Despite a well-documented track record of success in enabling Australian Clean Technology companies to commercialize their products, the Australian Technologies Competition is now slated to close.
Is this another example of a change of Government targeting Tech Transfer success stories that are simply “not their idea”, or is it a valid saving of Tax Payer Dollars?
For the benefit of Clean Tech exponents globally and Government Programme Sponsors, we’ve looked into some of the pros and cons of this program.
The Competition Launches in 2011
The Australian Technologies Competition (ATC) was launched in 2011 and provides innovative Australian businesses with national recognition; moreover, semifinalists receive indispensable business mentoring, pitching, business planning, capacity development, in addition to funding.
“The Competition is really just a mentoring program in disguise. We use the lure of Awards as a way to get emerging tech companies interested and then give then lots of business mentoring and connections that they do not always think that they need. The feedback we consistently get from participants after they have been through the mentoring program is that they were not expecting to get much out of it and went away with a wealth of information, powerful communications tools and connections that they could never have made.” – John O’Brien, Managing Director, Australian Technologies Competition.
Principally, the focus of the program has been on innovations to solve real problems for various industries. The program also focuses minimizing the consumption of natural resources, improving efficiencies and reducing pollution through energy, waste, and water; in addition, the program seeks innovations with export potential.
ATC 2012 Awards Dinner
ATC - The Process
Companies eligible to compete in the ATC include those delivering technologies and services that address:
- Waste treatment and energy storage
- Building materials
- Innovative energy efficiency techniques
- Public utilities
- Transportation systems
The ATC competition is a nine-month cycle, each year, hundreds of businesses (300+) enter the ATC competition, and these are eventually dwindled down to approximately 30. The 30 semifinalists participate in a program that lasts for two months.
Through their involvement in this program, they receive mentoring and coaching that relates to a variety of skills. These skills include business planning and growing their businesses’ access to the market. Following another round of judging, half of these 30 semifinalists become finalists. Winning businesses receive ATC awards based on their industry.
Awards ATC Offers Include:
- Advanced Manufacturing Award
- Energy Technologies Award
- Built Environment Technologies Award
- Mining Technologies Award
- Food & Agritech Award
- Innovative Regions Award
- Global Development Award
The Australian company that wins the overall ATC competition went on to represent Australia at either the Global Cleantech Open, held in Silicon Valley or other Asian Regional Competitions. A trade mission was held in conjunction with the competitions & was open to all finalists & semi finalists.
Valuable expos, mentoring sessions and export readiness sessions allowed Australian technology companies to connect with potential business partners, investors and customers from Silicon Valley and around the world.
Steve Cahill, CEO enLighten
Australian Company Ranks Within Top 5 at The 2012 CleanTech Competition
At CleanTech's 2012 Global competition in the US, the Australian company enLighten ranked fourth overall.
enLighten’s LED lighting solution promises up to a 93 percent savings when compared with traditional fluorescent lighting.. enLighten is fundamentally changing lighting of low occupancy spaces such as fire stairs & car parks, including emergency lighting by integrating occupancy sensors into the lights to provide light where & when it is needed.
For companies such as enLighten, the competition made a difference. Speaking with Steve Cahill, CEO of enLighten states that; “the competition provided a valuable platform that raised the profile of Australian innovation companies and enabled entrants to be able to engage with other like-minded companies who are dealing with similar issues”.
enLighten, are an example of one of the many success stories that come from the ATC and Steve goes on to mention that there was a lot more to the competition; “For companies like us i.e. early stage technology – the competition & mentoring provided valuable business plan feedback & introductions to potential investors & strategic partners”
Australian Clean Technologies Competition 2012
Additional Innovative Products Entered Into The ATC Include:
- A solar panel that does not need to be attached to the roof, because it is the roof
- Lights that can communicate with one another, turning on and off in relation to an individual’s whereabouts
- A plant fertilizer made from waste glass
- A technique for cleaning waste oil so it is reusable
ATC Fills a Gap in The Market
Early on, the majority of technology and innovation businesses are struggle with of handling in-house business and commercialization strategies, as nearly all of the working capital is already committed for proof of concept, patent registration, the development of a prototype and customer trials.
ATC Offers Entrants Valuable Commercialization Results
Since the ATC launched 5 years ago, more than 500 companies have participated in the competition. The value of entrants commercialization results is substantial at $250 million, which includes a $60 million JV agreement for RayGen Resources (Energy Award Winner 2014) to build 500MW of solar plants in China; thus, generating 200 jobs in Victoria.
“There are many success stories from the Top 30 each year which include securing additional sales, getting investment and improving their business strategies. One of the best is Raygen Resources, a Melbourne-based concentrating solar PV company that was a Finalist in 2013 and the Energy Technology Winner in 2014. In 2013 Raygen secured a key local investor that they met at the Investor speed dating session and then came on the China trade mission in November 2013 where they then met their now Chinese partners. In April 2014, they signed a $60m deal with these partners that provided equity into the business and enable distribution into the Chinese market. The company now employs 30 highly skilled people in Melbourne exporting solar to China.” – John O’Brien, Managing Director, Australian Technologies Competition.
Innovation in Science in the Turnbull Era
A recent statement from the new Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull stated, “We need to be able to combine science and industry in an innovative way that enables us to stay ahead of the curve, always ahead of the curve”.
Without continued support, year on year, from the Australian government the competition has had to close. Echoed by John O’Brien who discusses the reasoning for the closure of the competition by stating, “without the same level of Government support in 2015, the program ran at a loss. With no indication of any support at all for 2016, Australian CleanTech is unable to continue to deliver an industry development program as a loss-making exercise. Growing advanced manufacturing industries with high-value technical jobs of the future appears to me to be clearly within the remit of what good Governments should do.”
On the basis of the current evidence relating to the ATC it appears the Australian Government is not passing its own test with regards to combining science and industry in the Cleantech sector. The losers now being the emerging companies who will no longer receive support and mentoring from such an initiative. Time to rethink Mr. Turnbull?