Archive for April, 2008

Australia edges towards clusters

April 20, 2008

 

Industry clusters have been in the doldrums in Australia for some years. Most of the action has been at the state and local government level, and the initiatives have been patchy and lacking focus.  A quick review:

South Australia led with way on clusters during the 1990s with the support of Colloborative Economics (USA) and a host of local champions took up the challenge in water, electronics, geology etc. However, the SA Government closed down it program around 2005 – the alliances are still broadly in place e.g. SA Water Industry Alliance. There is a significant repository of collaboration-aware SA companies for foreign investors to align with.

Victoria introduced its cluster program around 2005, with the championing of the then Secretary of the Victorian Department of Industry (DIIRD). While not large in dollar terms, it has spawned some significant efforts in high technology (e.g. automotive, biotech, food) and regional development (e.g. North East, Ballarat) spheres. Clustering concepts now underpin a number of DIIRD’s programs. The opportunity to link state and federal funding has not been seized to date in respect of cluster programs, although there has been significant co-sharing of infrastructure costs e.g. Synchronometer, medical schools etc.

Queensland is similar to Victoria in that clustering concepts are now broadly accepted, especially in respect of innovation policy. A number of the efforts to establish cluster programs at the local government level have floundered, due to the intermittent, uncertain nature of funding e.g. the recent demise of the Cairns REDC. Nevertheless, the Queensland Government is the most proactive state in terms of investment attraction, and there is an excellent opportunity for it to join forces with the federal government to use clusters as a proactive investment attraction tool.  

New South Wales has made a modest effort to date, partly because of its laissez-faire industry policy. There is a view in some quarters that Sydney’s world city status is sufficient incentive for innovative companies to be there, and that the demands on the state’s transport, education and health systems preclude any proactive innovation or investment facilitation programs. Others can rightly argue that State Ministers have been active in promoting the development of clusters and networks – the Western Sydney IT cluster comes to mind. The NSW approach to clusters could receive a shot in the arm as the Rudd Government finalises its innovation program later in 2008.

Western Australia has not introduced cluster programs to facilitate industry collaboration, although it has sought to build physical clusters – the best example is the Jervoise Bay/Rockingham marine engineering precinct. Part of the problem is that the resources boom has consigned innovation and investment facilitation into the background. However WA is a sleeper – it has some very innovative and aggressive companies ready for joint ventures with foreign companies. It is predicted that a cluster program will materialise in order to realise these opportunities.  

The Northern Territory has been active in the establishment of industry networks – for example, the outback.net and the Desert Knowledge networks could evolve into industry clusters. Darwin also has a significant marine engineering capability that would arguably benefit from the introduction of clustering initiatives.

The ACT has no cluster programs, although preparatory work has been done in respect of the environment industry (‘Turning Green to Gold’ report, by R. Brown & G. Pryor), the sports industry and print management.

Tasmania has no significant  cluster initiatives. A proposal to establish an adventure industry cluster, based loosely on the NZ model, received only lukewarm suppport in 2006. The Intelligent Island program involving considerable federal funding to develop the ICT industry is another opportunity.

In terms of the federal government, the notion of industry clusters is now receiving serious attention. It was not properly understood by the previous  government, although there were ministerial pockets of support e.g. Nick Minchin. Inputs from various Cockatoo members has helped the incoming Rudd government to move forward on clustering and globalisation issues. Go to Australian Labor Party : ALP Policy.

The new industry policy, as foreshadowed by Minister Kim Carr, foreshadows seed funding to support region-specific strategies, such as business clusters and networks, to boost the innovative capacity of firms.  

There is the possibility that the Minister will decide which of the Action Agendas (developed under the previous government) are worth continuing or resuscitating. The introduction of clustering agendas into these Action Agendas is thus a real option. Industries considered to be ripe for this approach are ICT, biotechnology, food, renewable energy, engineering, and any industries where collaboration and partnering are important.  The main impetus is expected to come from the findings of the review of the Innovation Review currently underway. It is instructive that chairman of the review team, Dr. Terry Cutler, has a strong background in cluster development.

Readers will be further updated on the situation in coming months.

Kim Carr’s innovation agenda

April 13, 2008

Federal Industry Minister, Kim Carr addressed the Annual Industry Leaders’ Dinner in Geelong in late March. It was significant at three levels. Excerpts below.

Commitment to manufacturing “Do I support manufacturing? You bet. – Do I think it’s vital to the Australian economy and Australia society? Absolutely – Do I think governments should create an environment in which manufacturing can flourish? No question. When Kevin Rudd said he wanted Australia to remain “a country that actually makes things”, I cheered.

“…We remain firmly and unapologetically committed to securing the future of manufacturing…the slightly more challenging news is that the government can’t support manufacturing at any cost, or on any terms…the quid pro quo for our support is that manufacturers must be ready to innovate and export…and prepared to invest in local know-how to create their own competitive advantage.”

Status of reviews underway The 4 reviews are National Innovation System (chaired – Dr Terry Cutler); Cooperative Research Centres program (chair – Professor Mary O’Kane (part of the innovation review); Automotive Industry (Steve Bracks); Textiles, Clothing & Footwear Industries (Professor Roy Green).

The Cutler review will help us understand the connections between the different elements of our national innovation system. The automotive and TCF reviews will show what innovation can do for industry. The NIS and CRC reviews will show what industry can do for innovation. We need to connect sectors, institutions and individuals to promote collaboration and knowledge transfer.’ (Cockatoo is about connectivity – we will be making submissions. See innovation.gov.au)

Enterprise Connect program $200 million initiative to give SMEs better access to new ideas, know-how and technologies. To create a network of knowledge-creation and knowledge-transfer sites. Main elements:

§ 5 new manufacturing centres – Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, Burnie, plus existing QMI Solutions base.

§ 5 dedicated innovation centres – Creative Industries; Clean Energy; Remote Enterprise (Alice Springs); Mining Technology (Mackay) Innovative Regions (Geelong). First two have not been decided.

§ $10 million Researchers in Business scheme – for placement of university and public researchers in businesses.

Asia Pacific Technology Exchange wins global attention (BEST PRACTICE)

April 13, 2008

 

The unstinting efforts of Cockatoo member, Geoff Mullins, were rewarded on 28 March with the launch of the Asia Pacific Technology Exchange by local federal member Maxine McKew MP. She said that ‘this is the innovation economy at work.’

 

The Exchange is designed to help establish a Silicon Valley-style business cluster in northern Sydney.

 

The launch also attracted global attention – excerpt of the article in the International Herald Tribune follows.

 

SYDNEY — A new Australian exchange, aiming to emulate the U.S. Nasdaq index with a focus on technology and innovation stocks, was established Wednesday with plans to become fully operational by the second half of 2008.

 

The Asia Pacific Technology Exchange, or Aptex, is a joint venture of the National Stock Exchange of Australia and Enterprise Pacific, a not-for-profit company. Based in Sydney, the venture plans to start with a minimum of 20 listed companies. The chairman of Enterprise Pacific, Geoff Mullins, said the new exchange expected to have 200 to 300 companies listed within its first 2-3 years. Mullins said he was not concerned about liquidity on the new exchange, which had been a problem in earlier attempts to establish exchanges in Australia, because of support from brokers and from connections being forged in the Asia-Pacific region. ”We are absolutely certain that this is under way. We have stakeholders signing up, we have companies signing up and we are ready to go.”

 

NSX had held discussions with stock exchanges in Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, PNG and Fiji on their possible participation. Inquiries had also been received from companies in Taiwan and Korea, and it was possible that 5 of the first 20 companies on the exchange could be Asian. Mullins estimated the total market capitalization of companies listed on the exchange to initially be between $350-650 million.

Contact Geoff at gmullins@ventureaxess.com

Grid network to support trans-Tasman research collaboration

April 13, 2008

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With digital storage needs and computational demands by research institutions growing exponentially, it makes sense to get together on sharing resources. So the New Zealand Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) banged some heads together and offered to fund a $2.5 million project to set up BeSTGRID a grid computing “ecosystem” that includes additional storage resources hosted by a third party.

Three New Zealand universities are already hooked up, with the new arrangements which reduce duplication on software expenditure whilst encouraging collaboration and knowledge sharing through use of online tools such as video-conferencing, blogs and wikis. Other institutions are expected to join in the future. Research projects currently making use of BestGrid include linguistics, bio-informatics and earthquake engineering – possibilities are endless. .

It’s part of KAREN the government-owned high speed broadband network providing interconnectivity between NZ research and educational institutions (up to 10 gigabytes of data per second).

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the venture is that there will be established a shared identity management protocol based on the Australian Access Federation standard. The Federation is not some inter-galactic peace force, but a technical standard that operates across Australian tertiary and research institutions and allows universal access via a single user identification. That opens up the possibility of including Aussie universities and research institutions in the NZ grid by linking to Australia’s own high speed research network AARNET at some point in the near future. AARNET already operates connections to the United States, Singapore and Europe. So the implications for NZ research institutions are obvious considering the constraints of the existing commercial service.

NZ will be hosting the 2008 APAN event 4-8 August, regarded as the leading Asia-Pacific symposium on advanced broadband networking and applications for research and education. The conference is to be hosted in beautiful Queenstown – themes include sustainability, earth science, medical & agricultural applications, high definition TV and seminars on network security. The event will be preceded by the High Performance Research Symposium looking at e-research projects and tool sets, being sponsored by Bluefern, the University of Canterbury supercomputing centre.

Contributed by our NZ correspondent at ion@genius.net.nz

Tasmania’s investment hubs

April 13, 2008

 

Each month we have been identifying the main hubs that could be positioned as a national investment attraction framework – to date we have 12 in Queensland, 20 in NSW, 11 in Victoria.

 

Turning to Tassie, the marvelous thing is that it’s different and idiosyncratic. It promotes itself as the Natural State – 36% is reserves and national parks – but it can be fiercely pro-business. Much of its development was mining – but now it has smart food, tourism and engineering. Its sea freight disadvantage was a millstone – but the New Economy and falling airfares have shifted opened up new opportunities.

 

Our estimate is 5 hubs – but note that Tassie in general has a lifestyle attribute that’s increasingly attractive to investors. The following angles are not comprehensive – limit of 5 per hub – some are speculative.

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§ Hobart – excellent harbour and foreshore development, stable population of 205,000, cheap housing. Hub angles – environmental/Antarctic research; marine engineering; ICT Intelligent Island spin-offs; tourism.

§  Launceston – nice counterweight to Hobart, population of 100,000. Hub angles – seriously good food and wine; air freight logistics; timber & wood products; education (env. management, marine).

§  Georgetown/Bell Bay – industrial precinct between Devonport and Launceston. Hub angles – heavy engineering; mineral & metals; timber & paper; logistics.

§  Devonport – good civic infrastructure. Population of 25,000. Hub angles – niche manufacturing; transport & logistics; building & construction; horticulture & food processing, aged care.

§  Burnie – track record in manufacturing. Soon to have feds’ new manufacturing centre. Population of 20,000. Hub angles – dairy; paper products; adventure industries; wind energy (despite Vestas’ backflip).

Innovation – not just about white coats

April 13, 2008

 

Last month we attended the briefing in Canberra by Dr. Terry Cutler et al re the Australian Government’s review of the innovation system. These events tend to be boring, but this wasn’t – and we found some angles for local government! 

Let’s first paint the picture. Cutler argues that there is a shift from in-house R&D to open innovation markets and global networks. He says innovation occurs within a complex global ecosystem involving firms, research providers, service providers, government agencies etc. – the BIG issue is how we shape and benefit from these ecosystems. A heartening message is that the review will look at innovation in its broadest sense – not just scientists in white coats, but other problem-solvers in government and society.

He got tongues wagging when he said ‘almost every country in the world uses government procurement to stimulate innovation’. He seems keen to develop initiatives despite the FTA with the USA. Another issue is the array of innovation programs – 169 at the last count. You can bet on some rationalisation here. 

Getting back to local government, the briefing highlighted the window for more focus on ‘collaborative’ research and connectivity within the innovation system. First, local development agencies could play a central role in connecting the players. Second, they could coordinate local government procurement to facilitate industry development. Third, local government is innovating every day in water and environment, road and bridge construction, social systems. It’s thus not out of the question for local government to jointly funding a R&D program with federal and state agencies. Proactive councils should contact us.

 

Contributed by Silverhawk, Canberra (If interested in making a submission, contact apd@orac.net.au)

Moet is in Gippsland?

April 13, 2008

My wife recently asked a 35yo work colleague here in Canberra where he grew up. He replied ‘Country Victoria’. She asked where exactly, and he remained evasive. “It must be Moe, then!’ she laughed. He was astounded at her clairvoyance, until she explained that she ‘knows these things’ because her husband was born there. (I’m forever sticking up for Moe and Gippsland)

How did the Moe brand get tarnished? Moe never had a really strong brand – it had a modest population until the late 50s. But it exploded as a service centre to the Latrobe Valley power stations in the 60s and 70s, when its population grew to about 18,000. It was a tough and proud city. But things began turning for the worse a little over a decade ago – SECV retrenchments, house values heading south, folks on welfare arriving from Melbourne, the mysterious death of toddler Jaiden Leske, a State Minister cracking jokes about Moe standing for ‘Moccasins On Everyone’.

I recount this saga not to be smart aleck, but to highlight the importance of external perceptions, brands and re-establishing regional economic capacity. But the problem is often left to local councils which often lack the external perspective and resources to do anything about it. Is there scope for clued-up people with an affinity for the region to champion initiatives? In the case of Moe, might they go one step further and rename their city ‘Moet’?

Seriously, Moe has real assets – energy, water, climate, proximity to Melbourne, road and rail services, easy access to beaches, snowfields, forests, and lakes. The Latrobe Valley could also be a global brand in clean coal technology and alternative fuels, and thereby offset its recent misfortunes.

Cost benefit analysis for US alliance…

April 13, 2008

 

 

 

by Bogong (our resident political analyst*)

 

It is a well known fact in the new Canberra bureaucracy that Treasury Secretary Ken Henry and his colleagues are entitled to a cost benefit analysis on every part of government policy and expenditure. Well here’s Bogong’s suggestion – ask for an evaluation of the US alliance.

 

Australia’s foreign policy has been built in the shadow of US expectations, and it’s not clear that we have come out ahead. In Bogong’s experience the main advantages fall into that category which the Defence and Intelligence set define as “trust us – it’s there – but it is so secret that we just can’t tell you”.

 

So what about having Treasury do an ex post facto analysis of these advantages including the intelligence sharing arrangements, to see if those claims can be backed up? To many in the Industry Department, the capacity to use Government procurement preferences to help Australian companies get established has now been lost under the Australia US Free Trade Agreement.

 

The facts are that former PM Howard made a commitment to have it signed before the 2004 election, and with that ‘helpful’ handicap our team went to Washington to show they weren’t going to be pushed around, because as one DFAT official told Bogong at the time, we had “depth and sophistication on our side”. 

 

The outcome is best summed up by Deputy PM Mark Vaile telling media on his departure for Washington that there was no way he would agree to the so called Mickey Mouse amendment – in plain English, agree to change Australian law to extend the life of copyright from 50 to 70 years after the death of the creator. In the discussions on the relevant Chapter in the Agreement dealing with Intellectual Property, our team was led by a competent middle level official from DFAT. But the US side was led by the US Trade Representative himself, a man whose political career had been built in California with decades of support from Hollywood and the music industry. End of story.

 

The ANZUS Treaty may have served a purpose in years gone by, but not now.  If we could truly rely on US protection we would not be spending billions on new weaponry – the bulk of it from the US. And hasn’t the threat assessment changed? Who are our enemies? What has been the cost to NZ of taking a more independent path in foreign policy? Missing out on a presence in Iraq doesn’t seem like such a big loss.

 

And if we took a step back what would the US do? It would not harm the US multinationals that do business here, nor US buyers of Australian resources. The world has move on and it is time for us to move on too.

 

So when Rudd was in Washington to catch up with George W. let’s hope he asked a few hard questions and not, as the accompanying media have suggested, begin with a defensive explanation of why we are pulling out of Iraq and whether or not China is our new best friend. (*Bogong has no financial or legal relationship to the Editor.)

Technology Exchanges – can you help Tim?

April 13, 2008

 

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I have had reason over the last few days to research Technology Exchange web sites. If Cockatoo readers have had experience (positive or negative) with these I would be interested in learning about it. Here is a list of the ones I have found so far. 

 

NineSigma           http://www.ninesigma.com/              

 Yet2.com              http://www.yet2.com/

 Utek                       http://www.techex.com/local/about.asp

 Tech Catalyst      http://www.techcatalyst.org/

 New Idea              http://www.newideatrade.com/about_us.htm

 IP Exchange        http://www.theip-exchange.com/

 2XFR                     http://2xfr.patentcafe.com/about.asp

 Health Exchange http://www.htx.ca/HTX/Index.aspx?tabID=1

 APECvc Green Technologies Exchange http://www.apec-vc.or.jp/e/

 Green Chemistry Exchange http://www.greenchemex.org/

 The Greenex  http://thegreenex.com/

 Spark IP                http://www.sparkip.com/ – 6%3B11

 

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Tim Edwards (NSW Australia) phone 02 4861 5355 or 0405 324 834

Collaborator Profile – Paul Frater (NZ)

April 13, 2008

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Who and where are you?

Paul Frater, Director, Enterprise & Innovation, NZ Trade & Enterprise, Wellington. 

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What’s your job

Responsible for the identification of mature NZ R&D (private & public resourced), triaging it for its possibility to be built into a technology platform for NZ industry under a Technology Innovation Partnership Programme (TIPP).  For priority projects, TIPP will undertake a range of initiatives including assistance with enterprise formation, feasibility and scoping studies, Technology Road Maps and market-catalysing demonstration projects.  The aim is to build innovation systems around the technology and help the core NZ firms become members of the innovation leadership group of key global value chains.  

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What’s exciting you at present?

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3 key projects are in an advanced stage of partnership engagement, and entering full scale production activities over the course of 2008:

 

1. High Temperature Superconductivity (HTS). A series of technologies are being built upon this NZ-developed IP, which is now integrated with technology developed under research programs resourced by the US Dept of Energy: equipment using high strength magnetic fields (e.g. NMR); HTS cables; cryo-cooling; specialist components incl. current leads & stable power supply systems.  

2. JAIN SLEE Industry Forum (JSIF). JAIN SLEE is a telco middleware that integrates the management of telecom network traffic from different technologies (e.g. mobile, internet, fibre, copper etc) and executes the inter-company call administration, billing and reconciliation. The core company is Open Cloud (Cambridge UK, Madrid & Wellington bases).  JSIF has been assisting other NZ ICT firms to exploit this market leadership to build their own international applications businesses. The software handles high volumes of simultaneous activity on a fault tolerant/high reliability basis. Open Cloud has activities in Europe, North & Latin America, Asia and Oceania.  

3. Titanium Alloy (Titap) Powder Metals. This is a new, low cost, environmentally friendly powder metal technology, which avoids the difficulties of handling the pure metal form of Titanium (explosive in certain situations). The alloy powder process is able to produce the strongest form of Titap alloys, the gamma phase. This technology opens many new market segments for a wide range of engineering firms, including bio-medical, coatings and specialist product forming. The opportunity is being taken by NZ firms to introduce a range of new powder metal consolidation technologies into their businesses, expanding their production capabilities & capacities. 

 

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Three new technologies have entered into the process, but as yet are not at the same level of maturity: 

§ 2nd &  3rd generation bio fuels, including algae-based & industrial gas exhaust streams.

§ integrated sensor technology systems, including environmental sensing. 

§ nano-pore technology, with in-service aperture adjustment.  

 

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What collaborative projects do you have to interest Cockatoo readers

 

The TIPP program is based on the establishment of trust relationships and the building of partnerships.  International partnerships are a key element to the program, and strong links have been established with technology partners in Europe, the US & Asia.  The 3 key projects are now in a position to explore a new level of international collaboration, and are well placed to make a significant innovation contribution to a number of international industries. 

 

paul.frater@nzte.govt.nz