Meet the innovators

December 22, 2015

The Knowledge Nation 100 highlights the innovators leading Australia’s STEM economy.

Following Prime Minster Malcolm Turnbull’s National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA) announcement last week, The Australian published the ‘Knowledge Nation 100’, showcasing the who’s who of Australia’s superstar innovators.

The list, supported by The Office of the Chief Scientist and the Knowledge Society, was launched on December 10, the same week as Australian technology company Atlassian launched on the NAZDAQ Stock Market.

Science Meets Business contacted some of the top Australian innovators featured on the list to explain their hurdles in transforming ideas into commercialisation and how NISA is set to change the innovation game.

In a related article in The Australian, Turnbull says start-ups are a good launchpad for innovators even if they don’t succeed.

“If you start a new business and it doesn’t work out, you have learned something, your employees have learned something, they have earned income, paid taxes. The ecosystem benefits.”

The Knowledge Nation 100 innovators will meet at a summit in March to promote how innovation with science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) will drive change in the economy, create jobs and enhance Australia’s prosperity through economic growth.

Educate to innovate

Founded in 2002 as a start-up to develop products for software developers and project managers, Atlassian made a market cap of $5.7 billion last week after jumping 32% on the first day of trading.

The success comes as a shock to the dominance of new age, cloud-based software, while Atlassian gets nearly 73% of its sales from traditional on-premise software.

Speaking on ABC’s 7.30 Report, Scott Farquhar, co-founder and CEO, advised: “unless we innovate, unless we build things that operate on a world stage, we’ll reduce Australia’s prosperity”.

Farquhar also cautions: “Today, we need to educate more and more people in STEM subjects… and particularly we need to focus on women because women are underrepresented in those areas. In a world where STEM is going be important to the future prosperity of Australia, having women on the sidelines is a big loss for Australia”.

The research/commercial sector communication gap

unimelbbionicsinstituteOne of Australia’s leading innovators, for over 30 years, Professor Robert Shepherd, Director, Bionics Institute, University of Melbourne has worked across medicine, computing and engineering, and made significant scientific and commercial contributions. From driving the FDA approval of Cochlear Ltd in 1985, providing hearing to people with hearing impairments, he has overseen expansion of the Bionics Institute to develop the bionic eye and neurobionic platform technology.

Despite his success Shepherd explains, “Australia has a very poor record of communication between the research and commercial sector – I am optimistic that the NISA will provide significant incentive and leadership to bring these two sectors closer together.”

He believes this should include greater options for university students and research scientists to train in research commercialisation and entrepreneurship. This will open the gate to more research savvy CEO’s and CSO’s. 

Taking leadership opportunities

Dr Bronwyn Evans has been CEO of Standards Australia since 2013 and is Chair of the governments Medical Technologies & Pharmaceuticals Growth Centre.

By bringing over 30 years experience as an engineering executive in power generation, engineering education, Standards creation and medical devices, Evans aims to capitalise on medical research in Australia to make it a hub for medical technology in the Asia-Pacific.

Evans’ success has grown from taking risks in foreign economies and new cultural landscapes having “accepted the role as the Asia Service Manager for GE Healthcare Ultrasound business based in Singapore.”

She explains, “This fitted with my overall career aspirations of C-Suite leadership and ultimately gave me P&L responsibility and leadership opportunities across all of the economies in Asia and taught me to be effective in new cultural environments.”

Evans sees the NISA as just one part of a bigger picture and that “It’s the attitude and approach behind these agendas that will drive the economic output.” 

A culture that empowers innovators

As a technology entrepreneur, Ken Kroeger leads Seeing Machines, an innovative company supplying image-processing technology that monitors human fatigue and distraction for vehicle operators.

To Kroeger the success of the company is strengthened by its inherent values for our own safety. “If you’re anything but a one person company, you need a culture that empowers people to bring their best to the table.”, Kroeger says.

“The key is to provide an environment that attracts and retains talent – this takes an understanding of what motivates people. At Seeing Machines, having a strong vision to save lives on our roads is important to all our employees.”

Kroeger also demonstrates the importance of collaboration having established partners with Samsung and Caterpillar, the world leading manufacturers of construction and mining products; collaborations that encompass both risk and opportunity.

He explains, “Every problem presents a risk and an opportunity to do something differently.” He adds, “At Seeing Machines, we felt the downturn in the mining industry earlier than most, so we were proactive in shifting our mining technology business to Caterpillar and launched a fleet product that has potential to take our life saving technology to a scale that we’ve never done before.”

– Guy Fenton


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