Barnett jumps aboard innovation train

Nick Sas – The West Australian on May 14, 2016, 12:30 am

Colin Barnett has belatedly jumped aboard the innovation train, announcing a $20 million fund and WA’s first Innovation Minister in an effort to “up the ante” in the sector.

In a move he admits took too long, the Premier will today formally announce the innovation plan broadly touched on in Thursday’s Budget, which will give WA start-ups and tech-focused industries a chance to bid for scholarship-like funding to help bring their ideas to reality.

He will also announce Bill Marmion as the State’s first Innovation Minister, with Bateman MLA Matt Taylor as his parliamentary secretary.

Mr Barnett, a self-described “non tech-head”, said the fund was in part a response to the Federal Government’s innovation statement as well as to calls from the WA start-up sector for help. There are about 350 active start-ups in WA and the sector employs about 3000. However, the industry is still in its early stages.

Most tech start-ups don’t make money in their first years, and industry insiders say in combination with a fledgling , the lack of Government action has stagnated growth.

The specifics of the fund are still to be worked out, with Mr Barnett indicating the Government would work with industry to develop the plan.

Mr Barnett accepted the Government took too long to move, but said today’s announcement was also about finding the right balance between “innovation” and other industries.

“Innovation to me is something that’s applied across industries and different areas,” he said. “It is not an industry itself, and obviously our major industry industries, petroleum and mining are incredibly innovative.

“But I think previously science and innovation have been mixed up with each other — where’s innovation is doing things more efficiently, better and the whole myriad of apps that have been developed in every sector, it’s not pure science as such.”

The move was welcomed by WA’s start-up community, with that State’s industry body StartUp WA calling it a positive step. Labor dismissed it as a copycat move, after the party announced its own $14 million fund last month.