Connecting knowledge to market

May 11, 2021

Bridging the gap between science and SMEs provides huge benefits to society, says Sally-Ann Williams of Cicada Innovations.

Sally-Ann Williams, CEO Cicada Innovations

Bridging the gap between science and SMEs provides huge benefits to society.

Australian university science has always been at the forefront of radical innovation and groundbreaking discoveries.

Some great Australian examples include IVF, medical breakthroughs in transplant surgery, space-to-Earth interfaces that carry video and telemetry signals for the lunar landing, vaccine development and success stories like Cochlear and Resmed. 

When university science is connected with Australian small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs), it results in revolutionary new products and processes, and even entirely new industries.

According to Cadence Economics for Universities Australia, more than $10.6 billion a year of all business income in Australia flows from collaborations with universities. A report of Australia’s Top 50 CEOs highlights the transferability of STEM skills in the corporate world, finding that 12 of Australia’s top 50 ASX-listed CEOs studied science at university. This makes science “the most popular pathway to becoming a top CEO in Australia”.

No other local asset can consistently provide such highly skilled talent with the capacity to innovate and build industries from the ground up. 

And there are so many reasons to prioritise this.

Research and innovation drives productivity and economic growth, and creates new and more sustainable jobs. It addresses societal issues that affect us all, like food production, climate change, and health management. 

And while university science is the breeding ground for these innovations, it is only when research can be translated into viable products or processes, and commercialised into sustainable and profitable businesses, that society benefits.

At Cicada Innovations, Australia’s deep tech incubator, we exist to make this happen. 

Established in 2000, Cicada Innovations is owned by four university shareholders: the Australian National University, UNSW, University of Sydney and UTS. It exists to support science and engineering based businesses solving the world’s most pressing problems. Our purpose-built facilities and mentorship programs help deeply science-based companies like SpeeDx (see Australian University Science issue 3) deploy their research to develop and scale marketable products in a sustainable and profitable fashion. 

Our networks and expertise help SMEs that, conversely, lack the skills or expertise to harness science-based research. We provide early access to nascent research or technologies that can help these businesses to evolve and adapt to a rapidly-changing landscape, while future-proofing their success and longevity. 

For science graduates, we facilitate networking opportunities between university and industry. Because just as science skills require years of specialised training, so does commercialising technology or research. 

It’s time we fully harness the power of connecting Australian university science with industry, before we lose our best and brightest to STEM powerhouses in other parts of the world. 

One only has to look at our homegrown graduates and Cicada Innovations incubatees, who are spearheading transformative businesses that make a tangible difference here and around the world, to see the immense potential. 

When we empower graduates and enable SMEs, we create an ecosystem that works to solve the world’s most pressing problems.

Sally-Ann Williams, CEO of Cicada Innovations

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