Sowing the seeds of technology transfer

March 01, 2017

Founder of gemaker, Nat Chapman, talks commercialisation in botanical terms, and explains how her team helps turn research into solutions.


Originally I trained as a chemist, but recently I’ve been thinking about the commercialisation of research outcomes – our area of expertise at gemaker – in botanical terms. At the risk of sounding like hippie Neil from ‘The Young Ones’, I’ll explain by asking you to consider the timeless wonder of a seed…

The seed represents a new idea, resulting from years of work by researchers in a university or similar institution. Given the right conditions, the seed will grow into an entirely new variety of plant. The innovative ideas of researchers have the potential to improve our lives in myriad ways, so the metaphorical plant could be a new source of food or medicine, or it might produce an exquisite perfume, or superior wood.

Having created a seed with wonderful potential the researcher needs someone like a farmer, to sow the seed and grow it, producing a bumper harvest. In other words, the researcher needs an industry client.

Like a farmer, the industry client has customers to please, and if customers want crisper apples, the farmer won’t waste time and money cultivating redder roses. The wisest researchers engage with industry clients to learn about market problems and demands before commencing R&D, then create seeds to meet needs.

To reach the targeted market, innovations need funding like plants need water – and more than just a drip feed. Without adequate funding for pest control (IP protection), viable mutations (prototyping), taste testing (beta testing) the researcher’s seed will never grow to fruition. It may look like a plant that’s been sitting at the supermarket for weeks losing value as it dries up and dies.

How do customers like them apples?

With funding, innovators can prove their concept: how do customers like them apples? Beta testing delivers feedback to guide product or service refinements before market entry, as well as creating an opportunity to acquire valuable early-adopter testimonials for marketing purposes.

To grow tall, new products and services need the sunlight of strategic marketing to shine on them. In the energising glow of a strong campaign, online and in traditional media, the innovation will thrive. With effective marketing, yields are maximised; without it, even the greatest innovations shrivel and die.

We do our best to help innovators achieve their optimal commercial outcome, whether this is a spin-off from a research organisation, growing sales of the product or service, licensing agreements, or sale of a business. Like anything worthwhile, the commercialisation process takes time. Few innovators achieve ‘overnight’ success, but it’s possible: you can produce strawberries in just two months. If you plant an apple tree, it takes six to ten years to bear fruit.

Like farming, commercialisation is challenging, and we all depend on it being done well. Better research-industry engagement, enhanced professionalism in technology transfer, supportive government policies and improved funding strategies will all help to turn more of our researchers’ discoveries into new Australian industries, achieving a better future for us all. To quote the wisdom of Neil: ‘This self-sufficiency thing really is amazing.’

How does gemaker help?

Gemaker helps researchers to:

• Match their research to commercial applications
• Find industry partners
• Source consistent commercialisation funding
• Identify how to best protect their intellectual property, and
• Sell their wonderful seeds so they can grow to fruition for everyone’s benefit

We keep an eye on the sky (we study global market trends and government policy changes), searching for rainclouds (grants and other sources of funding) that could hydrate seedlings (spin offs and startups). If necessary, we’ll dig an irrigation channel and perform a rain-dance (to attract angel investors or venture capitalists).

– Natalie Chapman

Related stories

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *