In the last six weeks the government has announced details of two new schemes which will help Australian businesses to ‘invent and commercialise new products and services’ as well as providing assistance in exploiting new global markets. Below we summarise these schemes and note where our clients and contacts may be able to benefit from them.

The Industry Growth Centres Initiative

In October, the Australian Prime Minister, and the Minister for Industry, announced the launch of the Industry Growth Centres Initiative. This is a substantial program with a total investment of $188.5m across four years. In its first phase, five ‘Centres’ will be created, one in each of five growth sectors in which Australia is already strong:

  • Food and Agribusiness
  • Mining Equipment, Technology and Services
  • Medical Technologies and Pharmaceuticals
  • Advanced Manufacturing
  • Oil, Gas and Energy Resources

Each Centre will take the form of a modestly sized not-for-profit organisation which will be led collaboratively by representatives of the sector from among small to medium businesses, scientists and researchers, respected Australian business leaders and representatives from multi-national corporates. More than $60m will be made available to the Centres to execute large scale collaborative projects to overcome some of the barriers to success faced by the sector as a whole.

Critically for IP holders and innovators, the Centres will also be given $60m to distribute on a competitive basis in matched grants of up to $1m each to ‘help convert ideas with high potential into commercial realities’.

For our clients, and all Australian innovators in the relevant sectors, these Centres offer multiple commercial opportunities.

  • By becoming involved in their sector’s Centre, innovators in companies and research organisations of all sizes can help to direct government funding to overcoming the most important barriers they and their colleagues face in accessing markets, strengthening supply chains and acquiring the skills and technology they need.
  • The Centres will be undergoing an annual process of developing ‘industry knowledge priorities’ which will help to inform the research sector of the industry’s needs and what commercialisation opportunities exist. By getting involved in this process innovators can ensure that these priorities accurately reflect the market as they experience it and help to maximise their opportunities.
  • Clearly, direct grants made by the Centres for the purpose of commercialising new innovations represent a real opportunity to acquire the funding necessary to take ideas forward. For those holding IP rights that have not yet been commercialised, or who are awaiting funding to protect and exploit their innovation, these grants should be considered as a possible route forward – though the requirement to match any grant should be taken into account.

For those working in Universities, the Centres have a stated aim of increasing collaboration between business and the higher education sector. The Centres will provide new forums through which scientists and researchers can communicate the direction that their research is taking and encourage investment, as well as understand what businesses require and what future research is likely to lead to strong commercial outcomes.

The government is currently seeking expressions of interest from parties interested in being involved in the centres. We would recommend that our clients working within the initial target sectors register their interest by filling in the Department of Industry’s form at http://www.industry.gov.au/industry/Pages/Industry-Growth-Centres.aspx#header. The government is not seeking bids from individual consortia, but is seeking to facilitate a single collaborative arrangement for each sector. However, it may be worthwhile to consider contacting your trade body or professional association to see how they are approaching the consultation and what, if any, discussions have already taken place within the sector.

Accelerating Commercialisation – The Entrepreneurs Infrastructure Program

At the beginning of November, the Government announced the launch of the last stream of its Entrepreneurs Infrastructure Program (EIP). This is the ‘Accelerating Commercialisation’ stream, and is one of four in the $484.2m program. The EIP is aimed at all innovators in smaller Australian organisations who are experiencing barriers to commercialising their inventions. In particular the scheme is aimed at eligible entrepreneurs, researchers, inventors, start ups, commercialisation offices and small to medium enterprises. Critically, to be eligible an organisation must have had a turnover of less than $20m in each of the past 3 years, however these can include the commercialisation offices of universities and private research institutes.

The program offers multiple types of assistance at different stages of the process.

  • Eligible organisations can submit an Expression of Interest. By doing so, applicants will gain a referral from AusIndustry to a Commercialisation Advisor. This advisor, an experienced expert in commercialisation, will provide guidance on options that exist for taking an idea forward.
  • Eligible organisations can be accepted to join the EIP ‘Portfolio’. Membership of this portfolio provides them with access to a network of experts and business leaders who can help to raise capital or enter new markets. It also provides opportunities to get involved in domestic and international roadshows organised by the program.
  • Importantly, the program also provides financial support in addition to advice. Eligible organisations can make an application for the program for up to $1m to fund 50% of the eligible costs of a commercialisation project.

The eligible costs that can be funded from these grants cover a wide range of activities and expenses of commercialisation, and importantly include the legal costs associated with gaining intellectual property protection for the invention.

Given the range of benefits available to organisations, and the opportunity provided to fund new or difficult commercialisation projects we would recommend clients explore whether they might be able to make an Expression of Interest. There is no deadline for these expressions, and they will be reviewed by AusIndustry on an on-going basis, approximately 6 times a year.