Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Government launches DataStart fund to foster open data startups, but which problem is it trying to solve?

A few days ago the Australian government announced the launch of the DataStart fund, to be managed by Polleniser and with the involvement of RightClick Capital, which aims to foster open data driven startups with commercial ideas.

The pilot nine month process will see 20 startups pitch to a board of government and industry judges, with a winner to receive $200,000 in support to get their business off the ground.

This is an area that people in the open data scene have been discussing for a few years now, on the back of the low rate of initiatives coming out of hack events in Australia that go on to some form of commercial existence, let alone financial success.

Initiatives in this area are always good, however I worry about what problem this is designed to solve.

Is it the government's problem that startups aren't using lots of open data to facilitate their businesses, or is it an actual problem where startup businesses with viable commercial ideas involving open data cannot locate appropriate funding options?

I wonder whether the first step should be to ensure that the open data being released by government is both the right data for companies to use to deliver on commercial needs and is being released to a commercial standard.

Frankly while I totally support the increasingly open release of data there's very little that I see being released at a commercially ready level and granularity. Weather and public transport data at state level being a few of the exceptions.

There will be startup opportunists who bake a little open data into their startups to access this fund. There also may (I hope) be a few hack participants able to take their open data fuelled ideas forward in a more commercial way.

I am sure the government will happily support both types through this initiative in the hope this creates some momentum - and I truly hope it does.

However unless these start-ups have solid ideas with strong business cases and could essentially be profitable even if they had to collect the data themselves or pay for it, by and large government is still an unreliable source of timely and relevant open data.

Right now data.gov.au has a shoestring budget and no funds have ever been allocated by an Australian government to support agencies to develop and implement effective open data release processes.

While the team at data.gov.au has done a fantastic job with very little, and the ball is now truly rolling in agencies, which are increasingly interested in releasing datasets for public reuse, the lack of foundational funding means that the frequency of data collection, data quality and data release tends to be highly variable across government open datasets.

Right now I would prefer to see funds reinvested into ensuring government provides reliable data rather than on fostering businesses build on data sources that are insufficiently robust or could disappear overnight with a Ministerial or agency-level decision.

I know both the government and Polleniser are authentically enthusiastic and supportive of fostering open data driven startups. I hope that in coming weeks we see budgets allocated to help agencies provide reliable and robust open data sets, not just to fostering companies built on an unreliable base.

For now, register for a DataSmart information session (to be held in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and Canberra at DataStart.com.au (I will be at the Canberra event, so feel free to say hi).

1 comment:

  1. Right on the money Craig. I'm a fan of using open data and a fan of the unincumbered approach of the start up but this initiative seems to be in too narrow a niche. And 4x$50k prizes might have increased the possibility of a good result. Don't want to pour cold water, but would much rather start with fixing identified problems than something abstract.

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