A growing number of increasingly diverse, challenge-based innovation programs are creating win-win opportunities for business, research and government to work together to solve real-world problems.

For example, the Australian Government challenges and funds innovators to develop game-changing technologies to enhance the capabilities of our Defence Forces. This approach is based on the USA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program.

The USA’s SBIR program

US Federal agencies with R&D budgets in excess of $100million (i.e. eleven agencies, including Defence and Health) are required to allocate 3.2% of their budgets to this program. Over the past three decades, $43billion has been awarded to tens of thousands of small, innovative, research-intensive businesses, to:

  • meet government R&D needs
  • stimulate technological innovation and commercialisation
  • increase employment and workforce skills and strengthen the economy
  • foster participation in innovation and entrepreneurship by women and people who are socially and economically disadvantaged.

Our own Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel, successfully applied for SBIR funding in the 1980s, for his US-based company Axon Instruments.

Australia’s Small Business Innovation Research for Defence (SBIRD) program

The Defence Science and Technology Group’s SBIRD program is a two-stage, merit-based competition for Australian SMEs and research organisations. In Stage 1, up to $150k is available to research an idea’s feasibility. If deemed feasible, up $1m is available in Stage 2 to test the idea’s application. 

By engaging with multiple innovators, the DST Group concurrently accesses alternative and complementary technological solutions to complex problems. Participants receive early-stage funding to progress their innovation to application with a potential customer, while retaining IP ownership.

An upward trend

To find innovative solutions to their problems, more and more Australian Federal and State government departments and corporations are launching variants of these programs. Funding amounts differ; some programs offer training or networking in addition/instead.

In February 2019, policy makers and the private sector came together at the Challenge-based Innovation Forum in Canberra, to share their insights and program outcomes and learn more about long-running programs from international speakers. All agreed that challenge-based innovation programs: provide better, tailored solutions; reduce risk in purchasing novel technologies; stimulate innovation; and grow new industries.

It’s not all about Defence

Past innovation challenges have included:

  • Fast and secure digital identity verification for people experiencing family and domestic violence
  • Intelligent data to transform tourism service delivery
  • Increasing government capability to deliver world-leading digital services
  • Managing the biosecurity of hitchhiking pests and contaminants on shipping containers
  • Automating complex determinations for Australian Government information
  • Optimising medication use in the Emergency Department
  • Boosting coral abundance on the Great Barrier Reef
  • Supporting learning for students with disability in rural and remote locations
  • Affordable and accessible point of entry to public housing
  • Electronic, automated monitoring of commercial fishing operations in Queensland
  • Real-time, personal monitoring of dust at Queensland underground coal mines
  • Reef water quality monitoring
  • Sport venue lighting
  • Asset lifecycle management

gemaker encourages SMEs and research organisations to rise to the challenge of developing new technology, products, services or business models aligned with government or industry priorities. As one means of assistance, we maintain an up-to-date, comprehensive list of innovation challenges.