Monday, September 24, 2012

Prime Minister's Forum on the Digital Economy

I've been invited to attend the Prime Minister's Forum on the Digital Economy on 5 October 2012 and I'd love to hear your thoughts on what you'd like me to raise. Details from the invitation:

"The forum will be a discussion with approximately 30 leaders from business as well as industry bodies across the digital economy in Australia, focusing on the key question of how Australia can maintain an edge in the growing digital economy.

The core objective of the forum will be to draw on the demonstration value of entrepreneurial and innovative companies that have been successful in the digital economy and to support others’ transition. It will also provide Government with an opportunity to consider how its policy and regulatory settings are creating incentives and enabling business to take advantage of the digital economy – and to receive your insights and perspective on these important issues going forward."

There will be 3 sessions on the day:

1. The success of innovative digital organisations: Identify examples and lessons of organisations that have been successful in the digital economy, and discuss the foundations that spur such success.

2. The opportunities and challenges of a digitally enabled world: Identify the opportunities and challenges facing Australian businesses created by ubiquitous high speed broadband, new devices, applications and services that together are fuelling “digital disruption”.

3. Thinking about work in the digitally engaged world: Identify the changes needed in the workplace to take advantage of the digital economy, in particular the skills of employees and the approach to work, including flexibility in time and location of work, consequent opportunities for productivity gains.

There will also be an opportunity to raise policy issues at the forum.

I'm going to spend some time preparing for this over the next week. I'd love to hear your thoughts on what you'd like me to raise and later in the week I'll post what I'm planning to discuss. As I've written before, on the whole I think the Australian government does an excellent job of supporting startups and the digital economy, but there are some key policy areas where I think improvements could be made, and these can slot under the 3 agenda items for the forum above:

1. Employee Share Option Plans
This excellent opinion piece in the SMH by Big Commerce co-founders Eddie Machaalani and Mitchell Harper describes the issues well.

2. Education - More People Studying Software Engineering
Hiring top software engineering talent in Australia is hard, there just aren't enough people studying software engineering degrees. We need better software engineering programs in schools to encourage more people to study this degree, then we need a lot more places at Universities for software engineers. As a country, we're investing a huge amount of money in the National Broadband Network, but without more software engineering graduates we're going to struggle to take full advantage of the network when it's built.

3. Support for the Venture Capital Industry
Raising capital as a startup in Australia is hard. We have a reasonable angel investment community, and US investors are willing to invest in larger Australian startups with funding rounds of $20m plus, but raising an amount of money between the $1m and $20m mark is much harder to do as an Australian based startup than a US or European startup. This is because we don't have a strong venture capital industry here in Australia. The Australian Government has provided good support for the venture capital industry through the Innovation Investment Fund, however my understanding is this program is unfortunately coming to an end.

I've love to hear your thoughts on the 3 agenda items, my 3 policy areas above and any other issues you'd like me to raise.

Image Credit.


  1. For buisnesses starting out, I'd like the banks to offer a product that competes with Paypal - basically allows you to receive foreign currency & credit card payments. If not banks, then Australia Post (as you likely know, Japan Post acts like a bank). Or someone bound by Australian law, I kinda don't care who. Can government policy encourage this?

    The attitude of banks I've talked to is: unless you're a giant importer/exporter, turning over $100,000s per year, we don't want to talk to you. And the only products offered have high fees, appropriate for those giant importer/exporters. Yet I know there are thousands of Aussie small businesses (perhaps side businesses/ Mum&Dad businesses) that are selling on eBay, Etsy etc, with hopes of growing (slowly?) and building themselves up.

    Also, while I'm complaining, I'd like a reasonably priced international parcel service from Australia Post. Other countries have a small parcel rate, eg. Royal Mail. I'm generally sending something <100g, but I'm classified same as if I were sending 20kg! Meaning the price for an item worth $15 to eg. USA is $25-$50-$80 if I want any ability to track whatsoever. So basically, no-one can sell small value items to foreign customers. I sell knitwear, and clearly we have the sheep, but the demand for warm woolly goods is overseas. Australia Post has recently introduced services to help small online traders, but only if they send within Australia and don't export.

    1. Two excellent points, thanks anonymous!

      1. Great point regarding payments innovation and I've blogged about this one before: Will add that to the list.

      2. Agreed re: shipping international parcels, it's insanely expensive to do this from Australia. Will add that to the list too.


    2. While we're at it re Australia Post, it's beyond ridiculous that they openly charge Aussie businesses more to subsidise the cheap parcel rates they give to international retailers.
      "The more Australian retailers go online, the happier we are, because we actually make a buck on that."

    3. Wow, that's a terrible situation, thanks for the link to the article Kate! I'll definitely raise that as an issue. Cheers.

  2. "... For the price of a football stadium, any town that was decent to live in could make itself one of the biggest startup hubs in the world ... It will be easier in proportion to how much your town resembles San Francisco. Do you have good weather? Do people live downtown, or have they abandoned the center for the suburbs? Would the city be described as "hip" and "tolerant," or as reflecting "traditional values?" Are there good universities nearby? Are there walkable neighborhoods? Would nerds feel at home? If you answered yes to all these questions, you might be able not only to pull off this scheme, but to do it for less than a million per startup." [0]

    I wish you luck Micheal. If you could think about & explain the idea of "risk Vs reward", something governments & politicians don't intuitively understand. In an ideal world, Australia could try this idea by PG in Melbourne or Sydney. It's counter-intuitive but in the risk adverse Australian business culture I suspect it would be shot down.

    [0] PG, "Can you buy a Silicon Valley, maybe" ~

    1. That's an amazing proposal by Paul! I'm going to have to reflect on this a little... I wonder if that means the IIF program for VCs and Commercialisation Australia (both of which receive considerable funding) is the wrong way to go and a program should be set up along the lines of what Paul describes instead...