What is Australia’s innovation identity?

Digitally generated Hub made of digital screens in blue

There’s never been a better time to get excited about innovation in Australia. So the saying goes. 

The reality however, if you believe our progeny at Atlassian, might be a little less ecstatic. Solid inroads into the world of technology start-ups aside, Australia is a long way behind our international peers when it comes to technology and innovation (T&I).

We’ve only been hearing the T&I mantra since September last year (with apologies to Kim Beazley circa 2001), whereas the likes of Israel, Singapore and South Korea made T&I central to their economic futures as far back as the 1970’s.

With the NSW government’s recent announcement to transform part of Glebe Island into a technology hub, it’s timely to examine the risks and opportunities investment into T&I presents to Australia from a communications perspective.

When we look at global T&I leaders a common theme emerges. Each’s respective T&I capability grew (then diversified) after maximising their unique, specialist expertise – e.g. Israel (military T&I), Singapore (semiconductors), South Korea (robotics, biotech), et al.

Our rush to innovate might be missing a critical ingredient – an innovation identity.

Discussions about T&I in Australia are too often obscured by the one-in-a-billion success stories of unicorn start-ups like Atlassian. If we want our T&I hubs to rival regional and global pacesetters we might pay to reflect on the areas we already excel in, and invest in those industries whilst supporting ‘downstream’ innovations to emerge in their wake.

This is the same strategy that has enabled the emergence of multiple global financial hubs over the past 20 years. Rather than compete with London (Eurobonds, derivatives) or New York (public equity, debt capital), Singapore (again) set out to corner global interest in asset management and private banking. Chicago specialised in futures and options, Dubai in Islamic finance.

Putting our T&I eggs into one basket helps marketers and communicators sell ideas, opportunities and R&D achievements as it allows for the creation of a focused narrative. This is important for attracting and retaining top talent, local and international investment and giving the public something we can claim as our own, much like South Koreans have national pride in their achievements in semiconductors and biotech.

So what might our innovation identity be?

The Federal Government thinks fintech could be a powerful economic driver and is putting our money where their mouth is – albeit at very small seeding levels to begin with. The global strategic partnership that includes Australian banks to accelerate the use of Blockchain technology, is also an interesting step we might build upon.

Leveraging our world-leading capabilities in hearing aid technology, which began in 1981 when the Federal Government funded the development of Cochlear, would be another practical step that follows this strategy. Green-tech and agri-tech would also appear obvious fits for Australia given our natural and agricultural resources.

Whatever the direction we take, if we want to put brand-Australia into the minds of international top latent, investors, analysts and potential customers we would do well to start by creating an innovation narrative that mainstream Australia can understand and embrace as its own.