2023 End of Year CEO Message

Dear Canberra Innovation Community,

Canberra Innovation Network (CBRIN) will celebrate 10 years of its existence in 2024. As we approach this anniversary year, I consider it important to pause and reflect on where we are in terms of our innovation ecosystem performance. The numbers I am sharing represent activity in 2023 and show the resilience and vibrancy of the amazing innovation community we see grow here in the ACT.

Despite difficult environmental, social, and economic dynamics and developments in Australia and around the world in 2023, the ACT innovation ecosystem continued to grow innovative companies and people committed to seeing new ideas and solutions through to execution, growth, and impact. I am very proud of the work behind the scenes that the CBRIN team, in collaboration and with the support of many, strives to deliver to nurture and grow this community every day.

I would like to dedicate this end-of-year message to these people, to the team in the black “IN” (Innovation Network) t-shirts, to those who work daily across many organizations within our innovation ecosystem, to mentors, founders, researchers, social entrepreneurs, intermediaries, and investors, those who actively collaborate to co-create one of the most thriving innovation environments in Australia and one that stands out globally.

This year, we have seen innovation companies from Canberra raise over $200M in capital (that we track) to support their early growth and expansion across all sectors, but perhaps most notably in the space technology domain where Skykraft has closed the largest investment round that I can remember. 

The diversity, breadth, and depth of innovation in the pipeline is evidenced by successful applications to our early-stage programs, such as the Innovation Connect Grant program, Griffin Accelerator, or our flagship innovation skills development program, Idea to Impact. Our growth team meets close to 100 new entrepreneurs with innovative ideas per quarter and accepts approximately 50 entrepreneurs twice per year into the Idea to Impact: 10-week customer challenge program. Sixteen companies received Innovation Connect grants this year in 2 rounds, and Griffin Accelerator 10 (this is now one of the oldest ongoing accelerators in Australia) accepted a record number of 14 companies in their anniversary round (this is twice the size of the largest cohort before), while there was a record number of mentors involved in the program this year. The startup pipeline has been thriving in Canberra in 2023. 

Many people already know that CBRIN is way more than just about startups. We assist ventures along their entire innovation-led growth journey, including SMEs that may have been in existence prior to CBRIN itself. In fact, we track ventures assisted on a quarterly basis and on average, 45% of ventures we worked with in 2023 were beyond the startup and early stage. In a typical quarter in 2023, CBRIN assisted on average 72 companies (note that we track meaningful contribution beyond just a simple meeting or attendance at an event), of which 23 were startups, 16 early growth, 15 SMEs, and 18 scale-ups or impact companies. Every quarter we track approximately 67 mentors actively working with innovation companies, while our mentor pool has over 150 mentors. 

Table: CBRIN Growth programs assistance to ventures in the ACT in 2023 by company stage 

Ventures assisted by CBIN by stage throughout 2023.
Ventures assisted by CBRIN by stage throughout 2023.

In the CBRIN Growth programs, the team focuses on two key objectives: (1) building a strong community of entrepreneurs and innovators and curating an environment that supports their progress, linking them to funding, entrepreneur education, and mentoring, and (2) coordinating and delivering programs and services that contribute to the growth of innovation companies, including deep-tech, social enterprises, startups, scaleups, and SMEs. I am very proud of the work the CBRIN team has done in SME engagement and scale-ups over the past two and a half years. The SME accelerator in June, SME breakfasts with over 50 registrations each time, and 11 scale-up leader-focused sessions (for a total of 33 participants from scale-up companies) throughout the year have supported a variety of innovation companies, including those that pursue the deep-tech growth journey (approximately 29 assisted per quarter). 

And of course, the work of the CBRIN team and our collaborators is not limited only to innovation companies and entrepreneurs. We work together with the ACT Government and our Foundation Members and partners to look after many aspects of the ACT innovation ecosystem. In our outreach activities, we collaborate on events, initiatives, and programs that introduce and enhance innovation capability and skills to the broader community, including students, researchers, trades, government, and other target groups. In a typical quarter, the CBRIN team will reach over 600 people through 11 events with our partners. 

In our collaborative innovation programs, CBRIN delivers co-design events, open innovation challenges, and hackathons that activate partnerships, support the growth of sectors, and help academia, government, corporates, and community address complex problems through collaboration & innovation. In 2023, the CBRIN collaborative innovation team worked with others to deliver: 

  • responsible innovation hackathons (with the Responsible Innovation Lab at the Center for Public Awareness of Science, ANU) with a focus on a variety of important issues, including generative AI, citizen science, and urban planning, 
  • bioeconomy and biomanufacturing collab lab focusing on how we help grow the synthetic biology sector in the ACT (together with the ANU and CEAT, soon to be known as the ANU Agrifood Innovation Institute), 
  • space hackathon with a focus on cybersecurity in space with the sponsorship of UNSW Canberra Launch and in collaboration with the Canberra Cyber Hub, 
  • collab lab to improve the safety of waste collection (with the ACT Government’s No Waste), 
  • events to support innovation and collaboration in creative industries (with ACT Government’s artsACT), and 
  • collab lab to co-design a new approach to innovation leadership support at CIT. 

In total, the CBRIN team supported 18 collaborative innovation events with 929 participations in 2023. We also had the privilege to share learnings about this program, which is unique to the ACT, with delegates of the Global Entrepreneurship Conference in Melbourne in September 2023. 

CBRIN Team with the ACT Chief Minister and others at the Global Entrepreneur Congress in Melbourne, September 2023.
CBRIN Team with the ACT Chief Minister and others at the Global Entrepreneur Congress in Melbourne, September 2023.

In terms of ecosystem engagement and placemaking, the CBRIN team delivers (1) activities and events that connect, promote, and diversify our innovation ecosystem and (2) operates Canberra’s central innovation hub, while working with other hubs to create a network offering for entrepreneurs & innovators. As part of these efforts, in 2023, CBRIN ran or co-hosted 233 events with a combined participation of over 8 thousand people. 

The innovation community flagship event, First Wednesday Connect, has been always on since 1 July 2015, even during the pandemic. In 2023, participations at these events have surpassed all our expectations with two events receiving over 300 registrations and only one of the other events not reaching 200. The annual innovation showcase broke all previous records with over 600 registrations and close to 400 attendees, making it the largest CBRIN event held to date. With 32 activations, 10 pitches, and 12 finalists in poster competition, the showcase provided an excellent and highly effective overview of what the innovation community in Canberra is about. In addition to events, CBRIN supports over 80 companies in the innovation coworking space on Level 5 at 1 Moore Street with over 200 individual members. In addition we work with UNSW Launch to help manage the innovation community at their Defence and cybersecurity innovation precinct with another 150 people employed in 6 companies. 

It is important that CBRIN maintain ongoing effective communication with the broader innovation community, extending beyond just events or programs. Our Engagement and marketing team leverages a variety of channels to achieve this. With a substantial network of nearly 10,000 contacts and over 6,000 weekly newsletter subscribers, they provide essential information that keeps entrepreneurs, companies, SMEs, scaleups, innovators, and anyone interested in innovation, informed about the latest developments and opportunities. CBRIN social media presence offers an additional layer of connections through key platforms including LinkedIn (with over 6,300 followers), Facebook (more than 5,560 followers), and Instagram (over 2,300 followers). When combined with our media collaborations, with partners such as Region Media, the reach and influence through these platforms continue to expand, connecting a growing number of Canberrans to the innovation community. 

But none of this would be possible without the help and support of so many. The CBRIN team is fortunate to be working with a strong network of collaborating entities and leaders from these entities, including ACT Government Business & Innovation team, Coolamon Advisory’s Badji Program, ACT Government Office of International Engagement / TradeStart / AustTrade, UNSW Canberra Launch, The Mill House Ventures, University of Canberra, UC BIM Hub, UC Innovation Central, ANU Innovation, ANU Gandaywarra Innovation, ANU Momentum at Research School of Physics, CEAT (ANU Agrifood Innovation Institute), CSIRO, CIT, CITSA, AIE’s GamePlus and FilmPlus, Canberra Cyber Hub, Canberra Business Chamber, Lighthouse Business Innovations Centre, Capital Angels / CampusPlus, Epicorp, and others. 

CBRIN extended team including regularly collaborating institutions and organisations within the Canberra Innovation Network community.
CBRIN extended team including regularly collaborating institutions and organisations within the Canberra Innovation Network community.

I would like to thank each and every one one who is actively participating in these efforts, we meet monthly and we are open to welcoming more contributors, so if your organization is active in innovation in the ACT please connect with us to join this amazing group of people. 

For the cornerstone support, which is absolutely fundamental to enable CBRIN and this innovation community, I would like to thank our major funder, the ACT Government, our Foundation Members and Gold Partners, the Australian National University, University of Canberra, UNSW Canberra, Canberra Institute of Technology, CSIRO, King & Wood Mallesons, Optus, PWC Australia, and Canberra Airport, and our Education partner, the Academy of Interactive Entertainment. 

In Canberra, we have a very active, highly connected and collaborative innovation community, where everyone is welcome to contribute, participate and create value for a better future. We collectively believe that this can be achieved through empowering people to make an impact and change the world through innovative entrepreneurship. We work together to ensure that Canberra is a clever, connected, and creative city, where entrepreneurs and existing businesses build on our excellence in research, education and innovation to create substantial economic, social and environmental value that can be shared by all citizens. 

Looking ahead to 2024 I am excited and optimistic. With support from the ACT Government, we will double the physical size of CBRIN to include a dedicated space for scale-ups and innovative SMEs. We will also celebrate 10 years of our collective efforts to activate and grow the ACT innovation ecosystem to create an environment in which globally focused innovation companies attract investment, create jobs and make an impact. 

So please take a well-deserved break from the year that has been, pause and reflect on your interaction with the Canberra innovation community, and get ready for 2024.  

CBRIN Welcome to the City of Innovation Banner at the Canberra Airport
CBRIN Welcome to the City of Innovation Banner at the Canberra Airport

If you travel via the Canberra Airport this summer, please note that you will be Welcome to the City of Innovation. To help us spread the message, perhaps you can share a better selfie than I did in front of the banner that showcases only some of the amazing innovations Canberra is sharing with the world. 😊 

 I and the entire CBRIN team are looking forward to be working with all of you in 2024. 

Petr Adamek, CEO, CBRIN, 18 December