowships over 10 years ($296 million); and $247 million for the Trailblazer Universities programme.
“Stronger commercialisation of research and ideas will mean a stronger economy and a stronger future for Australia,” Prime Minister Morrison said.
Stuart Robert, the minister for employment and small business, said the Action Plan would focus the “research power” of Australian universities to address “national economic and industry priorities.”
“To truly realise the potential of collaboration, we need to strengthen ties between academia and industry and embed those ties into the research career pathway,” he said in a statement.
The initiative comes on the heels of a greater push from the government to revive Australia’s tertiary sector, which has been rapidly shrinking following the closure of international borders, leading in turn to a decrease in international student numbers and a valuable revenue source decline.
As a result, tens of thousands of jobs have been lost since the beginning of the pandemic.
Vicki Thomson, CEO of the leading Group of Eight (Go8) universities in the country, welcomed the Action Plan saying it would pave the way for “breakthrough products, fostering start-ups, and supporting existing business.”
“As the heavy lifter in Australia’s research and innovation space—the Go8 undertakes 70 percent of university-based research in Australia—we have worked closely with the government’s research commercialisation taskforce to identify the policy levers necessary to scale up the commercialisation of our world-class research,” Thomson said in a statement.
“That the government has adopted our key recommendations is recognition of the important role research-intensive universities will play in the future prosperity of the nation.”
Baxter, however, said the government should not rely on the university sector to “bring home the goods.”
“This flies in the face of companies such as Atlassian, Canva, Go1, SafetyCulture, Arkose Labs, AirWallex, AfterPay, and more that had no genesis in the university innovation sector,” he told The Epoch Times. “Why is it that government continues to preference such a poor path to prosperity?”
“This package is a high-profile way to buy into some hearts and minds, and at least some part of the news cycle,” he added.
Baxter argued more could still be done to make Australia a desirable hotspot for start-ups, including easing regulatory hurdles and allowing more capital to enter the country.
He outlined proposals such as offering more tax incentives around early-stage venture capital investing, creating “very easy” migration paths for leading world talent, making paying staff via stock options easier and “non-punitive,” and opening up sectors in the economy ripe for disruption, including the pharmaceutical sector.