Infrastructure is a key driver for medtech startup success. However, despite the Australian government’s recent focus on the sector, infrastructure is still lacking. Based on my experience in the United States and Australia, I will outline three critical areas that, if improved, will give Australian medtech startups a better shot at success.
Better Education and Training
First, a major ingredient for medtech startup success is trained talent in both tech and business. Money can’t compensate for wrong people on the team. While the Australian university system is in the top 10 globally, it needs improvement to compete with the U.S., Canada, and the UK, all of which have higher-ranked systems. According to the same report, Australian universities could improve their ‘resources’ and ‘connectivity.’ Resources includes government expenditure on tertiary education as a percentage of GDP. Connectivity includes the proportion of articles co-authored with international collaborators. These metrics could be prioritized when assessing Australian universities.
Additionally, universities must focus on training students before graduation. An example of a successful student training program is at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio, USA. There, all engineering students must complete three to five semester-long cooperative education opportunities (co-ops) before graduating. While at Eccrine Systems, a former Cincinnati-based medtech startup, I worked with many students from this program and was impressed with their attitude and skills. Co-ops offer students paid, real-world experience, making them better hires. At Eccrine we hired several of them after graduation, confident that they could do the job. Other American universities with great co-ops include MIT and Stanford. Unfortunately, there aren’t similar extensive real-world opportunities for Australia-based university students. This is starting to change; for example, the University of Melbourne offers semester-long placements to high-achieving graduate students for subject credits. However, these types of programs only focus on skill showcasing rather than skill improvement. Also, with only one internship, how does a student compare experiences to find a good company and career fit?
Medtech Incubator Access
Second, access to incubator laboratories must be improved. Wet labs are one of the most-expensive types of space to build. Startups have a hard time raising funds and need to prioritize key hires over building physical assets. In the U.S., many cities including Seattle, San Francisco, Boston, and even as small as Eugene, Oregon (population 170,000), have lab space for startups. These shared labs allow brand-new startups to commence proving their technology. Melbourne does have a small shared lab space at Co-labs in Brunswick. While Co-labs is doing a great job with the space it has, it is not adequate for a city the size of Melbourne.
More Government Programs
Finally, Australian startups need more support from local and state government. The Australian Federal Government does an excellent job of supporting R&D with the 43.5% tax rebate for R&D spending. However, local and state governments need to do more. Queensland has recently stepped up with the Essential Goods and Supply Chain Program (EGSCP), providing significant funding to Anteotech, Ellume, and WearOptimo, among others. The EGSCP is a great example of how state government can support medtech businesses. A similar model could be replicated across states to encourage innovation. The U.S. state of New Jersey runs multiple initiatives to support medtech startups with funding, research, and infrastructure. A similar ecosystem of support here in Victoria would result in greater startup success and job growth.
Australia has the potential to become the world leader in innovation. However, to realize that potential, the government needs to strategically fund universities, build incubator labs, and provide funding to help startups scale production. The investment synergy in these critical areas will help Australia enter a golden age of innovative advanced medical manufacturing.