Research Futures

Inspiring Australia (NSW) and Refraction Media’s Science Meets Business website have joined forces to facilitate increased dialogue between researchers and the business and startup communities. A new Research Futures information channel was launched at Inspiring Australia’s Commercialising Research Forum held at Sydney School of Entrepreneurship on Monday 16 October 2017.

Its purpose is to explore why Australia’s rate of collaboration between industry and researchers is the lowest in the OECD and what we can do to redress this shortfall via commercialisation case studies, short videos and ideas to spark further collaboration.

The half-day forum was part of Spark Festival and brought together science and technology researchers from all of Sydney’s universities, Data 61 and the CSIRO with business owners who’ve commercialised research, venture capitalists and research-based startups to discuss what it would take to improve Australia’s innovation standing.

With the 2017 Global Innovation Index released in June showing another poor ranking and Australia falling to just 23rd in the world – behind China, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Singapore – forum participants considered barriers to Australian businesses and researchers collaborating effectively. Despite being placed 10th in terms of “knowledge workers” and in the top ten worldwide for innovation input – infrastructure, human capital, market sophistication and education – Australia scores a low 52nd on the Index for innovation linkages and 48th for knowledge absorption.

Forum participants considered what it would take to improve the relationships between research insititutes, universities and business and what needs to change.

Unleashing knowledge

A wide range of speakers discussed their experiences – both good and bad – of working collaboratively across research and business. Sessions explored the industry potential for current and future researchers and reasons why many would prefer to remain in academic rather than commercial settings.

You can view video documentation of some of the converations here

Issues of culture change, willingness to share and business know how were discussed frankly and openly, with Atlassian’s Head of R & D Dom Price making an impassioned plea to researchers to “…stop hoarding, let go and act now!”

Price argued that perfection is the enemy of progress and called for scientists to develop a sense of urgency in order to be able to take advantage of opportunities as they arose. He spoke of the need for them to share unfinished research early if they want to commercialise knowledge in a way that allows scale up and global reach.

Many issues were raised as barriers to progress along with novel solutions for change. Academics called for industry placements as mandatory elements of a PhD, commercialisation units of study offered at undergraduate level and more opportunities for researchers to meet business representatives throughout their time at university.

Several researchers now running successful businesses shared their experiences of working with industry to create new products and services. Learning to work within competing demands and timeframes, understanding IP and capital raising and having determination and stamina were identified as essential elements to business success.

The issue of teamwork, knowing how to build trust in a partnership and bringing in experts from other disciplines guide decision-making was discussed along with the importance of strong communication skills.

Accelerating partnerships

The forum concluded with information about several initiatives that help faclitate research-business partnerships including:

AMSI Intern
Cicada Innovations
Data 61’s Ribit and Expert Connect platforms.

Universities are increasingly supporting students and academics to acquire the skills they need to explore commercial opportunities, with assistance provided by way of incubators, accelerators, short courses and government support offered via Tech Vouchers and Innovation Connections.

Innovation Connections is part of the Federal Governments Entrepreneurs’ Programme that dovetails with the National Innovation and Science Agenda. The program helps build collaboration between eligible Australian businesses and the research sector by a facilitation first model of engagement. Read more here

TechConnect Global is another initiative developed at UNSW that is bringing business and research together. Created through the NSW Government’s $18 million Boosting Business Innovation Program designed to provide small businesses access to the state’s research organisations, TechConnect supports small to medium entreprises with research connections and up to $15,000 funding through TechVouchers. Read a case study.

In a similar vein, businesses across NSW are being encouraged to look to all of the state’s universities and access TechVoucher funding to help them scale up and innovate their products and services. By accessing the latest research knowledge, businesses of all kinds can improve their efficiency and profit.

Timing and collaboration

What’s clear from the Spark Festival Commercialising Research forum is that there are boundless opportunities for researchers to work with industry and robust support available to facilitate these relationships. However with so many moving parts and stakeholders involved, there needs to be a more coordinated approach to achieve timely commercial outcomes.

In many cases, it’s a simple question of academic stakeholders adjusting timeframes in order to meet industry demand, which may mean responding to a challenge within months rather than years.

Overall, the entire research ecosystem must work more collaboratively across instututions to be able to ensure that the most relevant knowledge can be accessed by industry. Building strong collaborations across competing brands is never easy – but the shared value to all is worth so much more than the sum of the parts.

Science meets Business 2017

If you are interested in these issues, you may be interested in attending the upcoming Science meets Business event presented by Science and Technology Australia to continue these important conversations at the intersection of business, research, science and commercialisation.

What: Science meets Business
When: 9 November 2017
Where: UTS Business School, Sydney

Leaders in science, technology and business will share recent success stories. Delegates will  have the chance to expand networks, share experiences and spark new and exciting partnerships and collaborations.

Speakers will include Ministers, Shadow Ministers, and Australia’s highest profile business and STEM leaders, and the opportunity to meet other like-minded professionals.

Image by David Vagg Photography.

Read more and join the conversation at the new Research Futures channel co-produced by Inspiring Australia (NSW) and Refraction Media with support from You can also join the #researchfutures conversation on Twitter.