Tag Archives: Australian startups

Australian research commercialisation

Australian research commercialisation on the up worldwide

Released on 25 January 2019, the 2018 Snapshot measures Australian research commercialisation and industry engagement based on surveys of universities, medical research institutes (such as QIMR Berghofer and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research) and publicly funded research agencies.

Performance data collected covers two areas: investment and commercialisation pathways. Investment can be directed into R&D, commercialisation staff and training, while Australian research commercialisation pathways are quantified in terms of metrics such as numbers of patents and licenses produced and industry-research collaborations.

Australian research commercialisation

The data reveals that a notable increase in average R&D expenditure across the surveyed organisations. The extra investment is seen to be paying off: there were more than 18,000 research contracts and collaborations in 2016, generating income of over $1.9 billion. Survey results from 2004 to 2016 show a positive trend in the average number of start-ups created per organisation, the number of provisional applications to apply for patents and the average number of patents granted.

Organisations are also investing in their human potential, with a 35% increase in researchers and students participating in industry training. The industry uptake of postgraduate students is also on the rise.

The top three organisations for producing consultancies, contracts and collaborations with end users were CSIRO, University of Queensland and Monash University. Meanwhile, the top three organisations in terms of Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) applications, which signal intents to file patents, were CSIRO, The University of Sydney and Monash University. CSIRO came out on top again in terms of Australian research commercialisation staff, ahead of the University of Queensland and the University of Melbourne.

Dr Erin Rayment, Chair of KnowledgeCommercialisation Australasia (KCA), a non-profit which leads best practice for public research organisations committed to industry engagement, says that Australia is continuing its trajectory as a world player in the research commercialisation space. “It’s great to see a continued increase in start-up growth and licensing deals, signalling an active technology transfer environment,” she said.

“These results tell a story of our world class research organisations working alongside industry to translate great ideas into real world outcomes and create more Australian jobs,” remarked Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews.

The NSRC data is available via the departmental website.

open science platform

7 questions with Frankl Open Science founder

Frankl founder, Dr Jon Brock with neuropsychologist and dementia researcher, Professor Greg Savage.

Vast amounts of scientific data are collected every day, but a lack  of data sharing among researchers is resulting in a major research replication crisis. Luckily, startup Frankl Open Science,  the world’s first blockchain-integrated open science platform, has stepped up to address this major opportunity cost.

The platform integrates data sharing into the scientific workflow, allowing for automated, trackable data sharing. Frankl Open Science is the brain-child of cognitive scientist Dr Jon Brock and blockchain guru Peter Godbolt, who set out to create it easier and more rewarding for time-poor scientists to share data. We sat down with Jon to find out about the genesis of Frankl, the startup’s biggest successes and challenges and how open science will benefit the global research community.

1. What’s your career background?

I’ve spent most of my career in academia. I did a PhD in Psychology studying a rare genetic condition called Williams syndrome. I’ve also done research on Down syndrome, dyslexia, and autism.
I worked as a post-doc at Bristol and Oxford Universities in the UK and then spent 10 years at Macquarie University in Sydney where I was an ARC Australian Research Fellow in the Department of Cognitive Science and a Chief Investigator at the ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders.

2. How did you first identify the business gap that led you to create Frankl?

Frankl is really the intersection of two ideas that arose from my experience as a researcher.
Back in the early 2000s, I was working on a couple of projects with kids with Down syndrome and then kids with autism. I noticed that when I gave them tests that involved using a touchscreen, they seemed to perform much better than they did on more traditional pen and paper tests we were using. It was as if the touchscreen was getting at their true abilities. And so when iPads came out and parents started saying that they were “unlocking” their kids’ abilities, it seemed obvious to me that iPad-based cognitive assessments were the way forward – not just for autistic kids but for everyone.
At the same time, I’ve been getting increasingly involved in the world of open science. Open science is really just the idea that science works best when it’s done transparently. But there are a number of barriers to open science – one of which is that it takes time and effort to do well and there’s actually very little incentive for researchers. For example, the time you spend curating your data, making sure that other people can find it, make sense of it, and actually use it, that’s time that you’re not doing other things like writing papers and grant proposals. A couple of years ago I was talking to a friend, Alex Holcombe, who’s a professor at the University of Sydney. He told me how he programmed his experiments so that all the data curation was effectively built into the data collection. Most people don’t have Alex’s technical skills. So our idea was to build all of these data curation capabilities into the apps we’re making so that anyone can be an open scientist and can share their data in a way that’s meaningful and useful.
It’s good for researchers, but it’s also good for the organizations who are funding research, whether that be government, philanthropy, or business. Ultimately, they want the best return on their investment in science. And giving scientists the tools they need to collaborate and share their data more openly is one of the best ways of achieving that return.

3. What have been the biggest challenges in your first year?

For me personally, the biggest challenge has been getting my head around the technology side of things as well as the business and legal aspects. Frankl co-founder, Peter Godbolt, has been working in tech for a long time – in web and app development and then more recently in blockchain and cryptocurrencies. There are huge opportunities in bringing together the worlds of science and tech, but it’s been really important to make sure we’re not talking past each other or proposing solutions that make sense in one world but not in the other.
This is all made even more challenging by the rapid changes in the tech space over the last year. There’s a lot of uncertainty. For example, we’re using blockchain as part of our solution, creating a supply chain from raw data to scientific paper. When we started Frankl in January, there was a huge amount of excitement about blockchain and cryptocurrencies. Since then, that the bubble has burst. In the long run, that’s a good thing. It means that the projects that survive are going to be the ones who provide a genuine use case for the technology and who actually build products that people want.

4. What’s been the best part and your biggest successes?

The most exciting part for me has been really getting to know some of the tech and then thinking about how that can be applied to solve problems in science. One of the things we’ve been saying all along is that a lot of the solutions already exist. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. I really believe that.
Probably our biggest success so far was getting an Open Research Fund grant from the Wellcome Trust. The grant was for a simple memory test designed by our collaborator, neuropsychologist Professor Greg Savage, for use with patients with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. But it incorporates lots of features that make it easy for people to store their data securely and share with the right people, both in a research context and as a clinical tool. There were 96 applications and I think just 8 awards, so it was really fierce competition. It’s allowing us to move quickly now on building the software. But it’s also really validating for us to have an organisation like Wellcome say that they believe in what we’re doing.

5. What is your advice for people working in research and looking to move into a startup?

If you’ve got a good idea then it’s definitely worth thinking about a startup. Academics are often quite dismissive of commercialisation – we think of science as this noble pursuit of knowledge and the idea of making money is somehow dirty or a distraction. But sometimes, turning an idea into a business is actually the best way to move things forward and translate an idea or finding into something that actually makes a difference to people’s lives. It might also be more sustainable in the long run. The problem with relying on research grants is that eventually they run out and all your hard work can go to waste if there’s no continuing support. So having a sustainable business model can be a good way of ensuring that you have the most immediate but also the longest lasting impact.

6. How can open science benefit the science research community as a whole?

One way that open science benefits the research community is by giving greater trust in research findings. Science works because you don’t have to trust scientists – you trust the evidence, the data – and because you know how the data were collected and analysed. So the more open it is, the less you have to take on trust. There’s a lot of concern at present about the trustworthiness of scientific findings. When people try and replicate other people’s studies, they often get quite different results. Conducting research more openly is one way of addressing those concerns.
But there’s more to open science than that. Isaac Newton famously talked about “standing on the shoulders of giants”. Science isn’t something that can be done in isolation. We gain new knowledge more quickly if we can build on other people’s work – their ideas, their methods, their data. So open science means more rapid discoveries as well as more reliable findings. For example, we’re increasingly seeing major discoveries being made by people who haven’t actually collected the data themselves but have re-analysed existing data that other researchers have shared openly.
That’s why the organisations that fund research, particularly the big philanthropic organisations like the Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust are really pushing researchers to behave more openly. Open science means that they get the biggest knowledge return on their investment in scientists.

7. What does the next 2 years look like for Frankl?

Our priority right now is to push forward with the development of our prototype application. Once people have something concrete – an app they can download and they can run and see where all the data is going – it becomes easier to imagine how the same concept and the same principles can be applied to other scientific contexts.
It also means that we can easily repurpose the code from that first app to build other apps that test slightly different things. That’s where my academic connections are really useful. We’ve got a queue of researchers with apps that they want building. And so in parallel to the app development, we’re busily building relationships with research organisations whose goals align with our own and who see value in Frankl for their researchers. There are lots of opportunities here for cooperative research partnerships, linkage grants and so on.
We’re also increasingly thinking about the direct clinical applications of what we’re doing. The solutions we’re creating for researchers – user-friendly assessment apps, secure data management and permissioned data sharing – are also directly applicable to clinical contexts. For example, parents of kids with disabilities tell us that one of the real challenges they face is getting bounced from one specialist to another, with very little communication between them. Having an app that facilitates sharing of assessment results between clinicians and parents could be incredibly powerful – and empowering.
In the longer term, we’re thinking about the bigger picture in science. It makes sense for us to focus initially on psychology and cognitive science because that’s where we have expertise and we know there’s a big market for cognitive tests. But the general principles of making open science part of a frictionless scientific workflow is something that translates to lots of different areas of research. So we’re always very happy to speak to people in any area of science, tech, or business who can see broader applications for what we’re doing.
Learn more about Frankl Open Science  on their website, Twitter, Facebook and  Bitcoin Talk Forum.

Highlights from the Spark Festival’s Spin on Spinouts

This week, the Spark Festival’s ‘The Spin on Spin-Outs’ event showcased five spinout founders who have commercialised research from CSIRO’s Data61.

As founders of new technology-based spin-outs, they discussed what it took to transition from researchers to entrepreneurs, and offered advice on accessing the funding and support required to commercialise research.

We’ve brought you the top tips on launching a successful spinout, from both spinout founders and investors at the event.

 

Meet the spinout founders;
  • Dr Silvia Pfeiffer is CEO and cofounder of Coviu, a platform that provides universal access to healthcare.
  • Dr Stefan Hrabar is CEO and cofounder of Emesent, a company formed to commercialise cutting edge drone technology developed by CSIRO’s Data61 Robotics Group, providing access to critical data in challenging underground environments.
  • Dr Anna Liu is Head of Public Sector Partnerships at Amazon Web Services. She founded and was CEO of Yuruware, the world’s first Disaster Recovery platform designed to simplify the migration, replication and disaster recovery process.
  • Pete Field is founder of Ayvri, a company using 3D virtual world technology to enable participants in major sporting and adventure events like RedBull’s Wings For Life to preview their adventure and to visualise their race in 3D through live tracking.
  • Matt Barbuto founded Ynomia, a platform that digitises realworld construction projects enabling builders to have visibility over what is moving in and out of the construction site.

 

Advice from the Founders: How to make the leap into a spinout.

 

  • Join accelerator programs;

CSIRO’s On Accelerator, and Data 61’s many platforms exist to prepare researchers and their research projects for commercialisation. The programs offer mentors, advisors, and the opportunity to gain entrepreneurial skills. Accelerators “focus you on on your business model,” says Pfeiffer, and “help sort out who are the people that are ready and willing to go out and start a business.”

Accelerators can also be the place to make the right connections. “We got to know some amazing investors and advisors through the ON program,” says Hrabar. “They had seen the journey we’d gone through and understood where we had come from and lined up well from the investment point of view.”

 

  • Choose the right people to build business relationships.

Get support from others. “You don’t need to be an expert in everything,” says Barbuto. “Knowing your strengths and knowing where you need other people to come in and help – that’s your job as a CEO,” Field agrees.

Seek mentorship from your Board members, and choose investors for what they can bring to benefit you, says Liu. “I wasn’t interested in taking just money because I was looking for business growth advice.”  

 

  • Get comfortable giving a sales pitch.

Speaking sales can be quite a shift in mindset for a researcher. Be prepared to transition from ‘precise’ researcher, to ‘predictive’ sales person.

“Researchers are taught to be very thorough in everything you do. Creating a start-up is more about predicting the future and there is no hard data. You are making things up,” says Pfeiffer. Be assured that investors understand that it is always a guess when you are talking about markets. You need to be comfortable selling your best guess.

 

Advice from the Investors: How to impress with your pitch.

In the second half of the event, the panel was joined by investment managers Martin Duursma from Main Sequence Ventures, and Natasha Rawlings from Uniseed.

Here are their best tips for researchers wanting to impress an investor;

 

  • Know your customers;

Investors want to see that you understand your customer, says Duursma. “Please go out and network in the industry, and ask about their big problems. Go to trade shows, walk the floor, cold call, join associations. Figure out if you’re solving a problem the customer actually has, and if they want your solution.”

 

 

  • Speak about your business model;

Talk to investors about the business side of your start-up, not just the tech. “What we really like hearing about is money,” says Rawlings. “Who is your customer? What is your product? How much are you selling it for? What is the margin on that? How many of these things do you think you can sell?” These are the ‘boxes to tick’ to secure a second meeting with an investor.

 

 

  • Follow up and follow through;

Investors are looking for signals about you, so be sure to follow through on any promises you make. “If the researcher says ‘yes I’ll get this thing to you by the end of the week, if that thing doesn’t happen, that’s a bad signal,” said Duursma.

“You’ve got to be easy to work with,” said Rawlings. “If you are not easy to work with we probably can’t invest in you no matter how good your tech is.”    

– Carmen Spears

 

This event was hosted by Inspiring Australia as part of the 2018 Spark Festival.

To see more events from the Spark Festival program click here

To learn more about Inspiring Australia’s activities and achievements click here.

Flurosat agtech

Agtech startup FluroSat infuses data for food security

Agtech startup FluroSat, headed by aeronautical engineer Anastasia Volkova, had its origins through the University of Sydney’s Inventing the Future entrepreneurial program. Since its inception two years ago, it has already captured the attention of investors and is now about to launch its new online platform to the Australian market.

Volkova sums up one of the problems the agricultural industry is currently facing in a nutshell: “Farms are large and farmers are busy. The opportunity for different applications of remote sensing technology [to be converted] into crop stress indicators has found resonance in the farming and agricultural community. We’re turning this data into insights.”

Flurosat uses remote sensing images (captured by multi-/ and hyperspectral cameras on board satellites, airplanes and drones) to capture early indicators of crop stress. The team have developed a subscription-based platform (FluroSense™) to infuse this data into a smart solution for precision farming. Agronomists can use the platform to spot crop stress indicators and verify the exact locations at risk. They can then consult with farmers on how to best target the areas which need attention.

Unlimited satellite data is available on the platform, additional aircraft-obtained data can be ordered and users can even upload their own drone data. Volkova explains the critical requirements for data connectivity, from locational identification of the crop stressors through to quantification, analysis and interpretation. “We’re making the remote sensing work for precision agriculture and [extracting] insights from crop stress indicators that crop stress models help us look for. It’s a two-step approach that very few other [agtech] companies are using.”

The agtech startup has three main pillars: agriculture, remote sensing and data science/machine learning. The diverse and international team bring together their expertise in agtech, aerospace, software development and data analytics and are based at FluroSat’s head offices in Sydney and Kiev. “Flurosat was born out of a desire to make an impact”, says Volkova. She explains that she examined the unique value proposition of her skills and how she could apply them to a global problem. “It’s important to have a purpose to wake up every morning to.”

Volkova speaks proudly about the startup and her colleagues: “It’s harnessing people’s superpowers and skills for a great purpose.” She says that one of their biggest successes so far has been convincing clients of the usefulness of the data and that it’s possible to get the full benefits to visit the field in person. “We’ve proven that you don’t need a person on the ground to provide customer service.”

FluroSat is gearing up to conduct the company’s third season of monitoring of primarily cotton crop in Australia this summer and expand its reach globally, particularly to the North and South American markets. “We’re looking at driving the value of the insights on the large scale.”

– Larissa Fedunik

Noushin

From great idea to start-up

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

research collaboration

Research collaboration in the startup scene

Australia produces great research. But despite this, we somehow still manage to rank last in the OECD for collaboration between research and business.

It’s a disconnect that is well documented: a 2014 Department of Education report noted a low proportion of researchers working in business and academic industry research publications. A report by the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering revealed a distinct lack of university research collaboration with industry and other end users. And the recently released Innovation and Science Australia report declared Australian industry unable to commercialise research.

Though the naysayers may abound, all hope is certainly not lost. There are steps that Australian research institutions and the startups that represent the future of business can take to overcome the disconnect and engage in effective research collaboration.

1. Establish a direct link between research institutions and startups

Working in research and industry silos will always present a challenge to collaboration. So, the first step to bridging the research collaboration gap is to create a direct line of access between universities and startups.

The easiest way to reach the largest number of startups is to create direct lines to innovation hubs, such as technology-focused incubators that work with startups and scale-ups that could benefit from accessing the research capabilities that are nurtured within Australian universities. 

This could take the form of a mutually-beneficial partnership, such as an industry secondment program for PhD students. Students would benefit from industry experience, while industry gains access to cutting-edge research capabilities and a potential talent pool for recruitment.

Whatever the partnership might look like in practice, by finding mutually beneficial solutions and cementing them within a concrete program, collaboration will likely be a natural outcome.

2. Understand and account for your differences

In any collaboration, working together requires working around the limitations of the other party.

As an example, the open nature of academic science can at times conflict with industry needs to protect the technologies they use. Academic research often moves more slowly due to its long-term focus, compared to industrial R&D that is driven by commercial deadlines and time-sensitive product development.

Understanding these differences upfront will allow collaborative measures and hedges to be set in place when forming a research collaboration to ensure neither party’s prerogatives are being infringed upon.

3. Identify and work towards common ground in your research collaboration

Once links have been created and differences understood and catered for, common ground can be identified, interests aligned and goals established.

Research could listen to the pain points of industry and formulate research that addresses the pain points, rather than trying to pitch a predefined project.

Conversely, industry might consider involving university research throughout the lifecycle of a project, rather than in an ad hoc fashion, to create a long-term culture of interdisciplinary collaboration and give greater meaning to research projects.

Regular interaction in the form of formal and informal meetings will ensure the research collaboration stays on track to meeting the objectives of both parties – particularly as they are likely to evolve.

By implementing all the above, our startups may have some chance of tapping into the brains of our prized research institutions to achieve sustainable and accelerated growth in the future.

Petra Andrén

CEO of Cicada Innovations

Read next: Professor Sharon Bell, board member of Ninti One, examines different approaches to collaboration and debunks the myth of individual creative genius.

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