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If your business is innovative and suitable for export, there are many federal and state routes to assistance. We take a look at programs that reward innovation and can speed up the export learning curve.

As export markets continue to open up and global competition increases, exporters need to be innovative to get into new markets around the world. This takes time and money, as well as expertise and planning, but there is a lot of help on offer through programs designed to foster export.

Active Image"Innovation is vitally important to Australian industry, and a key driver of improvements in our international competitiveness," says Ian Macfarlane, Federal Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources. Macfarlane says the Federal Government has shown its commitment to innovation through the Backing Australia’s Ability strategy, which has promised around $8 billion to funding various programs and initiatives.

"By pursuing more innovative ideas and activities and taking them to market, our exporters can generate further growth, create additional jobs, and develop new opportunities which are crucial to Australia's economic future," he says.

 All state government departments handling export offer funding and assistance that can often be put towards export innovation, and should be one of the first contacts for any exporter.

Who To Call

We take a look at resources for exporters specifically designed to assist in getting their new products and services into foreign markets, or to encourage innovation:

Australian Government Innovation Website — http://www.innovation.gov.au

Any business wanting to develop new products and services should head to this website. It’s a resource developed by the Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources and is a portal to federal and state programs and initiatives, as well as some non-government ones.

Austrade — http://www.austrade.gov.au/it

While Austrade can provide assistance to all exporters, it has a designated homepage for new and established information and communication technology (ICT) companies looking to get their products and services into international markets. The site links to wider Austrade assistance, as well as specialised help for innovative ICT companies, including market intelligence, access to its international network of ICT specialists, and a dedicated newsletter for the industry.

Export Finance Insurance Corporation (EFIC)http://www.efic.gov.au

EFIC’s products can help inject working capital into an export business to assist in distributing their innovation into foreign markets. Products especially for small business include EFIC Headway, which helps existing exporters by providing up to 20 percent additional funding to that supplied by their bank, and is not tied to a specific export contract or transaction but is designed for general export funding. Other products, such as its US bonding line, are also designed to help new exporters.

Australian Technology Showcase — http://www.ats.business.gov.au

The ATS is an initiative devoted to promoting Australian innovation into global markets via a range of promotional programs. It helps members become aware of government and private sector programs which can better prepare them for working in international markets, as well as facilitating relationships with investors and joint venturers. A relationship with the NSW State Government means members from the state have some additional benefits, including financial assistance. It’s free to join the ATS, but applicants need to be recommended by experts in their particular state or territory.

AusIndustry — http://www.ausindustry.gov.au

AusIndustry, the sector of the Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources responsible for delivering business programs, has a range of funding options for small business innovation. One of these options, Tradex, helps to assist cash flow for exporters. It exempts businesses from paying Customs duty or GST on goods that are imported for export (or incorporated into goods for export), which removes the need for exporters to recover these costs after exporting. Anyone can apply for Tradex, but only goods specified under the Tradex order will be exempt from the relevant charges.

Textile, Clothing and Footwear Post–2005 Strategic Investment Program http://www.ausindustry.gov.au

Another AusIndustry scheme, this program will run until 2015 and aims to develop an innovative and sustainable textile, clothing, and footwear industry to compete on a global scale. The scheme provides reimbursement for investment and innovation activities and expenses, such as expenditure on new equipment and building, and research and development for new product development activities. Successful applicants can be reimbursed by either 40 or 80 percent of eligible expenditure.

Technology Uptake Program (VIC) — http://www.business.vic.gov.au

This scheme is available to any Victorian-based manufacturing company more than two years old with an export focus. The programs are designed to encourage manufacturers in the state not only to evaluate new technologies but also to demonstrate them to other manufacturers and to further the development and uptake of new technology in the manufacturing sector. Support is available for up to half of costs (capped at $20,000). Funding covers areas such as third party research, training, plant preparation and trials, installation, and marketing and publicity costs.

Grow Your Business (VIC)http://www.business.vic.gov.au

The Grow Your Business range of programs provide funding for Victorian manufacturers or service providers to engage an independent specialist to conduct either a review of the company, or assist in creating a comprehensive business plan for the company. It also facilitates group programs, a networks program, and education in supply chain management. Companies who apply must have been trading for a minimum of one year (exceptions are possible), and a strong commitment to innovation and export is valued highly in applicants.

Mentoring For Growth (QLD) — http://www.sd.qld.gov.au

Mentoring for Growth is a free service for innovative Queensland exporters going through a period of rapid growth, or with the potential for rapid growth in the fields of manufacturing, information technology, biotechnology, and sectors within the creative industry. The program brings a team of mentors onboard to discuss how to overcome challenges and maximise potential export opportunities.

BioBusiness Program (NSW)http://www.msmr.nsw.gov.au

Offered through the NSW Office of Science and Medical Research and the Department of State and Regional Development, this program is part of the BioFirst Strategy, and seeks to support the commercialisation of research outcomes, to develop products or services for export. Financial assistance provided can be used for IP protection, legal costs, regulatory approvals, market development and research and business planning.

IXC Australia — http://www.ixc.com.au

IXC (InnovationXchange) Australia seeks to encourage connections between businesses, universities, and research institutions around the world. The company’s intermediary approach works as a go-between to pair up small hi-tech startups with large, world-class leaders in
technology and research. IXC has had success in fields such as nanotechnology, biotechnology, and medical research.



Growing Up

Active ImageFrank Downes understands both sides of the mentoring coin. In his former role as chairman of the Institute of Business Leaders, he provided mentoring to businesses through the Queensland Entrepreneurs (QE) scheme, which became the Mentoring For Growth (M4G) program now offered by Queensland’s Department of State Development.

Now, in his role of CEO at Grabba International, he finds himself in the role of mentee, submitting the company to the M4G panels.

It’s a nice synergy, considering Downes first became aware of Grabba’s innovative technology through his mentoring role with the QE scheme.

Grabba designs and manufactures products such as barcode scanners and RFID readers that can be added to PDAs and other mobile devices, and has recorded a 68 percent growth on the year to February 2007. They now export to around 50 countries, with 80 percent of the company’s business coming from overseas sales.

And this obvious success and growth makes Grabba a perfect candidate to be part of the M4G program.

Active ImageThe program is designed for fast-growing companies from the Sunshine State who are looking to take their innovation to the next level. After a company has approached the Department (or been referred by professionals such as lawyers, accountants and investors), and specified some particular challenges facing the company, a convenor creates a mentor panel of between eight and ten people who can best address these issues.

At the mentoring session the CEO or other representatives from the company give a short presentation and expand on the issues at hand. Over the following hour the panel of mentors clarify the needs of the company. "They’ll generally come up with a consensus of two or three things that are key to be worked on," Downes explains. Quite often members of the mentor panel will offer to work on a particular assignment with the company, to help it implement some suggestions raised by the panel.

The recommendations of the panel have been particularly practical for Grabba International, Downes adds. "Marketing For Growth was about honing the marketing message and trying to get a better understanding of what key issues are for people about the company’s products," he explains. "We had grown more by reactively selling rather than proactively. And it was about how do we move into a more proactive role and what are the key things we need to do." Further marketing assistance enabled the company to be better prepared for its presence at the CeBIT technology trade show in Hanover in 2005.

And meeting and learning from the panellists is an added advantage of the program, Downes explains, such as the graduate engineer from Switzerland who had worked with large electronic companies and gave the company some new perspective on the quality assurance side of things.

The department runs the program in several regions throughout the state, and Downes doesn’t think twice about recommending it to other exporters wanting help getting their innovation into the next phase of growth. "I think it’s something that is good to be made available to people," he says. "It’s a great concept."

Further information on the program (as well as an option to express interest as either a mentor or mentee) can be found by searching for ‘Mentoring For Growth’ at www.sd.qld.gov.au

Cameron Bayley

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