Australia’s big banks have moved away from a traditional reluctance to fund tech start-ups, with NAB and Westpac launching new services primarily aimed at funding the technology sector – and that includes the booming space business.
Neither specifically mentioned space in their product launch literature, but both banks have confirmed that space was certainly included.
A spokeswoman said NAB’s $2 billion financing commitment aimed to support emerging technology companies across industries.
“There are exciting developments in the space industry and we are working with government and university partners to better understand how we can help small to medium enterprises access capital to participate in the space sector,” she said.
“As per any funding discussion, we are open to exploring opportunities with organisations that are at the right stage of development, have an appropriate risk profile and good commercial prospects.”
A spokeswoman for Westpac confirmed that space was on their radar.
“The emerging industries division has been set up to look after all the new emerging industries and the businesses driving their growth within,” she said.
“We are very excited about the emerging space industry in Australia and are looking forward to engaging productively with this sector and helping them in their growth.”
Australian tech start-ups have traditionally found it challenging to secure both seed and growth funding and that appears to especially apply to the new space sector.
That contrasts with the US, with its long tradition of venture capital firms willing to take a risk on newcomers, and China where space start-ups can call on vast private sector and government funding. Even the most modest of American and European launch companies can gain $10 million assistance from their governments.
Earlier this month, Australian space entrepreneur Adam Gilmour said there were plenty of people willing to give them a pat on the back but not write a cheque.
“We are competing against American companies that can get $1 or $2 million from 10 different funding organisations. Of all my rocket competitors, the stingiest of them has got about $10 million from their government,” he told Space Connect.
NAB launched its fund last week, allocating $2 billion over five years to support Australian tech-innovators by providing loans, facilitating access to capital markets and supporting companies though transactional banking and risk management.
Anthony Healy, NAB chief customer officer for business and private banking, said NAB wanted to boost productivity in Australia’s technology sector by supporting companies at a critical stage of their life cycle.
“This commitment is about giving technology companies with demonstrated potential for growth the shot-in-the-arm they need to be bigger and better,” he said.
“These tech-driven companies are often already profitable but need further capital and banking expertise to grow.
“NAB can support technology companies at every stage of their development – from NAB Ventures, which backs start-ups through to big business. This now includes a new team focused purely on high-growth technology companies. We believe this is a unique proposition from a major Australian bank.”
Westpac launched its scheme in February. The bank is looking more to fund tech companies at the scale-up rather than the start-up stage.
Both Westpac and NAB released studies making useful observations on the challenges confronting the Australian innovation and technology ecosystem.
Westpac’s Emerging Industries: Towards 2030 report observed that Australia’s capital markets were hindered by short-term thinking, which made them risk averse, though that was improving.
“However, compared to the US, which raised US$84.2 billion last year, Australia represents a tiny tadpole in the global venture capital pond,” it said.
NAB’s Australian National Outlook 2019 report said Australia had been very fortunate, with nearly three decades of economic growth, but there were sound reasons to question whether this good fortune would continue into the future.
“The world is changing and Australia will need to adapt much more rapidly than in the past if it is to keep up. Nowhere is this more evident than in the role that new technologies, such as artificial intelligence, automation and life sciences, are playing in transforming established industries and creating new ones,” it said.
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