OPINION: Slingshot launch pad for bright new ideas

LIGHT UP: The government is committed to supporting entrepreneurs.LIGHT UP: The government is committed to supporting entrepreneurs.

AS our economy undergoes structural change, the future success of many Australian industries will rely heavily upon their ability to innovate and adapt.

Those who develop new ideas, integrate new technologies and employ modern, competitive ways of doing business will be out in front.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of launching the first Hunter-based technology accelerator, Slingshot – a fine example of the power of innovation at work.

This unique program will invest $10million of seed funding into Australian companies to help them turn innovative ideas into commercial realities.

Ten emerging businesses will be selected to take part in the intense 12-week program where they will co-locate in Slingshot’s Newcastle offices, be given access to leading business mentors and be exposed to investors, partners and sponsors.

The end result could be remarkable new companies ready to pitch themselves to venture capitalists for further funding here and abroad; helping create new jobs.

The journey from good idea to new product or service can present many challenges.

The Gillard government is focused on fostering competitive and innovative industries, including through promoting venture capital.

The Slingshot program, for example, utilises the government’s Early Stage Venture Capital Limited Partnership tax arrangements to raise the dedicated seed funding required to support successful enterprises.

Opportunities exist, for assistance, through other government initiatives such as the Innovation Investment Fund, Commercialisation Australia, the R&D Tax Incentive, Enterprise Connect and Industry Innovation Precincts.

This approach also plays into the Gillard government’s central objective of creating and supporting local jobs.

Our recently-released Industry and Innovation Statement, A Plan for Australian Jobs, is a $1billion investment in productivity, prosperity and jobs.

It will ensure Australian firms have the opportunity to bid for more work, create industry precincts that strengthen our ability to win business abroad, and help small and medium businesses grow.

As part of this plan, the government will invest a further $350million in the Innovation Investment Fund, matched by private industry, to create an additional $700million in venture capital for smart Australian businesses.

There are improvements to venture capital taxation arrangements, and support for emerging technology is also evident through the government’s investment in high speed broadband – the backbone of the new digital economy.

The National Broadband Network (NBN), which is already rolling out in our region, will improve the competitive advantage of regional centres such as Newcastle and support entry into global markets and supply chains.

We are committed to supporting small business and entrepreneurs to reach their potential. The government’s Digital Enterprise Program, for example, is providing free group training and face-to-face support for SMEs and not-for-profit organisations to help improve service delivery online.

There is a positive alignment between what Slingshot, created by locals Craig Lambert and Trent Bagnall, aims to achieve and the Gillard government’s vision to drive innovation, create jobs and improve our competitiveness for the future.

Slingshot’s partners include the Newcastle Herald, Sparke Helmore, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Hunter Business Chamber, University of Newcastle, and TAFE.

By bringing together our best businesses and researchers to create global quality products, boosting capability for business and entrepreneurs, and providing access to capital to grow early stage businesses, the government is creating the base from which creative entrepreneurs, through initiatives like Slingshot, can thrive.

The key drivers of economic change are the rise of the digital economy and the shift towards a low-carbon global economy.

Our investments in the NBN and the Clean Energy Future package will help Australian industry, including those based here in the Hunter, to embrace and profit from these changes.

Greg Combet is the federal Labor member for Charlton and the Minister for Industry and Innovation.

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