Spark brings research and business together

October 19, 2017

A gap remains between business and industry, while innovation hubs of each sector rarely collide. The Spark Festival is bridging this divide.

Research futures

The Fourth Industrial Revolution has opened up unprecedented opportunities driven by data, and the innovation potential for cross disciplinary work across science and engineering is enormous.

But Australia lags far behind other countries in commercialisation, and many national programs are underway to redress this shortfall. Part of the problem is the difficulty in building collaboration between research and industry, so much so that CSIRO Chairman David Thodey recently remarked in a blogpost entitled “Business science harmony long overdue”:

“We may be “mates” but sadly, we are not naturally good collaborators. Maybe it is our sweeping plains and the tyranny of distance, but compared with other nations – and yes, most of them more densely populated than ours – our best and brightest in science and industry do not have a strong record of working together.”

Diverse program facilitating collaboration

A forum on Monday will examine how research in exciting new technology areas is opening up new businesses opportunities as expert knowledge is taken to market. Part of the Spark Festival, the Commercialising research forum looks at how scientists are translating their knowledge in both academic and commercial environments.

On the program are investors, business leaders and science and engineering researchers that have founded companies as well as those working in universities.

We’re in a new age of research discovery across the full spectrum of science disciplines. In areas from physics and quantum, astronomy and space to artificial intelligence, machine learning, genomic medicine and biotechnology, cutting edge research is underway in a variety of settings.

But a worrying gap remains between business and industry.  And the innovation hubs of each sector rarely collide. While some researchers collaborate comfortably with industry and entrepreneurs, others are more hesitant about venturing beyond the world of academia.

University working with industry

Dr Noushin Nasiri is a post doctorate researcher from UTS, whose breath sensing technology has attracted much interest from industry.

A scientist who has always imagined herself working in a university rather than in industry, Noushin is now ready to consider a wider range of options.

She’ll participate in a masterclass with an expert panel of advisors who have been enlisted to help the materials engineer consider the possibilities of commercialisation.

Her coaches include a patent attorney, an entrepreneur and business advisors with specialist expertise in research commercialisation.

Having never considered starting a company nor interacting with industry at any level, Noushin is one of a growing number of early career researchers becoming more open to the idea of research commercialisation.

“I would love to establish my own laboratory in order to conduct more research into sensing devices,” she said. “Working with an industrial partner would enable me to achieve this goal more quickly than by pursuing an academic career path – but as a researcher I have never acquired the business skills to interact with such offers.”

WATCH Noushin in Famelab

While the end goal for academic researchers like Noushin is to continue pursuing their research, the reality is that funding remains a challenge. If they develop business acumen and begin to understand the process of taking research knowledge to market, new opportunities will open up.

Also sharing his experiences at the forum will be former banker, entrepreneur and scientist Dr Alan Taylor Alan, Executive Chairman at Clarity Pharmaceuticals, a company focused on developing radiopharmaceuticals for the treatment of cancer and other diseases.

With significant experience in capital raisings, mergers and acquisitions, Alan’s experience across a broad range of industries including healthcare and life sciences, technology, and resources will be instructive to researchers considering a career in industry.

Bringing tech to community

Another inspiring story will be shared by Dr Dharmica Mistry, the founder and Chief Scientist at BCAL Diagnostics, a small Australian biotechnology company developing a revolutionary blood test for the detection of breast cancer.

Her insight into the potential of fatty acids in the blood stream, to indicate the presence of breast cancer, led to the filing of an international patent and was the basis for the formation of BCAL Diagnostics in 2010.

Despite an initial lack of resources, Dharmica has doggedly pursued her vision to develop BCAL’s technology as an accurate, early test for the presence of breast cancer, for women of all ages, worldwide.

This determination has resulted in her leading an international collaboration with researchers in Kentucky, San Francisco and Dublin, as well as in New South Wales, with the aim of bringing the technology from a research finding to the wider community.

Building connections

While many science and technology researchers working in universities have very little experience with industry, they are keen to know more and new programs are being established to build these links. At the same time universities are increasingly supporting researchers to acquire the support they need to explore commercial opportunities.

And a growing number of business owners are looking to academic research institutes for expert knowledge.

The forum will canvas a wide range of examples of how researchers are working with industry to create new products and services and develop stronger relationships. Their respective tribes may be poles apart, but there’s a willingness to come together and find a new way of working, and this is critical for Australia’s future.

Results of the 2017 Global Innovation Index released in June show another poor ranking with Australia falling to just 23rd in the world, behind China, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Singapore. While Australia was placed 10th in terms of “knowledge workers” it scores a low 52nd for innovation linkages and 48th for knowledge absorption.[1]

And this is despite scoring in the top 10 worldwide for innovation input – infrastructure, human capital, market sophistication and education.

With the CSIRO’s $200 million innovation fund about to be released through Main Sequence Ventures, it is anticipated that more inventions from Australian publicly funded research organisations will be commercialised in the years to come. So the time is ripe for researchers, business and startups to start talking. – Jackie Randles


Research leaders from Sydney’s universities, Data 61 and the CSIRO will join industry representatives to discuss the broad range of opportunities for today’s scientists as well as how they are working to overcome barriers to research interaction with industry. All our speakers are enthusiastic to candidly share their experiences and ideas with the aim of helping others interact more successfully.

Confirmed speakers include:

  • Dom Price, Head of R & D, Atlassian
  • Martin Duursma, Main Sequence Ventures
  • Professor Veena Sahajwalla, UNSW
  • Tim Allison, Tec.Fit
  • Dr. Julie Vonwiller, Appen
  • Shelley Copsey, Data61
  • Dr Julie Wheway, gemaker
  • Dr Gavin Recchia, Davies Collison Cave
  • Dr Alan Taylor, Clarity Pharmaceuticals
  • A/Prof Darren Saunders, UNSW
  • Dr Ben McNeil, Thinkable
  • Professor Zdenka Kuncic, University of Sydney
  • Dr Gary Colquhoun, AusIndustry
  • Dr Noushin Nasiri, UTS
  • Dr Dharmica Mistry, BCAL Diagnostics
  • Dr Ben McNeil,
  • Dr Ben Wright, Cicada Innovations
  • Dr Michael Whitford, Modular Photonics

Event details

Date and Time: 2:00 pm – 7:30 pm, Monday 16 October 2017
Location: Sydney School of Entrepreneurship, 651-731 Harris Street, Ultimo
Cost: Free with registration.
Register to attend

Discover research futures

[1] The index, released by INSEAD, Cornell University and the World Intellectual Property Organisation, collates 81 indicators in 127 countries to rank them in terms of innovation inputs and outputs.

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