Australian startups need our support: CBA CIO Michael Harte

More investment and research in science, innovation needed to keep Australian-based startups in business, says Harte

Michael Harte.

Michael Harte.

Startups have been crucial in developing innovations such as mobile apps, but Australian-based startups struggle to remain sustainable due to a lack of support from the federal government, according to CBA CIO Michael Harte.

Speaking at a Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) event in Sydney, Harte told delegates that the bank made a submission in March 2014 to the federal government’s Financial Services Inquiry report called Wellbeing, Resilience and Prosperity in Australia (PDF).

According to the report, government has a “critical role” to play in fostering and encouraging the development of a thriving local technology community that can enhance the growth of the financial services sector through technology innovation.

“CBA suggests increasing investment and support for research in science and innovation including through NICTA and CISRO models, as well as for private incubators. Encouraging closer research ties between academia and industry is a key factor in boosting the number of innovative ideas entering the Australian economy,” the report continued.

CBA’s submission also suggests partnerships between government, industry and academia to promote the development of a greater number of, and improved, university and TAFE courses – and to “champion the IT profession” as a career of choice across ethnic backgrounds and gender groups.

According to Harte, Australia could learn from the example of Tel Aviv, Israel, where technology companies receive backing from the government.

For example, Israel has established a National Cyber Bureau which trains students for work in advanced cyber security. In addition, entry-level government job opportunities for high school students have been created and funded by the Israeli government.

“There are thousands of people [in Tel Aviv] whose main priority is to leave their university to start their own business,” he said.

“They are prepared to take that risk and they have a supportive commercial, academic and public policy environment in which to take those types of career risks.”

Harte added that it is “a wonderful thing” to see the contrast in activity levels between established corporations and startups in places like Tel Aviv and Silicon Valley in the United States.

“There is a large contrast between the energy in the room of a five person team trying to create a whole new world of value versus the middle aged people sitting around in incumbent technology organisations that were once spawned from that very spirit of entrepreneurialism,” he said.

Harte was asked by a delegate how a company maintains the startup innovation level once it becomes bigger. He cited the example of Amazon.

“They [Amazon] give people the time and environment to take risks. In Amazon’s case, they have teams of eight people developing products. They are then asked 'what is the user experience?' They share that and it is peer reviewed.”

His final piece of advice was not to “fall into the trap of getting complacent on technology projects when working in a large organisation".

“Remember that adventurous spirit, take risks and look for a simple breakthrough.”

Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick

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