In July 2009 I was compelled to write a paper on how I saw the Australian Federal government could assist in creating a ecosystem for research, innovation and entrepreneurship. At the time they had announced that they were going to set up a Commonwealth Commercialisation Institute. I wanted to give them some of my insights after more than a decade in the space in Australia and the US.
Fast forward more than two years. My paper was largely ignored. Instead the Federal government set up Commercialisation Australia, which is essentially yet another granting body. It does little more than hand out staged grants, there is no hint at the matrixed ecosystem this country so desperately needs to move itself forward.
In contrast let’s take a look at one country that is powering ahead: Singapore. Note that there are others doing great things too, but let’s just focus on one, that’s close enough geographically to really show off how far behind Australia is lagging.
Set up as a department within the Prime Ministers Office in 2006, Singapore’s National Research Foundation sets the national direction for research and development by putting in place policies, plans and strategies for research, innovation and enterprise, funds strategic initiatives, builds up R&D capabilities and capacities through nurturing Singapore’s talent and attracting foreign talent, and co-ordinates the research agenda of different agencies focused on transforming Singapore into a knowledge-intensive, innovative and entrepreneurial economy. One of the NRF’s aims is to make Singapore a talent magnet for scientific and innovation excellence.
In March 2008 Singapore’s Research, Innovation and Enterprise Council, which is chaired by the Prime Minister, approved the establishment of a National Framework for Innovation and Enterprise (NFIE). This framework was set up to encourage universities and polytechnics to pursue academic entrepreneurship and turn their R&D results into commercial products for the marketplace, while also assisting entrepreneurs to start-up technology based companies.
Currently the NFIE has a budget of $360 million, which is used to support a range of ecosystem creating initiatives, namely:
- Early Stage Venture Funds – the NRF invests $10m, on a 1:1 matching basis, to seed VC funds for investing into Singapore-based early stage high-tech companies. The VCs can buy out the NRF’s share within 5 years by returning NRF’s capital with a nominal interest;
- Proof of Concept Grants – grants of up to $250,000 are provided for technology proof of concept development projects, both for researchers and companies;
- Disruptive Innovation Incubator – this scheme supports a business incubator which invests in Singapore-based start-ups with disruptive innovation;
- Technology Incubation Scheme – the NRF invests up to $500,000 in Singapore-based start-up companies that are incubated by selected technology incubators;
- Translational R&D Grants for Polytechnics – the provision of development grants of up to $500,000 to researchers to carry out translational research;
- University Innovation Fund – the provision of funding to the Singapore universities for approved innovation-related activities;
- National Framework of IP Principles – a framework designed to speed up the licensing of IP from universities and research institutes to industry;
- Innovation and Enterprise Institute – the Institutes objective is to help develop the innovation and enterprise ecosystem by providing the necessary information, research methodology and relevant networks to galvanise innovation and enterprise activities in Singapore;
- Global Entrepreneur Executives – this scheme is aimed at attracting high-growth and high-tech venture-backed companies with global entrepreneurial executives in ICT, medtech and clean tech to relocate to Singapore. The NRF invests up to $3 million in matching funding to eligible companies via convertible notes; and
- Innovation Vouchers Scheme – local enterprises are give vouchers under this scheme that are redeemable for R&D and technical services from universities and public research institutes.