• How can Australia pick up the pace in the so-called global innovation race? (Pexels)
As Australia lags behind in the global innovation race, two Australians share different ideas on how the country can catch up.
Alexandra Fisher

12 Apr 2019 - 3:16 PM  UPDATED 12 Apr 2019 - 3:16 PM

Australia could be a world-class innovator. It has a robust economy (the world’s 13th largest), high minimum wage, low unemployment — and incredibly it hasn’t suffered a recession in decades.  All of this, you would think, offers fertile ground for new bold and creative ideas in a rapidly evolving world.

But when it comes to innovation, Australia is falling behind other countries, ranking 20th on the Global Innovation Index.  And from 2017 to 2018, the country has seen a 12.5% drop in the number of startups, according to the Startup Muster survey. It defines startups as “an early stage business that has a large addressable market that utilises technology to capture that market quickly”. Flaws in Australia’s business culture, and risk-averse investors have been identified as some of the obstacles to creating a thriving startup scene.

But whatever happened to Australia’s “ideas boom”?  Under former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in 2015, the Government said it would spend more than $1 billion over the next four years to promote innovation and transition the economy away from the mining boom. Federal government funding has helped bring some startups to the market. A recent example is the Hera Implant startup founded by Dr Kate Lomas and Dr Liz Williams. But experts say Australia is far off from the envisioned “ideas boom”.

So why is innovation in Australia even important? Shouldn’t we just leave it to Silicon Valley to pioneer the next Facebook or Uber? Well, we’re on the doorstep of a digital and information revolution. A range of new technologies are fusing physical, virtual and biological worlds, to challenge what it means to be human. It’s forecast that 85 percent of jobs that will exist in 2030 haven't even been invented yet.  The pace of change is fast. Businesses and industries need to constantly innovate to stay in the game.

So how can Australia pick up the pace in the so-called global innovation race?

In episode four of The Few Who Do, co-hosts Jan Fran and Marc Fennell speak to two innovators tackling the problem from different angles. Sarah Moran from the Girl Geek Academy is working with girls and women to grow the number of females with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) careers. While Usman Iftikhar has co-founded Catalysr to help promising migrant and refugee entrepreneurs, or “Migrapreneurs”, build their own tech startups in Australia.

Usman Iftikhar studied engineering in his home country Pakistan before moving to Australia in 2012 to do his Masters. In episode four, you’ll hear about his journey from 7-Eleven worker to award-winning entrepreneur (which may have included a brush with royalty). “It was a testament to believing in myself and knowing that I can sort of share that feeling with a lot of other people. But I was also very grateful,” Usman Iftikhar says.

Sarah Moran’s motivation to see more women in STEM careers can be traced back to her school years when she felt social pressure to tell her friends she was going to choir practice, when really she was studying computer science (because girls didn’t do those types of subjects).  Even today, males still outnumber females three to one in STEM subjects at school. “For me, I recognise that young women are not engaging in STEM at the levels that we need them [to], to have full participation overall,” says Sarah Moran. 

In the podcast, Sarah Moran shares her ambition to change this, with the Girl Geek Academy. You’ll hear about the academy’s big dreams to teach one million girls and women to learn technology by 2025. Globally women make up only 16% of startup founders. In Australia, the rate is slightly higher at 24% –  an increase from 17% in 2015, but still a way off from equal representation.  “I picture that in the future we would want all Australians having access to the tools to be able to solve the problems that they need to address,” says Sarah Moran.

Find out more in episode four of the ‘Few Who Do’, hosted by Jan Fran and Marc Fennell.


The Few Who Do

Hosted by The Feed’s Marc Fennell and Jan Fran, The Few Who Do is a new podcast from SBS.

Over 16 episodes, Marc and Jan will tackle the big questions in society and culture today, and hear personal stories from Australians with big ambitions, entrepreneurs and small business owners advocating for change.

Because there is often more than one approach to our biggest problems, each episode, Marc and Jan will delve into different possibilities and get to know the people behind the ideas.




Introducing 'The Few Who Do'

Two hosts, one problem, two possibilities...

Presented by Jan Fran and Marc Fennell 'The Few Who Do' tackles the big questions in society and culture today.

Can musicians make money in Australia? With more access to international content on our screens, how important is it to reflect our own culture and stop the fame drain as actors, writers and directors leave for Hollywood? How will we support a growing population with dwindling food resources?

We’ll hear personal stories from Australians with big ambitions, entrepreneurs and small business owners advocating for change.

The Few Who Do is an SBS podcast with CGU Insurance.

Dropping into your feed March 1


Upcoming episodes of The Few Who Do will examine

  •  Music Australia estimate music contributed somewhere between $4 and 6 billion into the Australian economy in 2016. And yet only a tiny fraction of musicians make more than $50,000 per year. Can musicians make money in Australia?


  • The most common form of violence against women is in their own home and by those close to them.  Domestic violence is also the leading cause of homelessness among women. But could an app make homes and streets safer for women? 

Two Hosts, One Problem, Two Possibilities


This podcast is brought to you by CGU Insurance, who have been proudly backing the ambitions of Aussie Small Businesses for over 165 years. Visit CGU.com.au to find out how CGU can back you.