Is commercialisation the dark side?

August 23, 2016

Founder and Managing Director of gemaker, Natalie Chapman, explores the common perception of research commercialisation as ‘the dark side of the force’.

commercialisation

As an avid Star Wars fan I’d like to explore the topic of research commercialisation using terms that a Jedi Knight would recognise.

The Federal Government is seeking a better return on its sizeable investment in research through:

  • better commercialisation of research
  • more engagement between researchers and industry, and
  • changing the requirements for funding for research institutions and the incentives for researchers.

To some, this push for a more commercial and applied approach to research is like the Emperor urging Luke Skywalker to embrace the dark side of the force.

Like a Jedi apprentice, I began my science degree because of my love of science and desire to make a difference. I was not interested in doing a business degree or any degree that would purely maximise my salary prospects.

I chose an honours project close to my heart, involving ‘cis-platinum’ chemotherapy for breast cancer, with which my aunt had been recently diagnosed. Unfortunately the project was given to a student who was less passionate about it, but had a higher grade point average than me.

I was forced to find an alternative project. Seeking something with a practical application, I changed universities and chose a project sponsored by a company seeking a solution to a problem. My honours thesis titled ‘The wettability of rough surfaces’ looked at why roughening a surface could make it more hydrophobic for practical applications in non-stick surfaces.

When I started work at ANSTO, in a role that was half research and half business development, I was tasked with creating a spin-off business involving one of the research instruments.

As I was introduced to other research staff, a term came up that I was familiar with, but not in a work context. Some researchers referred to me as having moved to the “dark side”.  This was said as a joke, but it stemmed from an underlying belief that anyone associated with commercialisation, or engaging with industry regularly, was doing something wrong.

The implication was that there was something suspect about me for being involved in this type of activity, ‘tainted’ by commerce.

Being older and – I’d like to think – somewhat wiser, I now reflect that, had I continued along the pathway of medical research into breast cancer, perhaps I would have made an amazing discovery that could have saved many lives. But for my research to result in a cure would require the involvement of commercialisation experts – the kind of person I have become.

Between a cancer research discovery and a cured patient lies the long and arduous process of commercialisation which requires a team-based approach, where research and commercial staff work collaboratively.

I know now that being responsible for industry engagement, or commercialisation of a project rather than the research, does not mean my work is any less important, pure or noble. I’m using my strongest skills in the best way to have a positive impact for humanity, in my own way.

Commercialisation experts are not the Sith, we bring balance to the force by forging new Australian industries and actively training young researchers in the ways of industry, for research alone cannot achieve a better future.

I believe commercialisation is not the Dark Side, it is A New Hope.

– Natalie Chapman, Managing Director, gemaker

commercialisation

Natalie Chapman is a commercialisation and marketing expert with more than 15 years of experience turning innovative ideas and technologies into thriving businesses.

She co-founded her company gemaker in 2011 after almost a decade leading business development and marketing projects at ANSTO and, in 2013, won a Stevie Award for Female Entrepreneur of the Year in Asia, Australia and New Zealand.

Natalie specialises in mining, new materials, environmental and ICT technologies. She takes technologies from research through to start-up, assisting her clients with commercialisation strategy, building licensing revenue, securing funding grants, tenders and engaging with industry.

Natalie also heads corporate communications at ASX-listed mining and exploration company Alkane Resources and is responsible for attracting investment, government relations and marketing communications.

Natalie has a Bachelor of Science with honours (Chemistry) from the University of New South Wales and a Master of Business Administration (Marketing) from the University of Wollongong.

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One thought on “Collaborate or crumble”

  1. Business gets 100% the financial benefits, business should pay 100% of the costs. If business thinks R&D doesn’t pay, don’t do it.

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