From great idea to start-up

October 19, 2017

Dr Noushin Nasiri is looking at how to commercialise research from developing sensors that can detect disease in human breath. A panel of experts weighs in.


Dr Noushin Nasiri is looking at how to commercialise research. A post doctorate researcher from UTS, whose breath sensing technology has attracted much interest from industry, Noushin always imagined herself working in a university rather than in industry, but is now ready to consider a wider range of options. A panel of experts looks at how Noushin can move forward in working with industry from within academia.

How to commercialise research – The scientist

A great idea plus communicating it widely – Noushin Nasiri

Noushin Nasiri

My research has the potential to create my own company, but I am not interested in that – my passion is research so I want to stay in the lab and have my own group. But I don’t want to just publish papers in high-impact journals, I want to commercialise my work.

In an academic career, you move from PhD to postdoc. You are encouraged to be isolated and then publish a high-impact factor paper that’s highly cited. In the 3rd year of my PhD I told my supervisor I wanted to go on a journey with science communication. Yet in research, science communication is seen as a hobby rather than a requirement – it’s “harmless”.

I started with the 3 min thesis competition, then Famelab and then presented at TedX, which was a turning point in my life. I presented my research in a variety of environments over eight months. My colleagues told me to go back to the lab! But when I went back to academia at UTS I was approached by four companies interested in investment in my research.

I think there is a big gap at university in that science communication is seen as a hobby. I think it’s something necessary that should be taught as part of your degree.

Since I was a kid I wanted to be a teacher. Then I thought it would be easier to be a professor at uni. If I had to have my own company, I think I’d still like to do research. My own research is very broad, and there are many diseases that the device I’ve created can work across.

I still need to learn how to commercialise research. The sensors can save human lives, so if you commercialise it you can get this out to market. We want to commercialise it but we still need to get advice from people who are experienced in commercialisation.

WATCH Noushin in Famelab

Industry responses to help to commercialise research

Natasha Rawlings, Venture Captialist at Uniseed

If you want to commercialise research and bring your idea to the world, my advice is to work with university incubators, learn some of the hands-on commercialisation skills, and have conversations about customer evaluation, and whether there are customers for your product. It’s about birthing your idea into a company.

Investors look for three things: people, product and opportunities – and that is where customer evaluation is really helpful. Are people going to pay for this, and if so, how much? As a venture capitalist you need to report to your shareholders, and know what the research is going to look like in five years’ time. The missing piece for Noushin is the team and the customer potential – how much will it cost to commercialise and how will people pay for it?

Gavin Recchia, Principal, Davies Collison Cave Pty Ltd

We’ve hear a lot about communicating. I agree wholeheartedly with that. Publish or perish is a myth – it’s untrue that there’s tension between publishing your research and protecting it via IP. It’s just a matter of timing – the publishing needs to come after patenting.

If you are in an area that has commercialisation potential then IP is important. Think about whether you need patent protection in place before you go out with the information. Until you have the IP locked away, keep communicating – but keep it general. Go an talk to the tech transfer office at your uni, get them to talk about IP professionals about your ideas. There’s a whole suite of different forms of IP and you need to find out what is the best possible protection for you.

Many people think commercialisation and entrepreneurship is an either/or journey. You can be both and can be a scientific entrepreneur, or someone who works entrepreneurially within your organisation. If you are thinking about what your customer needs, then you are on that entrepreneurial journey.

When people invest in tech they are investing in you, and what you will come up with in the future also. We need to improve the way we communicate in a positive sense, and be better at talking things up.

This feature was developed as part of the Spark Festival Sydney. Read next: Top 25 R&D spin off companies.

– Heather Catchpole

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