There are a million great ideas bubbling away in the busy brains of tomorrow’s smart energy leaders, but how many of them will survive the cruelties of the real world? So that they have a better chance in the wild, the Australian Technologies Competition exists to foster the country’s raw talent and help lever it onto the world stage.

“Our focus is on companies that are ready,” says Patrick Mooney, a consultant to start-ups and administrator of the competition. “They’ve got some customer traction, they’ve got some revenue, their tech works and they’re looking to grow their businesses tenfold internationally at least.”

Such fledgling companies will most probably need capital but more typically they will benefit from access to markets and “the right partners and the right people”.

The competition started 11 years ago, when there weren’t as many incubators and accelerators toiling away to nudge great ideas towards commercialisation. Today, the Australian Technologies Competition is “an important part of the ecosystem” that has evolved to serve minnow entrepreneurs with potentially world-scale ideas.

Making introductions

Just because you have a great idea doesn’t mean it will catch on overseas.

“The solutions for Australian conditions are not always the solutions internationally,” Mooney says. In the US and Europe, for example, high levels of industrialisation and population density are evidence enough that a push for renewable generation is needed – without delay. In Asia, everything seems even more urgent. “The last two times I was in Delhi they broke the record for the world air index on the days I was there,” he says of the Indian megacity, a hazy home to more than 37 million souls.

Australia is a small market and Australians often find it hard to understand their place in the world. On one hand, we have a slightly elevated sense of ourselves. On the other hand, we can sometimes come across as a bit unsophisticated. These are not insurmountable barriers, and companies with valuable ideas can overcome them.

“We have some great little companies within the energy sector but what’s missing is experience in finding the right partners, experience in capital, etc,” he says.

Each semi-finalist company in the competition gets two free mentors, who will have experience running companies and international connections. “The mentors are critical in helping them bridge to other markets and identify gaps,” he says.

Keep an open mind

Mooney shares a couple of quick tips off the top of his head: don’t assume the risk case in Australia is the same in the market you are entering – “Go in with a completely open mind in terms of what the problem actually is”, and; choose the right partner – “Don’t go with the first one who puts their hand up … do your homework, because it’s hard to unwind those relationships”.

Other than the awards and mentoring for semi-finalists, the competition includes the chance for finalists to be grilled “to within an inch of their lives” by a panel of investors and potential partners. “It’s not a hard pitch; it’s more like a coaching session,” Mooney says. “It’s really healthy. Out of that comes a lot of one-to-one conversations and market opportunities.”

The competition includes many other sectors – advanced manufacturing, cyber security, food and agribusiness, smart cities, medtech and pharma, among others – so it’s not a case of standing in an echo chamber. “There is a nice cohort environment,” he says. “It’s multi-sectoral, so they’re not in a room with a bunch of competitors regurgitating conventional wisdom. It’s a really nice dynamic.”

The list of previous winners includes big names GreenSync, Planet Ark Power, Future Grid, SwitchDin, Reposit Power and Bombora Wave Energy.

Mooney is founder and executive chair of Impact Tech Ventures, a consultancy focused on promoting Australian “impact technology”, being clean energy and environmental technology, with a focus on the Asia-Pacific region. “That’s where we see the biggest stresses and the biggest opportunities,” he says, “and also a very low awareness of Australian capabilities.”

The Australian Technologies Competition is sponsored by the federal and state governments, Australian Space Agency, industry growth centres including NERA and various industry partners.

Keen to apply? You can do that at … and you have until May 24.