Entrepreneurs’ Infrastructure Programme – an innovative, forward-thinking approach?

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Press Release Monday, June 23rd, 2014 – Workforce BluePrint

The new Commonwealth Government’s $484.2 million Entrepreneurs’ Infrastructure Programme aims to improve the business capability of small and medium enterprises.

Access to this programme is via a Single Business Service, which seems to be the new language for a one-stop-shop.  Streamlined access to government is promised with one website, contact centre and face to face liaison via Ausindustry.

Overall the aim of this programme is to build business capability that translates into jobs.

The Department of Industry suggests this approach will provide a universal offering to all Australian businesses and then a narrowing of services for 5 key growth sectors based upon eligibility and merit including:

  • Food and Agribusiness
  • Advanced Manufacturing
  • Mining Equipment Technology and Services
  • Oil and Gas
  • Medical Technology and Pharmaceutical

These sectors represent the areas that the Federal Government wants to drive future growth.  A national network consisting of Ausindustry and what was Skills Connect and Enterprise Connect plus private sector advisors will provide intensive support and advice.

For the Entrepreneurs’ Infrastructure Programme the key element is solutions meeting business needs with three streams:

  1. Business management/entrepreneurial skills
  2. Research connections
  3. Commercialising ideas/qualified introductions

Connection and collaboration opportunities will include exposure to multinationals, networking events, brokering and problem solving – all with a focus on good advice and networks, not funding or grants.

“Some of the language and concepts in the draft version of the Entrepreneurs’’ Infrastructure Programme seem a little out of date to me.  As the programme is meant to be flexible I wonder how it might cater for contemporary joint venture partnerships and the ways that business work not just now but into the future.  Businesses as collaboration and consortium partners as well as contemporary ways of working like co-working don’t appear to feature in an innovative approach to supporting Australian entrepreneurs’”, points out Wendy Perry, Head Workforce Planner, Workforce BluePrint.

Under Business Management/Entrepreneurial Skills (entry point) small grants of up to $20 000 are being considered with feedback at the Adelaide consultation session indicating that many businesses wouldn’t worry applying for something so small.  This co-contribution grant essentially covers a 4-6 day business review, report and recommendations very similar to the Enterprise Connect approach.

Essentially the questions that will be answered are what does this business need to know?  What are the knowledge gaps with a focus on management capability?  The main question that I ask here is this focusing on the next, or is it only designed to catch the business up?

For the Research connections component the idea is to find a researcher then partner to find a solution.  It aims to help SME’s to gain access to and fix a problem using research.  “Although it is not clear if research connections is about current business issues or future orientation”, highlights Perry.

“In my mind there are two levels of potential support.  Firstly applying information and research to a business problem and secondly addressing barriers that prevent linking with the right researcher to inform future business needs”, says Wendy Perry.

A clever question from the consultation session was whether Research connections was limited to Australian research organisations or would include international partners.

Commercialising ideas focusses on evaluation with a solid business case.  Early stage ideas seemingly don’t fit here as the new product, service or concept needs to be qualified.  This component is up to $250 000 of matched funding including addressing knowledge and connection gaps.

“Whilst government funding is or should never be an expectation, entrepreneurs’ may be interested in how to start up and expand, boot strap style, without it.  This could be an option for government to help uncover with examples, case studies and approaches where government funding wasn’t in the mix”, suggest Wendy Perry.

With phased delivery of the Entrepreneurs’ Infrastructure Programme from 1 July to 31 December 2014 business evaluations will begin followed by implementation assistance.  The Industry Skills Fund will work hand in hand and will be out for consultation shortly.  At this stage there is some overlap with the sectors targeted in the Entrepreneurs’ Infrastructure Programme and this fund will require government to engage with businesses and industry to understand workforce needs.

Written by Wendy Perry, Head Workforce Planner at Workforce BluePrint and VET Strategist at WPAA, 24 June 2014.


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