Technology | Innovation

The race to embrace innovation

We’re now in what’s been calculated as a US$1.6 trillion per annum global innovation race, where the rate of investment in new technologies is increasing every year, Innovation and Science Australia Chair, Bill Ferris AC said at the CEDA New South Wales innovation and disruption event.

“And to keep creating jobs and prosperity in this country we will need many more innovative companies,” he said.

“We’ve got them, but we just don’t have enough of them yet, and to do this we need an innovation system that better supports and accelerates innovation at scale.”

Mr Ferris said when he was invited to chair Innovation and Science Australia in 2015, the remit was to come up with a strategic plan out to 2030 for how Australia could propel its innovation outcomes.

“That plan we gave to the government about two weeks ago, it’s called Australia 2030: Prosperity through innovation and I’m expecting the government will release and respond to that report after the holiday season, end of January is my expectation.”

Mr Ferris said Australia can expect to become a top tier nation by 2030 if it tackles these five imperatives now as core policy priorities for the country: 
  1. Education – respond to the changing nature of work by equipping all Australians with skills relevant to 2030
  2. Industry – ensure Australia’s ongoing prosperity by stimulating high-growth firms and improving productivity 
  3. Government – become a catalyst for innovation and be recognised as a global leader in innovative service delivery
  4. Research and development – improve R&D effectiveness by increasing translation and commercialisation of research
  5. Culture and ambition
Mr Ferris said the report is about the sort of economy and society Australia can aspire to be in 2030.

“It’s a plan to continue national prosperity driven by innovation, a prosperity less dependent upon the performance of our commodities exports and more widely driven by an acceleration and the development and the commercialisation of our ideas and inventiveness,” he said.

“It’s a plan to spread the benefits of innovation widely, such as giving Australians better access to breakthroughs in medical care.

 “It is a plan to create more and better jobs, noting that fast growing companies – that innovate, export and scale up – are responsible for virtually all of the new jobs in this country in the last 10-15 years.”

Mr Ferris said Australia’s ageing population could lead to a shortage of workers equipped and competent to take on the new jobs.

“The best way to prepare people for the impact of technology is to make sure education systems adequately prepare people with the knowledge and the skills they need throughout their working lives.  

“The combination of innovation and education helps create new jobs to replace the ones lost and helps people adapt as their role changes.”

WiseTech Global Chief Executive Officer and Founder, Richard White said an issue Australia needs to work on is retaining the intellectual property created here. 

“We do have a problem post start-up that a lot of businesses get bought and taken overseas,” he said.

“So, the intellectual property which is built here and the people that are grown here and the technology and the talent and the experience gets taken out.

“You should be exporting the outcome not the company, the product not the business and we do sell to the US and other places far too regularly.” 

Mr White also said for innovation in Australia to be embraced there needs to be a cultural change. 

“I think we're missing a very large part of half the talent in Australia,” he said.

“Our social systems, the cultural systems around how women are inducted into technology really start influences from the earliest days of their experience.

“Females by high school have made very direct choices which remove them from the ability to have a career in technology.

“It’s an enormous waste of talent and we have to fix the fact that women actively select out of technology because it's not for girls, it's for boys and that's really wrong.”

Cicada Innovations Chief Executive Officer, Petra Andrén agreed there was a cultural issue and shared a very recent example.

“I had this problem this morning with my seven-year-old who I was going to send to a robotics camp over the holidays,” she said.

“She decided this morning that she didn't want to go because she saw the flyer and there was not a single girl on that flyer, only boys, so it's funny how a seven-year-old can pick up on something like that.”

Ms Andrén said Australia’s definition of innovation and entrepreneurship has been too narrow for too long.

“When we look at mainstream media and we read about innovation or entrepreneurship, we see a 24 year-old boy in a white t-shirt drinking Red Bull in a co-working space,” she said.

“That's appealing to some, but not to all of us, certainly not to my daughter.

“We need to understand that there are start-up and innovation happening in all industry verticals.

“There are start-ups in med tech, in advanced materials, advanced manufacturing, robotics, it's all start-ups but we don't see role models from those industries, I think that is something we definitely need to fix.”