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UNSW launches Defence 10x Accelerator to strengthen Australia’s sovereign capabilities

IMAGE: HEO Robotics, which delivers satellite information using spare capacity on spacecraft in orbit, is an alumnus of the 10x Accelerator at UNSW in Sydney. Image: HEO Robotics

UNSW Founders has launched Defence 10x, a new accelerator program focused on strengthening Australia’s sovereign capabilities. Defence 10x will provide six local startups with entrepreneurial experience, seed investment, R&D capabilities and access to expert networks to accelerate the commercial development of Australia’s next generation of defence innovations.

Applications Close 21 May with the selection process completed by early-July.

Defence 10x forms part of the $240 million Defence Trailblazer initiative, aimed at increasing collaboration between defence, academia and industry to develop technologies and innovation capability that will improve our national security and resilience. The initiative is expected to play a leading role in securing Australia’s economic recovery, providing a net economic benefit of $1.5 billion in the next 10 years.

UNSW Founders’ Defence 10x is the only defence-focused accelerator program in Australia. The program is open to all Australian founders innovating across the sector, with each selected startup receiving $350,000 in seed funding. This distinguishes the Defence 10x Accelerator from DSTG’s D.START program which aimed to provide commercial and business skills but no investment funding, says Mr David Burt, Director of Entrepreneurship at UNSW. The D.START Program was an extension of CSIRO’s successful ON Program and the Defence 10x Accelerator shares much of the ON Program’s DNA, he tells EX2.

Defence 10x will invest in promising companies with products whose Technology Readiness Level is as low as TRL3 and will aim to help that company achieve a significant product or commercial milestone by the end of this calendar year.

The program broadly defines defence to include “dual-use” technology and is recruiting founders who have technology that will strengthen Australia’s sovereign capability and defend its critical infrastructure. This could include capabilities such as weapons, equipment, quantum, artificial intelligence, or systems that protect critical infrastructure such as energy and water.

The Defence Trailblazer for Concept to Sovereign Capability is led by the University of Adelaide and UNSW. Through its access to $240 millions-worth of resources, it aims to deliver significant research impact by providing the impetus and financial capital to create a novel, ambitious innovation engine where organisations, governance, structure, focus, talent, culture and aligned incentives drive innovation at scale through the whole research translation pipeline. The Trailblazer will encourage, enable and implement research, translation, commercialisation and workplace upskilling.

The Defence 10x Accelerator is designed for business founders who want to build companies in Australia for Australia and create sovereign capability, says Mr Burt. The Program is national and the Accelerator will run events in Sydney, Canberra and Adelaide, as well as Melbourne in due course, possibly along with other centres, he adds.

“Startups and a vibrant innovation ecosystem have a key role to play in boosting Australia’s national security and resilience,” says David Burt. “While large foreign defence firms are important for Australia to access scalable manufacturing and systems integration, locally-based innovation and industrial capability is critical to develop solutions that are specific for Australia’s needs,” he adds.

“It is necessary to support the emergence of next generation defence contractors like High Earth Orbit Robotics and Silentium Defence who can tackle this gap.”

Defence-specific expertise, funding, and networks are needed to accelerate Australian industry’s ability to develop and translate great ideas into deployable products, to the benefit of our national security. That’s why we’ve developed Defence 10x. UNSW is uniquely positioned to support founders with extensive expertise and specialist equipment, and together with the networks of the Defence Trailblazer we bring a unique support package for founders in this space.”

Dr Sanjay Mazumdar, Executive Director of the Defence Trailblazer, says: “There’s an urgent need for change within the defence innovation system and its programs like Defence 10x which are tackling this head-on. Accelerating the development of sovereign capabilities in areas such as quantum, AI, cyber, hypersonics, autonomous systems and space technology will produce the cutting-edge technology our nation needs to be self-reliant. UNSW’s Founder 10x programs are a proven method for accelerating commercial development, and combining this with the deep networks of the Defence Trailblazer will enable us to uncover Australia’s next big defence solutions.”

Defence 10x will be run in two phases, with a pre-accelerator and accelerator program. Applications for the programs are now open. Teams will be shortlisted for a due diligence phase and then 6 of these startups will be selected for the full-time accelerator with the bootcamp starting in August 2023.

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