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Western Australian Innovation Summit: A Missed Opportunity

Picture of Mary Miller-Furesh
Mary Miller-Furesh

The WA Innovation Summit was held last week. Organised by the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer, the summit was a follow-up to the previously held Innovation Leaders Forum.

The Summit attracted a mix of attendees from government departments, Landgate, corporates like Deloitte, university and WA startups. The aim of the day was to capture insights from the wealth of experience present at the forum to inform the State’s five year Innovation Strategy. I was apprehensive about how much discussion can occur with a conference style format, let alone from a room largely filled with suits. A moving Welcome to Country helped to level out the room.

The Summit kicked off with a video containing snippets from Dr Fiona Wood and Chief Scientist of WA Prof Peter Klinken which had a nice focus on how fab WA is. The Hon Bill Marmion, Minister for Innovation, opened the Summit and addressed how the aim of the day is to start a blueprint for WA’s Innovation Strategy. Minister Marmion pointed out several WA successful startups including SEQTA, iinet, Canva and BankVault.

The key note address was by Brett McCarthy, Editor of The West Australian. Brett talked about his journey merging The West and 7 News newsrooms. This is when I wished I had looked at the program beforehand. I grew up with The West as a big part of my family’s life – time spent with printing presses from metal typesetting days to digital – a story for another time.

I’d say it was a missed opportunity to go with a newspaper and TV news company as an example of Stories of Innovation. It would have been perfect to have Canva CEO Melanie Perkins talk on taking on Adobe and building Canva into a massively successful tech startup.

The morning moved onto a panel discussion: Investment & Infrastructure; Promotion & Marketing, with Atomic Sky cofounder Andy Lamb, Gemma Manning, The West Business Editor Ben Harvey and moderated by Department of State Development Director General Steve Wood. Ben picked a weak example of innovation – the paper notebook. Sigh. WD40 would have been a much better choice.

Gemma was engaging and on point – “a sense of urgency is needed, not complacency”. However, Gemma is based on the east coast.  The long list of questions from the audience needed better curation to help the moderator find a thread and weave all the panel members into conversation.

I decided a walk around the block would help me to recalibrate. Morning tea break provided a good opportunity to find some familiar faces and see how they were finding the summit. The words talk fest did get mentioned. I did seek out some new faces and find out about their work.

Anyway back in to hear Kirstin Horton, founder of Jacks Labs incubator in Jakarta. Now I am a fan of Kirstin’s work, her studio and dev team. Kirstin talked about looking to Asia rather than the east coast. Kirstin spoke of the importance of spending time in Indonesia understanding Indonesia’s pain points – for example the high percentage of “unbanked”.

Marcus Holmes has written on how we tend to see smaller, safer startups in the WA community and that Perth’s geographic positioning near Asia is only an advantage if we build businesses that target Asia. That to build a thriving startup community in WA we need to solve the problem of understanding Asian customers.

This then led to facilitated table discussions on the following topic: In order to build a sustainable innovation ecosystem, we will need the support structures and funding for new ideas.Three hours on this provided the first opportunity for the 200 delegates to share experiences and cross pollinate ideas.

Our table had a mix of backgrounds and experience, including our facilitator Yuuwa Capital’s Matt Macfarlane, Professor Barry Marshall, Tap into Safety’s Susanne Bahn, innovation strategist Daniela Mattheys, Social Ventures Australia’s Shiri Leventhal, Vocus Upstart cofounder Rob Nathan and Airscope Industries’ Chris Leslie.

This was an opportunity for the experts in the room to provide some much needed quick wins and advice on how to progress WA position in innovation. Discussions covered sidecar investing as a Royalties for Regions type initiative for startups, difficulties for startups accessing the Department of Commerce’s $20K Innovation Vouchers Program, Landgate’s SPUR and the City of Joondalup’s Innovation Fund.

My enthusiasm for the summit and Gemma Manning waned at the next talk onPromotion and Marketing: Reinventing Image. A talk on strategic marketing became a not so subtle plug for Manning’s incubator program. Again, no.

I decided to make a break for it. I grabbed a handful of sandwiches and headed back to the office where I am working with great teams on some really exciting projects for WA.

How could the day have been better? Same attendees but a two hour timeslot. We all know the success stories in WA – we have watched them grow and grow. We have supported them, we use them and love them. Give each table the following scenario: How would you use $1M, $500K or even $100K to support innovation in WA?

Get down some quick wins that can be actioned immediately – look at RAC’s SeedSpark, CSIRO’s ON national innovation accelerator program, Curtin University’s Ignition Program and the newly launched HBF Activate accelerator.

“A little bit less conversation, a little bit more action please”.

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Picture of Mary Miller-Furesh

Mary Miller-Furesh

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