Australian CleanTech managing director John O’Brien John O'Brien

For most investors, achieving more than $250 million of trade and investment for $700,000 input would be cause for celebration.

It appears the federal government isn’t like most investors though, because despite the success of what was formerly the Australian Cleantech Competition over the past four years in stimulating viable businesses, the Department of Industry has slashed its funding and replaced the word “cleantech” with “technologies” in all publicity materials, according to the now Australian Technologies Competition managing director John O’Brien.

“It is now [officially] about resource efficiency,” Mr O’Brien told The Fifth Estate.

“The upside is we have managed to engage more entrants, and we are getting more interest from industry. So actually the change in semantics has been beneficial in some ways.”

While the Department of Industry has cut funding for the awards by 75 per cent compared with previous years, they are still contributing to the mentorship program for semi-finalists.

Mr O’Brien said this was one of the most valuable aspects of the awards, as it assisted entrants further develop their business and marketing plans.

The change in emphasis, he said, was reflective of broader trends under the current government.

“Anything connected with cleantech has had its funding removed,” he said.

The policy paradigm has also affected potential investors, with venture capital support also being slashed with the axing of the Innovation Investment Fund program, Mr O’Brien said.

This is in contrast to the bigger picture in every other developed country where funds are being put into venture capital to “find the next industry”.

The 30 semi-finalists announced last month will now enter the Business Accelerator Program, which involves being mentored for two months and developing a business plan.

The semi-finalists include two entrants that also participated in prior years, Dr Caroline Noller’s The Footprint Company, which was also a semi-finalist last year, and Switch Automation, a semi-finalist in 2013 that has developed a building management system for small and medium enterprises and smaller buildings.

Other notably clean and green semi-finalists include 5B Australia’s modular prefabricated and portable solar PV system; Flurosol Industries’ transparent solar panel; HabiDapt’s Energy Management System for SMEs and households; and Independent Product’s hybrid HVAC system.

There is also an entrant from the Northern Territory that capitalises on one of Australia’s hardiest indigenous plant resources. Spinifex Resins has developed a non-toxic, organic and entirely renewable resin extracted from Spinifex plants that can be used instead of petrochemical products in manufacturing engineered timbers.

The winners will be announced in mid-October.

Some of the firms that have been successful in previous years have gone on to become very successful in the global marketplace, Mr O’Brien said.

For example, concentrating solar photovoltaics innovator Raygen Resources from Melbourne has signed a $60 million deal with a Chinese partner.

Cintep, which began in Queensland and developed a shower that recycles its water in-situ, has been lured to the UK to expand its business, and another Queensland firm, Global Future Solutions, which developed a biodegradable fracking fluid, has been receiving global inquiries for its product.

The winner of the first award, SMAC Technologies, developed retrofit solutions for airconditioning that have found a ready market, as has Organic Response in Melbourne, which is now selling its smart lighting system units into Europe.

This year there were 128 initial entries, which were assessed by a judging panel including investors, accountants, lawyers and patent attorneys.

“The first year we had a lot of perpetual motion machines that have come out of someone’s shed,” Mr O’Brien said.

“This year we only had one perpetual motion machine [entrant].

“There has to be a business case there.”

Now a region can be a winner

This year also sees the introduction of a new award. The Innovative Regions Award aims to recognise the region in Australia that provides the most supportive environment for SME emerging technology companies.

The three regions selected as finalists for the award are the Greater Adelaide region, the Hunter region in NSW and Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.

“We work with Australia’s best emerging technology companies and those that succeed usually emerge from a supportive innovation ecosystem. We want to help grow and celebrate the best regions so Australia can generate even more world leading tech companies,” Mr O’Brien said.

Adelaide was recognised for its 109 innovation programs, 14 co-working spaces and 11 business incubators; the Hunter for its Innovation Cluster, accelerator program and industry showcases; and the Sunshine Coast for its Business Gateway, Innovation Centre and Smart City Framework.

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