The Australian Technologies Competition held its National Awards Ceremony on 20 October, concluding a seven-month long program designed to identify, reward and accelerate Australia’s best ‘deep tech’ scaleups.

This year’s Ceremony commenced with an entrepreneurs panel discussing the role of the tech sector in rebuilding after COVID, after which the Minister for Industry, Science

& Technology, Karen Andrews, delivered a keynote message. Highlighting the Federal Government’s recent commitment of an additional $460m to the CSIRO and $2bn in R&D incentives to support the tech sector, Andrews congratulated the finalists: “In so many ways our future rests in the creative hands, critical inventions and trailblazing thinking that defines all of the ATC finalists.”

This year’s national Award winners were:

  • Advanced Manufacturing Award – Contactile (NSW)
  • Cyber Security Award – Castlepoint Systems (ACT)
  • Disaster & Emergency Award – Helitak Fire Fighting Equipment (QLD)
  • Energy Award – Village Energy (WA)
  • Food & Agribusiness Award – Farmbot (NSW)
  • Global Social Impact Award – 4ize (NSW)
  • Medtech & Pharma Award – Electrogenics Laboratories (NSW)
  • Mining Technologies Award – NextOre (NSW)
  • Smart Cities Award – BindiMaps (NSW)
  • Space Award – HEO Robotics (NSW)
  • Alumni Achievement Award – AgriDigital (NSW)
  • Australian Tech Company of the Year – Electrogenics Laboratories (NSW)

Electrogenics Laboratories was crowned the Medtech & Pharma winner and overall winner for 2020 for its medical radiation sensing technology that precisely measures radiation skin doses and rates in real time, helping to avoid organ and tissue damage. For Electrogenics chairman Kim Lyle, the moleskin innovation is a personal one – having lost two family members as a consequence of radiation treatment.

“Maintaining momentum has been the biggest challenge,” said Lyle, when asked about the commercialisation pathway. “Never give up; never surrender! There are a lot of hiccups along the way, but you just have to keep making it happen. Stay true to your vision and go for it!”.

Patrick Mooney, Executive Chair of Impact Technology Ventures, the organiser of the Competition, underscored the importance of a collaborative and supportive ‘deep’ technology ecosystem.

“The shape of our re-emerging economy has to be different,” said Mooney. “Global market trends and capital markets are requiring more sustainable solutions and we can’t assume that our traditional sources of wealth can carry the same load. The scale-ups we see through this Competition in sectors like clean energy, smart cities, food and agtech, cybersecurity, manufacturing, emergency management, the circular economy and medtech are critical to this rebuilding. They deserve all of the support they can get from Australia’s tech ecosystem and government agencies.”

The opening panel discussion featured four previous winners (Emma Weston of AgriDigital, Phil Hodgson of Calix, Anabela Correia of Livac and Giles Bourne of BluGlass), and venture capitalist Dr Michelle Deaker of OneVentures. The panel described how COVID-19 had significantly impacted their sectors and the ways they have adapted.

Examples included: relocating overseas staff back to Australia; developing new risk assessment techniques; business model pivots; introduction of plant shifts with deep cleaning between shifts, payment of staff and management in equity rather than wages; ‘diving deep’ into research while supply chains re-establish; rebuilding local manufacturing of critical components; simplifying supply chains; moving sales resources online; and targeting hospitals in greatest need of specialised equipment at this time.

Significant opportunities were identified for Australian tech companies to ‘play to the ‘tailwinds’ in digitisation, diagnostics, vaccines, collaboration platforms, logistics, e-commerce, environmentally favourable solutions and attracting talent. Australian strengths that should be leveraged in the current ‘window’ include stable government institutions, experience in managing bushfires, floods and other emergencies, education levels, familiarity with selling globally and a safe environment.

Key constraints identified included continuing capital gaps, underinvestment in education and attitudes in Australian government purchasing departments. Superannuation funds and the Future Fund were identified as important players that should be contributing more to society and weighting their portfolios more heavily in Australia.

Governments were encouraged to maintain R&D incentives and commercialisation support through agencies like Accelerating Commercialisation, reinstate 457 visas for specialised skills, more actively provide proof of concept opportunities like the Victorian CivVic Labs Accelerator and to be a more significant early customer for emerging Australian technologies.