Entrepreneurs Programme: $140 million in contracts to business advisers

By James Riley

Of the seven delivery provider contracts worth $140 million awarded by the Department of Industry for its Entrepreneurs Programme, five contracts – worth about $109 million – were with existing suppliers to the five-year-old flagship industry development program.

While the Industry department went to market last year to refresh the delivery apparatus for the Entrepreneur’s Programme, the roster of providers of management advice is largely unchanged across each geographic region.

The new contracts are for the next three years, with options for a further two years.

The business lobby Australian Industry Group was awarded $31 million to provide business advisory services across Victoria, Tasmania and WA; the NSW Business Chamber was awarded $21 million to provide business advisory services in NSW and the ACT; Deloitte Consulting was given $32 million to facilitate business advisory services in Queensland; while Business SA was awarded an $8.5 million contract for facilitating advisory services in South Australia.

Calling all entrepreneurs: $140m in contracts to business advisers

Each of these organisations had existing relationship with the organisation.

The tender process unearthed the Darwin Innovation Hub as a new supplier, awarding the organisation $4.9 million to facilitate the business advisory services in the Northern Territory. The NT had previously been covered under the South Australian contract.

The existing national provider for the Innovation Connections component of the Entrepreneurs Programme, the CSIRO, also had its relationship with the program renewed through $17 million contract. It has been given additional responsibility to cover the Incubator Support program.

The other national provider to the program, i4 Connect – a small Victoria-based commercialisation advisory company – is new to the Entrepreneur’s Programme having been awarded $30 million over three years to curate and manage a national network of business advisers to the Accelerating Commercialisation component of the programme.

The i4 Connect contract is new, in that the management of the network of commercialisation advisers for Accelerating Commercialisation had previously been managed in-house by the Industry department.

Each of the new contracts come into effect from July 1 and run to June 30, 2023 with two one-year extension options.

The Department of Industry told InnovationAus the Entrepreneur’s Programme had been expanded to include bushfire response measures announced in March.

It is understood 21 new facilitators will be engaged by Ai Group, the NSW Business Chamber and Business SA across bushfire-affected regions in NSW, South Australia and Victoria which have been doubly impacted by the bushfires and now the COVID-19 crisis

The new Strengthening Business component of the programme was funded by the Small Business Rebuild Package, announced by the Australian Government on 11 March 2020 and is focused on the local government areas specifically impacted by the 2019/20 bushfires.

The facilitators have now transitioned largely to digital and remote delivery of services as a result of the COVID-19 induced restrictions, and have ‘pivoted’ to the priority of helping businesses bridge the crisis, and be in a position to continue growing, innovating and commercialising when the economy starts to recover.

The program’s national network of over 140 expert Facilitators is also contributing immediate and on-going market intelligence about what businesses are experiencing in the COVID-19 crisis and helping to inform appropriate stimulus for business.

The Entrepreneur Programme remains the government’s flagship industry program. The core program outcomes aim to support businesses to grow, innovate and commercialise, through its service delivery elements: Business Management; Innovation Connections; Incubator Support; and Accelerating Commercialisation.

It aims to supports businesses to grow jobs, increase profits, develop and commercialise ideas, export, and build stronger business capabilities and resilience.

The $140 million worth of advisory contracts to traditional advisory services has raised eyebrows across the innovation ecosystem.

But Industry says the revamped focus and renewed delivery partners aimed to ensure the program could reach a broader range of businesses and also pivot to meet the changing nature of business needs.

A depth of organisational knowledge and experience was needed to support SMEs and startups to meet the right people at the right time, to help them to commercialise their intellectual property and to build resilience to manage through the tough times.

The providers were also selected because they had the capacity and capability to get local experts on the ground quickly, and to rapidly adjust or scale service delivery to help eligible businesses, including founders and start-ups that want to commercialise.

James Riley is Editor of InnovationAus where this article first appeared.

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