$392m Industry Growth Program provides pathways for SMEs

CCIWA is pleased to see small-to-medium businesses and start-ups will be able to access some of the Federal Government’s $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund (NRF), which will provide finance for projects that diversify and transform Australia’s industries. 

The Government is putting its finishing touches on the $392.4 million Industry Growth Program which sits under the NRF and gives SMEs a pathway to access matched grant funding to commercialise their ideas and grow their businesses. 

CCIWA called on the government to consider pathways for SMEs to ensure they do not miss out on finance opportunities through the NRF, noting that many SMEs face considerable difficulty in getting access to funding.   

“We find that many SMEs can’t access low-interest finance to commercialise their innovation, simply because they are perceived to be high risk and low return”, says Anthea Wesley, Manager, Policy at CCIWA.  

The NRF offers critical opportunities for WA businesses. Its aim is to support, diversify and transform Australia’s industry and economy by providing funding to drive investments that add value and develop capability in priority areas. Leveraging WA’s mining and resources strength, as well as driving diversification, is a high priority for the State, and also of national importance. 

The Industry Growth Program replaces the Entrepreneurs’ Programme (EP), but it is more targeted and narrow in scope. 

In its latest submission, CCIWA called on the Federal Government to consider two key areas of improvement.  

Project eligibility

According to the draft program, it will support projects in these NRF priority areas: 

  • value-add in resources 
  • value-add in the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors 
  • transport 
  • medical science 
  • renewables and low-emission technologies 
  • defence capability 
  • enabling capabilities 

CCIWA says by taking a flexible approach, there may be opportunities to capture innovative projects outside the predefined categories. 

“Simple investments in traditional sectors such as manufacturing may enable these businesses to grow and become more competitive, and this is just as important as activating new and emerging industries,” says Chris Rodwell, CCIWA CEO. 

All projects, regardless of sector, should be selected on merit, pass a rigorous cost-benefit analysis, and provide positive social and financial returns, says CCIWA. 

Industry partner organisations 

One key aspect of the program is giving SMEs access to industry support and advice to commericalise their innovation. Industry partner organisations are integral to the program’s success. However, CCIWA is concerned that only 20 advisors will be sought across Australia – a quarter of the number engaged under the former EP – and these industry experts were crucial to its success. 

To maximise success, the following industry support would be useful: 

  • Licensing and trademarking support 
  • Marketing expertise and digital support 
  • Cyber security and data protection support 
  • Grant program writing support 
  • Accessing venture capital expertise 
  • Additional valuable support and services to help business decisions 

CCIWA also suggests that to be successful, these industry organisations should have a significant understanding of local business conditions and operating environments, clear awareness of changing government policies, and can support SMEs to maximise their success through their business events, networking opportunities and training. 

Clear guidelines 

In terms of the design of the program, CCIWA also says the program must be designed with clear guidelines around eligibility, application processes and assessment criteria. 

“Transparency and simplicity in these aspects foster accessibility and encourage a diverse range of entities and projects to participate,” Rodwell says. 

“By avoiding excessive prescription, the program can also maintain flexibility and openness, enabling it to capture various projects that possess the potential to deliver positive social and financial returns for the Australian public.” 

By standing together, we amplify the voice of our business community and bring industry concerns directly to key decision-makers. Find out more here. 

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