Thursday, April 17, 2014

Proposals for Encouraging Young Entrepreneurs

The new  not-­for-­profit organisation "StartupAUS" has released the report "Crossroads: An Action Plan to Develop a Vibrant tech startup ecosystem in Australia" (15 August 2014). The report makes some useful recommendations, such as Young Entrepreneur Scholarships and a national network of student start-up incubators, national learn to  code promotion program, tertiary  scholarships program to drive participation in CS, and a national network  of entrepreneurship centres.

The report is deficient for not proposing formal education programs for entrepreneurs. Australian universities have a number of schemes to encourage students and researchers to apply their skills to setting up new businesses. However, these tend to be extra-curricular activities, not part of formal courses. I suggest this should be a core part of courses, acknowledged as a respectable subject for academic analysis.

The report focuses too much on on the import of staff from the USA, rather than training Australians and working with growth areas in Asia. The the report does not make clear who funded it (presumably Google Australia), or who wrote it.

Also it would help if the report was provided as a well formatted web document, not badly formatted PDF. Here is an extract from the report's action plan summary, reformatted by hand to HTML:

Action plan summary

Australia does not currently have all of the required conditions for a successful startup ecosystem. Their establishment has been hampered to varying degrees by market failures spanning education, culture, expertise, access to capital and regulatory environments. Below is a summary of the actions proposed to address those market failures. The majority of the actions are not new. They have been implemented in other countries in which similar market failures have been identified, and in many cases have been effective to the point that government intervention can be scaled back or withdrawn. The impacts from some of the actions will be seen in the near term, although most will take several years to have a positive effect and will require a long term bipartisan commitment. StartupAUS does not believe that the government should be required to make an open-­‐ended commitment to supporting the startup sector, but rather it should develop an exit plan for scaling back and ending its support of each aspect of the sector. This will require the development of suitable metrics against which progress can be measured. This paper does not prescribe a division of responsibility between federal, state and local governments, although clearly the best outcomes will be achieved if high-­‐growth startups and entrepreneurship become a national priority, and if there is close alignment between efforts at each level of government, and between states.

Actions with near-­‐term impact (1-­‐2 years)

Create an Entrepreneur Visa

Australia’s startup sector needs diversity and new skills. An entrepreneur visa, like those in place in many other countries, would help to attract entrepreneurs and accelerate the growth of our startup ecosystem.

Relax restrictions on 457 Visa

Australian tech startups are unable to recruit enough skilled visas for startups Australian ICT workers. Relaxing restrictions to the 457 visa would enable Australian startups to employ sufficient skilled overseas ICT workers to meet the current shortfall.

Ensure foreign workers in Australian startups can access the Living Away From Home Allowance

Australia has a relatively high cost of living that is acting as a disincentive for foreign ICT professionals to join Australian startups. Making the LAFHA program available to startups would help to ensure Australian startups are able to attract the highest calibre workers.

Implement a national Visiting Entrepreneurs Program

Australia has a relatively shallow pool of experienced entrepreneurs. Introducing this expertise from startup hot-­‐spots around the world would short-­‐circuit the learning curve and accelerate the maturation of the startup ecosystem.

Change the tax treatment of ESOPs

Currently a bizarre situation exists in Australia in which options are taxed in the hands of startup employees at the time of issue, rather than at the time they received the proceeds, despite the fact that those options are illiquid and may never have any realizable value. Bringing the tax treatment of ESOPs in line with the rest of the world would greatly improve Australia’s ability to attract and retain the best workers.

Extend the Advance Innovation Program

Each year the Advance Innovation Program provides 25 promising Australian tech startups with investor-­‐readiness training and mentoring, and takes them to Silicon Valley for a two week trade mission. Extending the program would enable more entrepreneurs to gain exposure to Silicon Valley and other startup hot-­‐spots, and to bring those learnings back to Australia.

Establish a Silicon Valley Landing Pad for startups

Australian An increasing number of Australian startups are moving to Silicon Valley in search of talent and capital. An Australian landing pad would greatly assist these companies in getting established in the Valley and improve their chances of success. It would also equip more Australian entrepreneurs with an international perspective and enable them to contribute positively to the Australian startup ecosystem when they return home.

Actions with medium-­‐term impact (2-­‐5 years)

Support a Young Entrepreneur Scholarships program

Offering scholarships to 100 final year university students per annum would encourage more young people to launch startups. This could also be an effective way of addressing the current gender imbalance in the startup sector.

Support entrepreneurial behaviour by university researchers

Most Australian universities have limited engagement in the startup sector, and the academic culture does not embrace entrepreneurship and risk-­‐taking. Supporting entrepreneurship in universities would increase the rate of startup formation and improve the economic contribution made by universities.

Support a national network of student startup incubators

Very few university students in Australia are exposed to the notion of doing a startup. A network of student startup incubators would raise the profile of entrepreneurship and boost the number and success rate of technology entrepreneurs among university students and graduates.

Launch a national learn to code promotion program

Australia is facing a significant skills shortage in the ICT sector. A promotional program would increase interest in studying ICT and help to address the gender imbalance in the sector.

Implement a tertiary scholarships program to drive participation in CS

A prestigious scholarship program would attract the brightest high school students to tertiary computer science education, and the best undergraduates to advanced postgraduate studies in education computer science.

Remove disincentives for experienced Australian entrepreneurs to repatriate

A growing cohort of Australians are acquiring valuable experience in building a global technology companies in the US and elsewhere. There are significant tax disincentives for successful Australians to repatriate. Removing these disincentives would encourage Australian entrepreneurs to return and use their international expertise to benefit the Australian startup ecosystem.

Create a national network of entrepreneurship centres

Unlike many countries, Australia has no centrally supported system of startup incubators. Creating a network of entrepreneurship centres would provide an important piece of soft infrastructure around which startup communities can be built.

Continue the Innovation Investment Fund program

Australia has one of the lowest rates of venture capital investment in the world. Continuing the IIF program, with targeted changes, will ensure it is effective in supporting the growth of a healthy VC industry in Australia.

Establish a seed co-­investment fund

Australia has one of the lowest rates of angel investment in the world. Establishing a co-‐investment fund would stimulate greater levels of angel investment and improve the chances of startups raising capital in Australia rather than moving to the US or elsewhere at the outset.

Create a capital gains exemption and/or tax deduction for angel investments

A tax incentive for angel investors would boost the level of investment in startups and bring Australia into line with many other knowledge-­‐intensive economies.

Enhance Commercialisation Australia to improve support for entrepreneurs

Commercialisation Australia is a valuable program that is currently constrained in its ability to effectively support startups. Making targeted changes to the program would allow it to more effectively accelerate the growth of Australian startups.

Establish a young entrepreneurs startup loans scheme

A startup loans scheme would provide financial support to first-time entrepreneurs under the age of thirty. It would help young entrepreneurs to bridge the funding gap for early stage ideas that are not yet ready to raise capital from angel investors or VC funds.

Implement legislative changes to enable crowd- sourced equity funding

By 2020, crowdfunding is projected to reach $500 billion per-annum, generating $3.2 trillion a year in economic impact and creating more than 2 million jobs. If Australian startups are to tap into this source of funding the regulatory environment will need to be changed to enable crowd-­‐sourced equity funding in Australia.

Actions with long-­‐term impact (5-­‐15 years)

Support a national program to raise awareness of startups in Australia

Australians are good at starting “small businesses” but we have a relatively low rate of “tech startup” formation. A national awareness program would increase the number of people engaging in startups and help to establish a vibrant culture of entrepreneurship in Australia.

Implement a national program of entrepreneurship education

Currently the Australian education system is geared toward preparing students for the workforce. Introducing entrepreneurship education across the primary, secondary and tertiary education system would equip young people to start businesses and spur economic growth.

Implement and extend the Digital Technologies Curriculum

Ensuring that computer science is taught in every primary and high school will bring Australia in line with other countries and allow us to compete with the growing talent pool in other countries. ... 
From Crossroads: An Action Plan to Develop a Vibrant tech startup ecosystem in Australia, StartupAUS, 15 August 2014

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