Funding with bite

Engaging with youth, liaising with private companies, encouraging innovation… all are possible with both financial and interpersonal backing. Below, in no particular order, see how a brace of major state-backed drives to fund innovative entrepreneurship are transforming visionary ideas into reality


Australian start-up Atlassian was built on a maxed-out US$10,000 credit card, but the software’s showcase bug tracking tool – known as JIRA – is now worth US$3.3bn, with clients ranging from NASA to eBay. The success story of co-founders Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar proves that risk-taking iscrucial for the new generation.

A US$200m Innovation Fund set up by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) will imminently launch to support start-ups with Atlassian’s potential. To grow academically, an extra US$20m has been earmarked to commercialise research outcomes.

Twitter-savvy Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s new National Innovation and Science Agenda has taken off on social media via its #ideasboom and promises to deliver a suite of tax incentives for early-stage investments, reduce the default bankruptcy period from three years to one and pass new laws to encourage crowd-funding.

Perhaps the most exciting development is the entrepreneurs’ visa, enabling recipients to hop over to ‘landing pads’ in global hotspots. It taps into Australia’s desire to become the Silicon Valley of the South Pacific, and is one of more than 20 measures in the Turnbull administration’s ambitious US$1.1bn plan to boost innovation.


Once dubbed ‘Chilecon Valley’ for the runaway success of its transformative entrepreneurs’ programme, Start-Up Chile has attracted more than 12,000 applications from more than 100 countries, using US$35m of investment from its forward-thinking government. The programme has attracted more than US$100m of financing for Chile’s future SME founders, such as Jonny Miller’s start-up Maptia, a storytelling and photography platform.

He says: “One of the programme’s more tangible goals is to incubate a US$1bn company. This ambition is reflected in the programme’s mantras. We were told emphatically at the initial presentation to ‘Go big or go home’.”


In January, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick forecast that Chinese innovation would surpass that of Silicon Valley in the next five years. He meant that those in the internet and technology fields currently huddling in coffee shops discussing their prototypes would take advantage of a brave new entrepreneurial era planned by Premier Li Keqiang, China’s head of government.

Torch, the dynamic government entrepreneurial programme that is run like a start-up, has succeeded in kick-starting Chinese high-tech innovation with four major parts: innovation clusters such as Hong Kong’s thriving Cyberport, technology business incubators, seed funding such as Innofund and the Venture Capital Guiding Funds.

The nucleus of this innovation boom is in Beijing’s Zhongguancun. A cluster of tech incubators and start-up accelerators have sprung up in the university district, all jostling for a slice of the staggering 1.5 trillion yuan (US$311bn) pie raised by governmentbacked venture funds in 2015.


Leading research institutes sitting alongside major engineering, IT and manufacturing industries highlight how far-reaching government innovation is becoming in Germany, citing examples such as the EXIST Business Start-up Grant for students, graduates and scientists.

The five pillars of the government’s recent High-Tech Strategy aim for lucrative entrepreneurial ideas to be translated into innovative products and services and goals. They include making funding conditions for SMEs user-friendly, connecting start-ups to global centres of growth and attracting more STEM professionals.


Action speaks louder than buzzwords, and so when Piyush Goyal, India’s Minister of State, joined his colleague’s innovative efforts by launching an Android app to allow anyone to track progress of rural electrification ofvillages in real time, it spoke volumes about the governmental commitment to public service. In March, Goyal also announced plans for India to become a 100 per cent e-vehicle nation by 2030.

“Innovation is possible... you just need to think of scale,” he said. It’s an attitude that the National Innovation Foundation’s ‘Decade of Innovation’ has sought to encourage since 2010 among the public.

Among its visionary schemes is the Micro Venture and Innovation Fund, a risk fund that doesn’t require any collateral or a guarantor to release capital and is the first of its kind.

Elsewhere Maneka Gandhi, Union Cabinet Minister for Women and Child Development, launched Mahila E-Haat, an online marketing platform for female-owned businesses.

It is one of many ideas launched under the Stand Up India umbrella to support female entrepreneurs such as Nina Lekhi, whose handbag company Baggit was recently featured on Fortune India’s Most Powerful Women list, as well as the poorest and most disadvantaged – but no less creative – groups in society.


King Felipe VI, attending this year’s Madrid’s South Summit start-up festival, said that it is “vital to promote the role of entrepreneurs in society”.

The Spanish Strategy of Science, Technology and Innovation heard his message, putting out an international call for entrepreneurs to transform public services.

Projects such as Barcelona BCN|Open Challenge have taken off; the Challenge has given the city’s entrepreneurs a two-year deadline up to 2017 to think of innovative solutions to problems such as bicycle theft or blocked pedestrianflow. It is a model that shows how local councils can procure solutions from SMEs traditionally precluded from the tender process.

The set of new laws introduced in 2013 to support entrepreneurs spelled the awakening of Spain’s start-up ecosystem. Regulatory hurdles are still inherent, but a fast-track entrepreneurship visa is attracting foreign talent and investment outside of the EU and helping domestic business at a time of high unemployment.

For Spanish nationals such as Pepe Dominguez and Luis Hernandez, there is a raft of options available from Barcelona’s city hall governmentfunded programmes. They are the brains behind, a worldwide download site that has been called Google Play’s “biggest rival”.


Cosied up to Knowledge Village and Internet City in Al Sufouh, Dubai’s Innovation Hub couldn’t ask for a more convenient location. Its 15,000 companies, which specialise in sectors  that include new media and smart education, can reap the benefits of their neighbours, and brainstorm in 1.8m square feet of workspace, the fruit of the UAE’s forward-thinking Creative Community Law.

Boat charter start-up Fishfishme has found an anchor there, and commuting app Carpool Arabia has made it a regular pit stop on its journey to “transform Dubai into the smartest city in the world”, says Founder Benjamin de Terssac.

The UAE’s 300,000-strong force of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are set to further prosper from the US$544m Fund to Finance Innovation set aside by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, and Ruler of Dubai, in the Year of Innovation last year.

For selected start-ups whose revenue depends on intellectual property, the Ministry of Finance is due to launch its pilot phase to provide better access to funding and collaboration.

His Excellency Mohammed Al Gergawi, the Minister of Cabinet Affairs and Chairman of Dubai Holding, sums up the speed of Dubai’s progress. He says the vision to create Dubai Internet City – the first of the knowledge-based zones – was Sheikh Mohammed’s. “He took me to the desert one day and showed me a place where people had lived 3,500 years ago. He said they made an innovative economy, and so shall we.”