On Thursday 3 December, leaders from WA’s defence industry made themselves available as keynote speakers at a unique event held at the Centre for Entrepreneurial Research and Innovation (CERI) in Nedlands. David Johnston, former Defence Minister and Australian Defence Export Advocate; Michele Clement, Director, Defence Science Centre WA; and Terry Gropp, Managing Director, MDS, came together to share their expertise on opportunities for tech start-ups and SME’s to enter the defence supply chain. The event was organised by WA DEFENCE REVIEW in partnership with CERI and included nearly 50 attendees from across the tech start-up and SME sectors.
Charlie Bass, founder of CERI, gave some interesting context to the importance of this event and the foundation of CERI. Perth has been built on the back of the mining and resources sector, however, in order to continue economic development and growth, a next generation of innovative industry is necessary. Mr Bass argued that a change in thinking about business is a step in the right direction for the future economy of Perth and that defence industry is integral to that diversification.
In this context, keynote speaker David Johnston outlined the opportunities that are prevalent in the growing area of defence technology and potential sales in Australia, while also addressing the expanding defence export market overseas – all of which offer potential for start-ups and SMEs with capabilities that have potential for defence application. He emphasised that aspiring businesses should acquaint themselves with the support available from the Australian Government, which includes initiatives such as the Defence Global Competitiveness Grant, Sovereign Industrial Capability Priority Grant, Capability Improvement Grant and others. Mr Johnston pointed out the necessity for businesses to be apprised of, and to seek guidance on, Australian Government Defence export regulations, which can be complex and challenging to navigate. Concluding his presentation, Mr Johnston also cautioned aspiring businesses to prepare for the often lengthy (and potentially expensive) processes of securing Defence contracts.
Michele Clement agreed that the environment for start-ups and SMEs to enter the WA defence supply chain is moving in a positive direction with an emphasis on innovation, research and growth. At the WA Government’s Defence Science Centre, the most important goal is to facilitate connections between businesses and other organisations that morph into defence science capabilities. The Defence Science Centre also supports by providing a suite of grants that can assist start-ups and SMEs with solving future defence-relevant problems. She encouraged businesses aspiring to enter the defence sector to build partnerships and collaborate with established SMEs or universities, as a faster and more reliable way to receive funding, and to show how your product solves existing or future problems.
As the Managing Director of MDS, and the Industry Engagement Coordinator for defence peak body: Henderson Alliance, Terry Gropp is an advocate for businesses seeking to enter the defence sector. His practical advice for the attendees was to really “know your company and what it does”, and to make sure that your intellectual property is adequately safeguarded. Defence is a bureaucratic and complex organisation to deal with, hence start-ups and SME’s will require expert assistance to navigate their way. Obtaining assistance through consultants, defence industry bodies such as Henderson Alliance and the Australian Industry and Defence Network (AIDN), and the CDIC would go a long way to assisting aspiring businesses to understand and maneuver through the defence sector.
With the keynote speaker element of the event concluded, attendees were given the opportunity to ask targeted questions in the Q&A panel discussion that followed, which involved additional guest panellist Greg Salotti, Defence Business Advisor – Commercialisation at the Centre for Defence Industry Capability. Mr Salotti addressed questions on the challenging commercialisation pathways that lie ahead for Australian start-ups and SMEs in the context of the Defence Innovation Hub and the Next Generation Technologies Fund. In addition, he emphasised the importance of carefully articulating the R&D effort that is required to complete and deliver a company’s solution for a targeted Defence requirement.
The event was wrapped up with a light lunch amidst further networking where attendees were afforded the opportunity to mingle with the panellists to constructive effect. Commenting on the event’s value, CERI founder, Charlie Bass confirmed: “WA DEFENCE REVIEW brings a wide range of high-level people together for networking and thought sharing. CERI, the Centre for Entrepreneurial Research and Innovation, is a charitable organisation that is working to help others develop the start-ups and industries of the future that will take WA beyond its resource dependence.” He added: “The exposure that CERI receives to a broad range of people in the WA DEFENCE REVIEW network is something that we wouldn’t have otherwise. Of much greater importance is the showcasing and linking many of the CERI-based start-ups with those people attending this event.”
The successful conclusion of WA DEFENCE REVIEW’s first collaboration with CERI is an indicator of the future synergistic potential that awaits the tech start-up sector and the defence industry in WA. As such, WA DEFENCE REVIEW looks forward to exploring new cooperative initiatives with CERI in 2021.