Spinout stories at Spark

As part of the Spark Festival, Inspiring Australia and Data61 joined forces to present a session on research commercialisation. Convened by Inspiring Australia’s NSW Manager Jackie Randles, the forum was a chance for five founders of new technology-based spinouts to share their experiences of transitioning to global markets as entrepreneurs.

  • Dr Silvia Pfeiffer, CEO and cofounder of Coviu, a platform that provides universal access to healthcare, explained how her diverse background working in design, film and computer science coupled with on the job experience was more beneficial to learning than formal study. She emphasised the need for founders to find focus, in both their work and customer market, a sentiment shared by others on the panel.
  • Dr Stefan Hrabar, CEO and cofounder of Emesent, a company formed to commercialise cutting edge drone technology developed by CSIRO’s Data61 Robotics Group, said that taking advantage of the accelerator and mentoring programs offered at Data61 was crucial in his success in developing a market ready product. Forming a strong team and learning about business development was also important.
  • Dr Anna Liu, Head of Public Sector Partnerships at Amazon Web Services and founder and CEO of Yuruware, the world’s first Disaster Recovery platform, said that moving between business and academia at the early stage of her career gave her a chance to develop business acumen. She also said that developing a sound understanding of identifying customer needs was important – an area that is sometimes overlooked by researchers in academic environments.
  • Pete Field, the founder of Ayvri, a company using 3D virtual world technology to enable participants in major sporting and adventure events like RedBull’s Wings For Life, explained how a lifelong interest in adventure sports and the outdoors plus a passion for technology and entrepreneurship has been key to his success in securing interesting projects across a wide range of areas.
  • Matt Barbuto, the cofounder of Ynomia, a platform that digitises realworld construction projects, said that it was primarily curiosity that prompted him to attend a showcase and identify digital solutions that had market potential. His own networks in the building industry were instrumental in market testing and capital raising.

Several panel members had benefitted from participating in CSIRO’s On Accelerator or taken advantage of Data 61 programs to prepare researchers and their research projects for commercialisation. A key message from founders was to reach out and ask questions. It was okay to not be an expert in everything and all agreed that starting a spinout was very much about discovering solutions on the run and learning from mistakes.

Also on the program were venture capitalists who candidly shared the do’s and don’ts of applying for capital funding. Investment managers Martin Duursma from Main Sequence Ventures, and Natasha Rawlings from Uniseed provided valuable tips on how to prepare for capital raising and finding the right investor.

Researchers and investors alike were advised to network widely and familiarise themselves with the markets they were seeking to move into – the customers, the key players and the culture. Knowing how much money could be made from their spinout and over what timeframe was critical, as was having a long-term plan for business development. Being easy to work with another important consideration for the venture capitalist.

“If you are not easy to work with, we won’t invest in you, no matter how good your tech,” warned Natasha Rawlings.

The Spin on Spinouts was presented at Sydney Startup Hub by Inspiring Australia as part of the 2018 Spark Festival.