I know some of the post-election commentary about innovation has been a bit negative, but my experience on the ground is that the “Ideas Boom” is really starting to gain momentum. The reshaping of some grants, programs and the launch of others are having an impact. But so too is the level of interest, enthusiasm and participation outside of government activities.
The design of the CRC Programme, the ARC Linkage Programme, the Australia-India and Australia-China Strategic Research Funds, are all a lot better than they were 12 months go. For example, the Linkage Programme is now open to applications at any time, which suits business much better than a once-a-year call. Small business doesn’t have to provide any cash matching in the scheme. The three times a year availability of CRC-Projects is likewise a lot more business-friendly.
The new Global Innovation Linkages Programme is a major re-think of how Australia supports international research. It is focussed on projects that respond to industry challenges in priority areas and priority economies. The scale and the timeframe (up to $1m over 4 years) are much more suited to significant achievement than previous schemes where the funding was spread thinner than vegemite. We won’t be able to support as many grants, but the outcomes are going to be much more significant.
There are a number of new acronyms to get used to. BRII, the Business Research and Innovation Initiative, is my favourite because it is the trial for a really important way to link Government procurement to small businesses. The US Government has had a Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR) since 1982, and the British have a somewhat similar program. The BRII is Australia’s toe-in-the-water effort at giving small business the chance to answer challenges for government.
The Industry Growth Centres are not really a NISA imitative, being a part of the previous innovation statement. But they are starting to fire on all cylinders as staff have come on board and industry competitive plans are put in place. For businesses and scientists, the Growth Centres offer an efficient means to identify the strategies and players to make the most progress. The CRC-P funding rounds are already highly influenced by the Growth Centres and they will probably be the most important drivers of round 19 CRCs.
Leadership is vital and the move of Innovation and Science Australia to have a plan to 2013 is a great development. Australia has to be strategic because we can’t do everything.
At a political level, Senator Carr will not let the government rest and he’ll keep the focus on total investment. Innovation and Science Minister, the Hon Greg Hunt, has hit the portfolio with enthusiasm, knowledge and an open mind. Apparently, he is already talking about NISA 2 and NISA 3.
Besides government activity, look at the philanthropic and business buzz in innovation elsewhere in this newsletter. Charlie Bass’ investment in CERI is mentioned, Wespac efforts are well known and smaller companies like LaserBond are accessing the Australian Synchrotron for new product development. I get to hear these stories every day. It really is exciting times in science and innovation and the right direction for the nation. If innovation fell a bit flat in the election campaign, that was just a tiny pothole on this important journey.