Beyond the usual suspects: unlocking procurement for startups Case Studies 18 Jun 2022 by Holly Clark Startups and government are not often heard in the same sentence, but a new service from LaunchVic is helping the Victorian public sector harness the potential of Victoria’s $23.6 billion startup ecosystem. Government and businesses often work side-by-side — but when a business is just starting out, the distance between them can sometimes seem vast. It’s a divide that clearly needs to be bridged, because the biggest and best ideas often come from up-and-coming entrepreneurs. Enter CivVic: a LaunchVic initiative designed to unlock government procurement for startups. The innovative program encourages the state’s upcoming entrepreneurs to think big about solving some of the challenges governments face across areas such as transport, public safety or health. Startups have the chance to co-design and test solutions with policy experts, tap into mentor networks and even bring their idea to market with funding. Guiding the way to Government LaunchVic Government Engagement Manager Al Gibb heads CivVic’s Government Liaison Service (GLS) — a role that sees him connecting with startups with innovative products and standout ideas, which could potentially help the state overcome challenges. “It can be hard for startups to get a foot in the door, or get any visibility or traction,” he says of the traditional government procurement process — which, as far as some startups are concerned, all too often favours “the usual corporate suspects”. “That’s why there’s a need for an organisation that can strategically liaise between on-the-ground startups and government departments that may have use for their services.” Liaising with the public sector is often a full-time job within major, well-established companies — so the Government Liaison Service through CivVic helps provide this for smaller operators. Entrepreneurs will spend 10–12 weeks with Gibb for pitching, sales and tender advice, and a general sense of how government works, before meeting with a relevant Department. “Of course, there’s a formal tender process, so our goal isn’t to help negotiate a deal,” he emphasises. “We’re just making sure that entrepreneurs are part of the conversations department heads are having to increase the chance of their work being recognised”. Startup hitting the right note Six months in, CivVic has found dozens of startups with huge potential for government. One is Player Piano Data Analytics, a startup that uses artificial intelligence to extract and analyse data from aerial photographs to gauge the health of an urban forest. It’s the sort of technology that will be hugely important for local and state governments when designing climate-resilient cities. While the data analysts already had a strong track record of working with council planners all over the country, they have now taken on their biggest Victorian job yet, thanks in part to input from CivVic. “I think the whole program is great,” says Player Piano co-founder, Vicky Yuan. “With all the layers of bureaucracy out there, it’s extremely helpful to have someone ‘on the inside’, in your corner of the ring.” Other startup founders who have been through the service have likened it to a paid advocacy service, which would help businesses enter new markets through industry connections. And while a startup may be closely connected to one state government, there may be another in Australia that has no idea they exist. Victoria’s own state government departments have been “absolutely astonished” with who they have been connected with through CivVic, Gibb said. Expressions of interest from startups for LaunchVic’s Government Liaison Service are accepted on a rolling basis. Learn more here.