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spin-off start-ups

Top 25 insights: spin-off start-ups

Seven leaders of the Top 25 Science Meets Business R&D spin-off companies answer the question: What insights can you share with other R&D spin-off start-ups in Australia?


CATAPULT GROUP INTERNATIONAL LTD

Fill a market need and lead that market; don’t fill a product gap and complicate your market with a technology push.

It doesn’t matter how technical your product or service is, it needs to be easily explained and have a story that resonates for it to be successful in any market, let alone overseas markets.

Shaun_intext

– Shaun Holthouse, Chief Executive Officer


SMARTCAP TECHNOLOGIES PTY LTD

A few words of wisdom.

1. Make sure there is a viable, readily accessible market that is sufficiently large to support a spin-off company.

2. The actual invention is only the trigger to start a company – you are establishing a company that will need to innovate on an ongoing basis if it wants to be successful. Make sure that innovation capability and desire exists and thrives in the spin-off.

3. Identify competent board and management capability to direct the business and generate revenue for the company. Most often the management capability is not the same people who carried out the research, but sometimes it can be. Without the right people running the show, the spin-off will not be successful. 

4. Make sure you have sufficient funding available to get the company through to a viable revenue stream, and ideally flexible funding arrangements. Unexpected things will happen and you need capability to accommodate those changes.

– Kevin Greenwood, Chief Operating Officer


PHARMAXIS LTD

“Most start-ups are focused on development plans that contain binary events and marginal financing. This makes them vulnerable to unforeseen delays and additional development steps that require additional funding.

I believe that we should be looking to generate portfolios of innovation under experienced management teams that give our projects the best chance of success – and adequate funding to reach proof of concept in whatever market we are targeting – but at the same time help to spread risk.

venture capital

– Gary J Phillips, Chief Executive Officer


ACRUX DDS PTY LTD

“Ensuring a strong board, CEO, and a quality management team will be critical to success. The availability of funds for programs is an often-discussed barrier to rapid progress. Underfunded companies and poorly thought-out product concepts or technologies are more likely to fail early.

Michael Kotsanis_intext

– Michael Kotsanis, Chief Executive Officer


SPINIFEX PHARAMCEUTICALS PTY LTD

“1. For biotechnology R&D spin-off start-ups in Australia, major hurdles are the dearth of seed capital as well as access to large follow-on venture funds that are needed to build successful biotechnology companies.

2. There is a mismatch between the 10-year life span of a venture capital fund in Australia and the 15+ years needed to translate research findings into a novel drug or biologic product for improving human health. 

3. Hence, these systemic issues are major impediments to building successful biotechnology companies in Australia and these issues need to be addressed.”

– Professor Maree Smith, Executive Director of the Centre for Integrated Preclinical Drug Development and Head of the Pain Research Group at The University of Queensland


ADMEDUS

Start-up companies may consider moving overseas, especially if the Government stops or reduces the R&D tax rebates and doesn’t establish some innovation stimulus packages.

venture capital

– Dr Julian Chick, Chief Operating Officer


REDFLOW

Nothing ever goes 100% smoothly – perseverance is a prerequisite.

Stuart Smith_intext

– Stuart Smith, Chief Executive Officer

Click here to see the full list of Top 25 Science Meets Business R&D spin-off companies, or for further insights from the Top 25 leaders, read their interviews on attracting venture capital, learning from overseas marketsgetting past the valley of death and overcoming major start-up challenges.

valley of death

Top 25 insights: valley of death

There are two potential ‘valleys of death’ for R&D spin-off companies. One is in translating their research concepts into prototype products. The other is in maturing from prototype to full commercialisation.

Here, leaders of the Top 25 Science Meets Business R&D spin-off companies answer the question: Which valley of death was most difficult for your company, and what was key to getting over the hurdle?


ADMEDUS

Taking the prototype through to full commercialisation was probably more difficult for us due to the complexities involved.

This included high-tech scale-up manufacturing, which we do at our bio-manufacturing facility in Malaga. Today, we have the ability to expand production as necessary, as well as refine and develop our processes in-house to accommodate new products and product improvements.

There was also a focus on generating sales once CardioCel was commercialised. Just because a product is approved doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be used straight away by the intended customers.

We’ve focused on educating the market about the benefits of CardioCel, such as its biocompatibility and lack of calcification (hardening) at the site of surgery. We’ve also built a strong global sales and marketing team who work closely with our customers to understand their needs.

As a result, we’ve seen continued quarter-on-quarter growth in CardioCel sales, and the product is now used in over 135 heart centres globally.

venture capital

– Dr Julian Chick, Chief Operating Officer


PHARMAXIS LTD

“For pharmaceuticals the so called ‘second valley of death’ is by far the most significant.

Lack of funding often prevents companies from attempting to cross this valley and causes them to license their technology at an earlier stage and to realise rewards as the licensor takes their innovation to market.

For a small company with limited resources, the key to success here is to understand the commercialisation risks, link the higher-risk projects with partners and try to make that step themselves for markets with lower entry costs and higher clinical need.

If done well, they should end up with a portfolio approach with the risks mitigated but still significant opportunity for value appreciation.”

venture capital

– Gary J Phillips, Chief Executive Officer


SMARTCAP TECHNOLOGIES PTY LTD

SmartCap Technologies had substantial industry support to develop the prototype products, however even with this it was a very challenging process to deliver working prototypes. 

SmartCap was exceedingly fortunate in that CRCMining provided substantially more financial support for SmartCap than originally envisaged, enabling it to finally deploy the prototype products. Those prototypes were sufficiently effective to generate commercial interest from some large mining companies.

So despite having robust plans in place, it always helps to have access to further funding, via investors or other stakeholders with a high level of commitment as well as deep pockets, to overcome unforeseen eventualities.”

– Kevin Greenwood, Chief Operating Officer


CATAPULT GROUP INTERNATIONAL LTD

“The biggest hurdle may be the combination of the two – translating research concepts (i.e. technical information associated with the technology) following commercialisation into an immature market.

Catapult‘s technology is not a consumer product and therefore is very high touch in terms of its service and client support. Due to the perceived complexity of the information obtained from the technology, part of the trick is to simplify the underlying research concepts to new markets that need a low touch product.”

Shaun_intext

– Shaun Holthouse, Chief Executive Officer


iCETANA PTY LTD

“I would argue that you should have a prototype – before any spin-off. That way you can at least prove technical viability of your concept. Ideally you would also have done some level of customer validation.

The next step of full commercialisation is definitely the hardest.

In our case it was a matter of finding early customers that were willing to spend time assessing the product and its benefits – even though it was too early to commit to a purchase and full roll-out. This phase was key to understanding the market and adjusting our path.”

– Gary Pennefather, Chief Executive Officer


ACRUX DDS PTY LTD

“The first phase is the most difficult – a poor prototype will show its deficiencies later in development. A prototype needs to demonstrate a safe and efficacious profile, and that it will meet the need you have defined in the target market.”

Michael Kotsanis_intext

– Michael Kotsanis, Chief Executive Officer


SPINIFEX PHARAMCEUTICALS PTY LTD

“Translating research concepts into clinical proof-of-concept [was the most difficult] due to the dearth of venture capital available in Australia at that time.”

– Professor Maree Smith, Executive Director of the Centre for Integrated Preclinical Drug Development and Head of the Pain Research Group at The University of Queensland


ENGENEIC LTD

“We are in the middle of our valley of death translating our platform into the clinic and we have not yet overcome it. Data is key, but one needs the funds to produce the results! So, we are seeking investors wherever we can find them and buddying up to big pharmaceuticals who have the muscle to progress our technology.”

HimanshuandJennifer_intext

– Dr Jennifer Macdiarmid, pictured above with Dr. Himanshu Brahmbhatt, joint Chief Executive Officers and Directors 


REDFLOW LIMITED

“Both were as difficult – but they had different hurdles. Key for both was having the right staff and people to address each hurdle.”

Stuart Smith_intext

– Stuart Smith, Chief Executive Officer


Click here to see the full list of Top 25 Science Meets Business R&D spin-off companies.

Top 25 leaders: Darren Kelly

Top 25 leaders: Darren Kelly

R&D company Fibrotech Therapeutics has the goal of treating fibrosis, which results from persistent tissue damage and leads to organ failure in more than 45% of diseases. Fibrotech develops orally active anti-fibrotic inhibitors designed to treat underlying pathological fibrosis in kidney and heart failure.

Kelly co-founded Fibrotech with Associate Professor Spencer Williams from the Bio21 Institute, and Dr Henry Krum and Professor Richard Gilbert from the University of Melbourne.

Their goal was to take compounds through early safety studies in animals and humans, before selling on to a pharmaceutical company. They designed compounds off the structure of tranilast, an anti-fibrotic compound, reducing its toxicity and increasing its potential.

Fibrotech was sold to global specialty biopharmaceutical company Shire in 2014 for an upfront US$75 million and further milestone payments of US$482.5 million.

In May 2015, Kelly launched OccuRx to develop drugs to treat ophthalmic disorders associated with retinal fibrosis and inflammation, and aims to take them to Phase 2 clinical trials. “We licensed the technology to administer anti-fibrotics to people with eye disease and fibrosis.”

Fibrotech Therapeutics tops the Top 25 Science Meets Business list of Australia’s most successful R&D companies.

“Key drivers to any biotechnology startup are passion and tenacity, and the desire to make a difference,” says Kelly.

Click here to read the full list of Top 25 Science meets Business R&D spin-off companies, or click here for Top 25 insights into attracting venture capital.

Top 25 insights: venture capital

Top 25 insights: venture capital

All research and development (R&D) spin-offs have significant risk attached to their commercialisation, but some cannot overcome the negative perception of that risk to attract the necessary capital.

Here, nine of the Top 25 Science meets Business R&D spin-off companies explain what it was about their product or business strategy that inspired confidence in their investors that theirs would be a viable business venture. 


ACRUX DDS PTY LTD

“An excellent intellectual property position is a key starting point. This is in addition to having a proven concept or great technology. A quality team to back up project execution is paramount. Understanding and being able to explain where your commercialised projects will fit into a market segment in terms of the need they will meet is also important.”

Michael Kotsanis_intext

– Michael Kotsanis, Chief Executive Officer


SMARTCAP TECHNOLOGIES PTY LTD

SmartCap Technologies is a spinoff from CRCMining. CRCMining carries out industry directed research, which ensured that the research into fatigue management technologies was a high priority for the mining industry at the project’s inception.

In SmartCap’s case, the industry support was sufficiently high that Anglo American, one of the world’s largest mining companies, in conjunction with CRCMining, co-funded the development of the prototype commercial SmartCap products.

This ‘incubation’ of the SmartCap technology by a significant end user was extremely important to advancing from research into prototype products. 

The prototype products performed sufficiently well for SmartCap to be selected by two other large mining companies for large supply contracts for fatigue monitoring technology.

So the support of significant end users, along with the commercial contracts the company had in place at that time, provided potential investors with the confidence to invest in SmartCap Technologies.”

– Kevin Greenwood, Chief Operating Officer


PHARMAXIS LTD

Pharmaxis has been restructured following a regulatory setback for our lead product. Rebuilding investor confidence has been critical to our longer term success. To do this we focused on three things:

1. transparency – explaining the business model and being clear about the risks as well as the opportunity;

2. building in meaningful milestones which marked development steps that significantly reduced risk and provided opportunities to realise value;

3. hitting milestones and delivering realistic objectives.”

venture capital

– Gary J Phillips, Chief Executive Officer


ADMEDUS

“I think there are a number of reasons investors are drawn to our business: Admedus has two technology platforms which diversifies the risk for investors; we have a product on market; and we are generating revenue.

The first of the two platforms is our regenerative tissue platform, where we use our proprietary ADAPT tissue engineering process to turn xenograft tissue into collagen bio-scaffolds for soft tissue repair. The second is our Immunotherapies platform, where we work with renowned scientist Professor Ian Frazer and his team to develop therapeutic vaccines for the treatment and prevention of infectious diseases and cancers.

Our lead regenerative tissue product CardioCel, which is used to repair and reconstruct congenital heart deformities and more complex heart defects, has made the journey from prototype to commercial product and is on the market in the USA, Europe and parts of Asia.

Frazer’s previous success with the human papillomavirus vaccine (HPV) program that lead to the USD$2 billion product, Gardasil, is well-recognised and gives investors further confidence in our immunotherapy work.

As a result, Admedus has a good balance of validated science via approved products and an exciting product pipeline working with successful scientists. This balance, along with our diversified program portfolio, gives investors confidence in our business. “

venture capital

– Dr Julian Chick, Chief Operating Officer


REDFLOW

“1. Marketing Potential

2. Uniqueness of the product

3. Difficult to replicate”

Stuart Smith_intext

– Stuart Smith, Chief Executive Officer


CATAPULT GROUP INTERNATIONAL LTD

Catapult‘s initial funding came from the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS), the birthplace of the project that led to the commercialisation of Catapult, and the Australian government

Because the technology was engineered to take elite athlete monitoring from the laboratory to the field, value was seen in the data immediately as there was no precedent for this type of information. A new product category had been formed and Australian Olympians were now able to train in their performance sweet spot without getting injured because their coaches had objective data to guide their lead up to big events.

So this combination of pioneering a new industry in a popular space (elite sport), with the ability to create immediate value, certainly helped with the initial funding.”

Shaun_intext

– Shaun Holthouse, Chief Executive Officer


SPINIFEX PHARAMCEUTICALS PTY LTD

“Neuropathic pain is a large unmet medical need because the currently available drug treatments either lack efficacy and/or have dose-limiting side-effects.

Due to this, my patent-protected angiotensin II type 2 (AT2) receptor antagonist technology – encompassing a potentially first-in-class novel analgesic for the treatment of often intractable neuropathic pain conditions – attracted initial seed capital investment from the Symbiosis Group, GBS Ventures and Uniseed Pty Ltd. In total $3.25M was raised and in mid-2005 the spin-out company, Spinifex Pharmaceuticals was formed by UniQuest Pty Ltd, the main commercialisation company of The University of Queensland.

The raison d’etre for Spinifex Pharmaceuticals at that time was to develop AT2 receptor antagonists as efficacious, well-tolerated first-in-class novel analgesics for relief of neuropathic pain. 

In 2006, I discovered that AT2 receptor antagonists also alleviated chronic inflammatory pain in a rat model. This was quite unexpected as clinically available drug treatments for neuropathic pain, such as tricyclic antidepressants and newer work-alikes as well as gabapentin and pregabalin, do not alleviate chronic inflammatory pain conditions such as osteoarthritis. Thus the potential for small molecule AT2 receptor antagonists to alleviate chronic inflammatory pain conditions was patent protected by UniQuest Pty Ltd in 2006 and subsequently in-licensed to Spinifex Pharmaceuticals for commercialisation. 

As both neuropathic pain and chronic inflammatory pain are large unmet medical needs, Spinifex Pharmaceuticals was able to raise additional venture capital from the initial investors as well as from Brandon Capital to fund Investigational New Drug (IND)-enabling Good Laboratory Practice (GLP) toxicology and safety pharmacology studies, as well as early phase human clinical trials. “

– Professor Maree Smith, Executive Director of the Centre for Integrated Preclinical Drug Development and Head of the Pain Research Group at The University of Queensland


iCETANA

“A different technique or approach to tackling a large and growing global market opportunity.”

– Gary Pennefather, Chief Executive Officer


ENGENEIC LTD

“Investors understood that the intellectual property would be generated in-house and there was no “stacking” from the beginning.

We were fortunate at the outset to meet two venture capitalists and a number of high net worth individuals who saw the potential upside in our business plan, had already had some success with investing in biotech – e.g. Biota – and did not ask ‘who else is in?’.  

That being said, we had very limited time and money to show proof of concept, and only after that and our first patent, did we convince those investors that we had something viable.”

HimanshuandJennifer_intext

– Dr Jennifer Macdiarmid, pictured above with Dr. Himanshu Brahmbhatt, joint Chief Executive Officers and Directors 


Click here to see the full list of Top 25 Science meets Business R&D spin-off companies.

Connecting graduates with businesses

Connecting graduates with businesses

Gaining industry experience and seeing how their research can have practical applications is important to early career researchers. Universities and industry are now working together to help provide graduates with the opportunity to work on commercial solutions for real-life problems.

Sally Bradford won the 2015 Showcasing Early Career Researchers competition, and is a PhD candidate in clinical psychology at the University of Canberra. She developed an electronic mental health assessment app allowing physicians to diagnose and support their patients’ previously undisclosed issues. Bradford’s research is part of a larger collaborative project with the Young and Well CRC.

Perth-based cancer immunotherapy research group Selvax Pty Ltd has entered a commercial partnership with Curtin University. They signed a two-year contract to develop anti-cancer immunotherapy treatments in November 2015, after CEO Tony Fitzgerald saw value in Curtin Senior Research Fellow Dr Delia Nelson’s ten years of research into immunological agents.

“We want access to innovative research to make practical use of what researchers are discovering,” says Fitzgerald.

These industry partnerships aren’t new. “It’s a well-trodden path in the USA,” says Fitzgerald.

“But it’s not as common in Australia – we’re great at innovating, but not great at commercialising our work.”

Perth-based energy company Bombora Wave Power needed to know what sensors would work underwater with its unique wave energy converter (WEC), so they partnered with Edith Cowan University (ECU) through the university’s Industry and PhD Research Engagement Program, which matches Western Australian PhD candidates with industry. ECU graduate Gary Allwood researched ways of using optical fibre sensors to measure load and stress on the WEC system’s membrane.

“The partnership allowed me to do things that haven’t been done before, like use optical fibres as sensors instead of electrical sensors,” says Allwood, who will work with Bombora Wave Power to test the sensors.

There are other, similar Australian programs. CRCs offer a number of scholarships across 14 different fields of research, giving PhD students a chance to gain industry experience.

Monash University started its Graduate Research Interdisciplinary Programs (GRIPs) in early 2015, allowing PhD students to solve real-world problems through collaborative research.

The Chemicals and Plastics GRIP has 20 industry partners offering training and funding, including Dulux and 3M. One student is treating coffee grounds to create a fertiliser to improve the soil quality of agricultural land.

“This is an exciting and innovative model for postgraduate education that encourages interdisciplinary and industry-engaged practice,” says Monash University’s Vice-Provost for Graduate Education, Professor Zlatko Skrbis.

– Marisa Wikramanayake

Portrait of an engineer-politician

A passionate engineer, Karen Andrews is proof that studying science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) can propel you along an exciting and varied career path.

This path has led to her current role as Assistant Minister for Science and Federal Member for McPherson in Queensland. The engineer in her, however, is omnipresent.

“I’m delighted that my role in politics takes me right into the engineering sphere,” Karen says. “I always enjoyed being an engineer, and quite frankly if I get the opportunity to introduce myself as an engineer or a politician, I will always go for engineer.”

Karen’s interest in engineering started early. “When I was eight years old I remember being absolutely fascinated by the washing machine,” says Karen, recounting a childhood memory, “and how the agitator turned the same amount in a clockwise and anti-clockwise direction every time.”

This curiosity of how things work drove Karen to study engineering at Queensland University of Technology (QUT), where, in 1983, she and a fellow student were the first two female graduates in mechanical engineering from the university.

Karen Andrews
Karen Andrews, Assistant Minister for Science

According to Graduate Careers Australia, with women representing less than 9% of bachelor degree graduates in mechanical engineering in 2014, and the gender imbalance increasing as female participation in STEM wanes, there is still a dearth of women entering STEM.

As a trailblazer for women in engineering, Karen believes barriers to women entering STEM can be overcome.

“Some of the limitations are self-imposed,” Karen believes. “We should be making sure that as girls are going through the education system, they understand that every career choice is open to them. And with careers advisors too, we have to make sure there isn’t an unintentional gender bias in the advice that’s being given to women.”

After graduating, Karen cut her teeth working at power stations and petrochemical sites across Queensland and interstate. This was the mid-1980s, a time of significant industrial volatility in the Australian oil industry.

Karen’s supervisory role often meant receiving delegations from shop stewards; individuals elected by workers to represent them in dealings with management. “Shop stewards were pointing out to me the reasons why they couldn’t do the things I was asking them to do,” says Karen, as she described some of her early experiences in this demanding environment. “This encouraged me to go off and study industrial relations (IR). I was attracted to IR to see how I could make things better at the work place.”

As a natural communicator, Karen pursued her interests in IR joining the Chamber of Manufacturers as an industrial advocate in the Metals, Engineering and Construction industry.

“If you’re going to communicate, first and foremost you have to be a good listener,” explains Karen. “You have to listen to what people are saying to you in the first place before you can respond and work through a solution.”

With Karen’s communication skills honed in IR, and refined while running her own Human Resources and IR consultancy, Karen decided to pursue a long-held interest in politics. And with characteristic drive and determination she was elected for the seat of McPherson, southern Gold Coast in 2009.

“The adversarial parts of IR are similar to the adversarial parts of politics, says Karen. “In IR you are working closely with employers and employees trying to achieve an outcome that’s in the best interests of that business. The same thing applies in politics, but on a larger scale because you’re looking at what is in the best interests of Australia.”

Karen’s engineering background and career path afford her a unique perspective on the potential future for STEM in Australia.

“I think there will be exciting new careers in analysing big data,” says Karen. “So we’ll need people who are going to be able to analyse that data and turn it into usable information. So I think there will be plenty of opportunities for data analysts and people with higher maths skills.”

“There will also be lots of opportunities in the coming years in astronomy, and particularly is marine sciences where we are already world-leaders,” says Karen.

– Carl Williams

New biosecurity centre to stop fruit flies

Upgraded bio-security measures to combat fruit fly will be introduced in Australia, bringing added confidence to international trade markets.

South Australia is the only mainland state in Australia that is free from fruit flies – a critical component of the horticultural industries’ successful and expanding international export market.

A new national Sterile Insect Technology facility in Port Augusta, located in the north of South Australia, will produce billions of sterile male fruit flies – at the rate of 50 million a week – to help prevent the threat of fruit fly invading the state.

The new measures will help secure producers’ access to important citrus and almond export markets including the United States, New Zealand and Japan, worth more than $800 million this year.

The Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) introduces sterile flies into the environment that then mate with the wild population, ensuring offspring are not produced.

Macquarie University Associate Professor Phil Taylor says the fly, know as Qfly because they come from Queensland, presents the most difficult and costly biosecurity challenge to market access for most Australian fruit producers.

“Fruit flies, especially the Queensland fruity fly, present a truly monumental challenge to horticultural production in Australia,” he says.

“For generations, Australia has relied on synthetic insecticides to protect crops, but these are now banned for many uses. Environmentally benign alternatives are needed urgently – this is our goal.

The impetus behind this initiative is to secure and improve trade access both internationally and nationally for South Australia.

It will increase the confidence of overseas buyers in the Australian product and make Australia a more reliable supplier. Uncertainty or variation of quality of produce would obviously be a concern for our trading partners.”

South Australia’s Agriculture Minister Leon Bignell says the $3.8 million centre would produce up to 50 million sterile male Qflies each week.

“The State Government has invested $3 million and Horticulture Innovation Australia Ltd (HIA) has contributed $800,000 in this project and construction is expected to take 10 months,” Bignell says.

“While fruit fly is a major problem with horticultural crops in Australia’s other mainland states, South Australia remains fruit fly free, but we are still at risk of outbreak.”

“Producing male-only sterile Qflies has never been done before on this scale and this facility will have an enormous impact on the way in which we deal with outbreaks.”

Fruit fly management protects the commercial production of fruit and vegetables, including wine grapes and almonds, with an estimated farm-gate value of $851 million.

South Australia is also the only mainland state which has a moratorium on growing GM food crops and is one of the few places in the world free of the vine-destroying pest phylloxera.

“Because of these attributes, South Australian products stand out in the competitive global market, which is increasingly seeking clean and safe food and wine,” Bignell says.

The research partner consortium, SITplus, intends to invest about $50 million during the next five years to support the national fruit fly management program.

The consortium is a research group with experts from Macquarie University, Primary Industries and Regions SA’s Biosecurity SA and South Australian Research and Development Institute divisions, HIA, the CSIRO Health and Biosecurity Flagship, Plant & Food Research Australia, and the NSW Department of Primary Industries.

– John Merriman

This article was first published by The Lead South Australia on 2 September 2015. Read the original article here.

Making mineral exploration easy

LANDTEM, an Australian invention that creates a 3D map of underground ore bodies has uncovered deposits worth A$4 billion in Australia and A$10 billion globally. The technology development was led by CSIRO scientist Dr Cathy Foley and is a great example of the commercial application of scientific research.

In some ways it was a stroke of good fortune that set Dr Cathy Foley and her colleagues on the path to inventing LANDTEM, a device that has revolutionised the way mining companies detect ore underground and uncovered deposits worth billions of dollars around the world.

The invention won Foley, the deputy director and science director of manufacturing in Australia’s national science agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), the prestigious Clunies Ross award for innovation and commercialisation.

Dr Cathy Foley
Dr Cathy Foley

The story of the invention begins in the mid-1980s, when the discovery of high temperature superconductors opened the way for superconductivity to be used in everyday applications instead of only at extremely low temperatures.

The discovery provoked huge excitement around the world among scientists and engineers who set about seeking practical applications, no less so in Australia.


The CSIRO pulled together a team to collaborate on potential applications with industry: with Amalgamated Wireless Australasia (AWA) on electronics and communications; Nucleus Network and now Cochlear on medical devices; and BHP Billiton on improving the quality of steel fabrication by measuring extremely subtle magnetic fields.

BHP Billiton held an internal meeting about the technology and it was there that some of the company’s geologists said that measuring subtle magnetic fields would be very valuable to them, providing the spark of the idea for LANDTEM.

Foley describes the moment as “serendipitous”, but says it’s also a reflection of the way CSIRO interacts with industry.

“Quite often when you’ve got something which is a platform technology that can be used in a lot of different ways, you start off thinking in a very diverse way or very open ended way so you’re not really sure where you’re going. And that’s why one of the things that differentiates the CSIRO from any other research organisations and particularly universities: we talk to industry a lot and get guidance from them,” she says.

“We might come up with the original science but then we engage with industry to say, ‘we’ve got this great idea, we think it could be useful there’. And they’ll say, ‘well, actually no, we think it could be useful over here’.”


LANDTEM consists of a big coil of wire placed on the ground above a potential ore deposit. It pulses a large changing current through the wire to create a magnetic field, and this in turn creates what’s known as an Eddy current in any conducting material nearby, such as an ore body underground.

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Then the current is turned off, but an ore body’s current lingers for a tiny fraction of a second longer and by measuring this, LANDTEM can determine if there is an ore body and where it is. Crucially, it  can discriminate between an actual ore body and the conducting soil that is so prevalent in Australia and that in the past would have led to muddled results.
Foley says the invention has helped mining companies find things they wouldn’t have found otherwise and find deeper ore bodies. It can also tell them whether it is worth the expense of putting a bore hole down to analyse the quality of the ore and where to put it.

Not all ore bodies are conducting, so LANDTEM is mainly used for finding silver, nickel and gold.

It’s one of a series of tools geologists use to find an ore body, and Foley says it has allowed many mining companies to cut out several of the steps needed in mineral exploration.

For instance, in Canada, Xstrata Nickel has bought three LANDTEM systems and is so confident about the technology that once it has located an ore body they don’t do much drilling at all and move straight on to mining instead.

When recognising the work of Foley and her colleague CSIRO engineer Keith Leslie at the Clunies Ross awards, the chair of the awards’ organising committee Professor Mike Hood said: “Their story demonstrates the importance of unwavering dedication in bringing a scientific discovery to market. Over the coming years LANDTEM will continue to play a major role in the worldwide discovery of new mineral deposits.”


Foley studied physics and education at Sydney’s Macquarie University with the intention of becoming a high school science teacher. “But I fell in love with research and I did my PhD in nitride semiconductors and did a smidgen of the early work that led to the white LED,” she says.

Having decided to pursue a career in research, Foley joined CSIRO as a post-doctoral fellow working in magnetics and was asked to join the team working on applications for the new high temperature superconductors.

Along with taking the new technology to industry to see how it could be used, another factor in the successful development and commercialisation of the LANDTEM is CSIRO’s ability to pull together a multidisciplinary team when an opportunity arises, in this case researchers in mineral resources, electrical engineering, devices, materials and cryogenics, and finally at the end, lawyers and business people.

“In order to be a survivor and also to really be profitable and commercially successful, you’ve got to recognise just how the world is changing and that you’ve got to be innovative, not just in your products but also in your business model and how you see yourself getting into the manufacturing world,” she says.

“Australia is at a really interesting point where the current Government has recognised this and I think got a whole lot of things in place.”


Foley says the Federal Government’s recently-announced Industry Growth Centres, which aim to forge better links between industry and Australia’s top researchers, are a promising start.

She sees potential in agile manufacturing, where the manufacturers make small numbers of specialised and customised products and can quickly re-conform to make another product.

“Instead of being a manufacturer who has a big factory, you actually buy time in a factory to do a certain thing, part of it, and then you might even ship it to somewhere else to get another bit done where there’s a specialist and so you end up with products which are done more in smaller batches rather than mass market because they’re more customised,” she says. “These days successful societies have to keep reinventing themselves and recognising where you can you use intellectual approaches rather than just brute labour.”

As a senior CSIRO executive, Foley is less involved in hands-on research than she used to be, but still finds it an exciting environment.

“It’s pretty exciting to think that the work you do actually has an enormous impact and can make a difference. And I think if you ask people I work with, they all say that’s what they love about working at CSIRO. We  do things that actually change the world and I think that’s a nice thing to do,” she says.

– Christopher Niesche

This article was first published by Australia Unlimited on 20 August 2015. Read the original article here.

Australia could lead in cybersecurity research

This article is part of The Conversation’s series on the Science and Research Priorities recently announced by the Federal Government. You can read the introduction to the series by Australia’s Chief Scientist, Ian Chubb, here.


Alex Zelinsky

Chief Defence Scientist, Defence Science and Technology

The national science and research priorities have been developed with the goal of maximising the national benefit from research expenditure, while strengthening our capacity to excel in science and technology.

Cybersecurity has been identified as a research priority due to Australia’s increasing dependence on cyberspace for national well-being and security. Cyberspace underpins both commercial and government business; it is globally accessible, has no national boundaries and is vulnerable to malicious exploitation by individuals, organised groups and state actors.

Cybersecurity requires application of research to anticipate vulnerabilities, strengthen cyber systems to ward off attacks, and enhance national capability to respond to, recover from, and continue to operate in the face of a cyber-attack.

Cyberspace is a complex, rapidly changing environment that is progressed and shaped by technology and by how the global community adopts, adapts and uses this technology. Success in cyberspace will depend upon our ability to “stay ahead of the curve”.

Research will support the development of new capability to strengthen the information and communications systems in our utilities, business and government agencies against attack or damage. Investment will deliver cybersecurity enhancements, infrastructure for prototype assessment and a technologically skilled workforce.

Accordingly, priority should be given to research that will lead to:

  1. Highly secure and resilient communications and data acquisition, storage, retention and analysis for government, defence, business, transport systems, emergency and health services
  2. Secure, trustworthy and fault-tolerant technologies for software applications, mobile devices, cloud computing and critical infrastructure
  3. New technologies for detection and monitoring of vulnerabilities and intrusions in cyber infrastructure, and for managing recovery from failure. Alex Zelinsky is Chief Defence Scientist at Defence Science and Technology Organisation.
Cybersecurity is becoming an increasingly important area for research in Australia.
Cybersecurity is becoming an increasingly important area for research in Australia.

Andrew Goldsmith
Director of the Centre for Crime Policy and Research, Flinders University

Sensible science and research on cybersecurity must be premised upon informed, rather than speculative, “what if”, analysis. Researchers should not be beholden to institutional self-interest from whichever sector: government; business; universities; or security/defence agencies.

We need to be clear about what the cybersecurity threat landscape looks like. It is a variable terrain. Terms such as “cyber-terrorism” tend to get used loosely and given meanings as diverse as the Stuxnet attack and the use of the internet by disenchanted converts to learn how to build a pipe bomb.

We need to ask and answer the question: who has the interest and the capability to attack us and why?

References to “warfare” can be misleading. A lot of what we face is not “war” but espionage, crime and political protest. More than two decades into the lifecycle of the internet, we have not yet had an electronic Pearl Harbour event.

Cybersecurity depends upon human and social factors, not just technical defences. We need to know our “enemies” as well as ourselves better, in addition to addressing technical vulnerabilities.

We should be sceptical about magic bullet solutions of any kind. Good defences and secure environments depend upon cooperation across units, a degree of decentralisation, and built-in redundancy.

Andrew Goldsmith is Strategic Professor of Criminology at Flinders University.


Jodi Steel
Director, Security Business Team at NICTA

Cybersecurity is an essential underpinning to success in our modern economies.

It’s a complex area and there are no magic bullet solutions: success requires a range of approaches. The national research priorities for cybersecurity highlight key areas of need and opportunity.

The technologies we depend on in cyberspace are often not worthy of our trust. Securing them appropriately is complex and often creates friction for users and processes. Creation of secure, trustworthy and fault-tolerant technologies – security by design – can remove or reduce security friction, improving overall security posture.

Australia has some key capabilities in this area, including cross-disciplinary efforts.

The ability to detect and monitor vulnerabilities and intrusions and to recover from failure is critical, yet industry reports indicate that the average time to detect malicious or criminal attack is around six months. New approaches are needed, including improved technological approaches as well as collaboration and information sharing.

Success in translating research outcomes to application – for local needs and for export – will be greater if we are also able to create an ecosystem of collaboration and information sharing, especially in the fast-moving cybersecurity landscape.

Jodi Steel is Director, Security Business Team at NICTA.


Vijay Varadharajan
Director, Advanced Cyber Security Research Centre at Macquarie University

Cyberspace is transforming the way we live and do business. Securing cyberspace from attacks has become a critical need in the 21st century to enable people, enterprises and governments to interact and conduct their business. Cybersecurity is a key enabling technology affecting every part of the information-based society and economy.

The key technological challenges in cybersecurity arise from increased security attacks and threat velocity, securing large scale distributed systems, especially “systems of systems”, large scale secure and trusted data driven decision making, secure ubiquitous computing and pervasive networking and global participation.

In particular, numerous challenges and opportunities exist in the emerging areas of cloud computing, Internet of Things and Big Data. New services and technologies of the future are emerging and likely to emerge in the future in the intersection of these areas. Security, privacy and trust are critical for these new technologies and services.

For Australia to be a leader, it is in these strategic areas of cybersecurity that it needs to invest in research and development leading to new secure, trusted and dependable technologies and services as well as building capacity and skills and thought leadership in cybersecurity of the future.

Vijay Varadharajan is Director: Advanced Cyber Security Research Centre at Macquarie University.

Cybercrime is a growing problem, and it'll take concerted efforts to prevent it escalating further. Brian Klug/Flickr, CC-BY NC
Cybercrime is a growing problem, and it’ll take concerted efforts to prevent it escalating further. Brian Klug/Flickr, CC-BY NC

Craig Valli
Director of Security Research Institute at Edith Cowan University

ICT is in every supply chain or critical infrastructure we now run for our existence on the planet. The removal or sustained disruption of ICT as a result of lax cybersecurity is something we can no longer overlook or ignore.

The edge between cyberspace and our physical world is blurring with destructive attacks on physical infrastructure already occurring. The notion of the nation state, and its powers and its abilities to cope with these disruptions, are also significantly being challenged.

The ransacking of countries’ intellectual property by cyber-enabled actors is continuing unabated, robbing us of our collective futures. These are some of the strong indicators that currently we are getting it largely wrong in addressing cybersecurity issues. We cannot persist in developing linear solutions to network/neural security issues presented to us by cyberspace. We need change.

The asymmetry of cyberspace allows a relatively small nation state to have significant advantage in cybersecurity, Israel being one strong example. Australia could be the next nation, but not without significant, serious, long-term, collaborative investments by government, industry, academy and community in growing the necessary human capital. This initiative is hopefully the epoch of that journey.

Craig Valli is Director of Security Research Institute at Edith Cowan University.


Liz Sonenberg
Professor of Computing and Information Systems, and Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research Collaboration and Infrastructure) at University of Melbourne

There are more than two million actively trading businesses in Australia and more than 95% have fewer than 20 employees. Such businesses surely have no need for full-time cybersecurity workers, but all must have someone responsible to make decisions about which IT and security products and services to acquire.

At least historically, new technologies have been developed and deployed without sufficient attention to the security implications. So bad actors have found ways to exploit the resulting vulnerabilities.

More research into software design and development from a security perspective, and research into better tools for security alerts and detection is essential. But such techniques will never be perfect. Research is also needed into ways of better supporting human cyberanalysts – those who work with massive data flows to identify anomalies and intrusions.

New techniques are needed to enable the separation of relevant from irrelevant data about seemingly unconnected events, and to integrate perspectives from multiple experts. Improving technological assistance for humans requires a deep understanding of human cognition in the complex, mutable and ephemeral environment of cyberspace.

The cybersecurity research agenda is thus only partly a technical matter: disciplines such as decision sciences, organisational behaviour and international law all must play a part.

Liz Sonenberg is Professor, Computing and Information Systems, and Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research Collaboration and Infrastructure) at University of Melbourne.


Sven Rogge
Professor of Physics and Program Manager at the Centre for Quantum Computation & Communication Technology at UNSW

Cybersecurity is essential for our future in a society that needs to safeguard information as much as possible for secure banking, safe transportation, and protected power grids.

Quantum information technology will transform data communication and processing. Here, quantum physics is exploited for new technologies to protect, transmit and process information. Classical cryptography relies on mathematically hard problems such as factoring which are so difficult to solve that classical computers can take decades. Quantum information technology allows for an alternative approach to this problem that will lead to a solution on a meaningful timescale, such as minutes in contrast to years. Quantum information technology allows for secure encoding and decoding governed by fundamental physics which is inherently unbreakable, not just hard to break.

Internationally, quantum information is taking off rapidly underlined by large government initiatives. At the same time there are commercial investments from companies such as Google, IBM, Microsoft and Lockheed Martin.

Due to long term strategic investments in leading academic groups Australia remains at the forefront globally and enjoys a national competitive advantage in quantum computing and cybersecurity. We should utilise the fact that Australia is a world leader and global player in quantum information science to provide many new high technology industries for its future.

Sven Rogge is Professor of Physics at UNSW Australia.

This article was originally published on The Conversation and shared by Edith Cowan University on 10 July 2015. Read the original article here.


Read more in The Conversation Science and Research Priorities series.

The future of manufacturing in Australia is smart, agile and green

On the road: research can improve transport across Australia

Research priority: make Australia’s health system efficient, equitable and integratedThe Conversation

Growth Centre gets tick of approval

The Minister for Industry and Science, Ian Macfarlane, has approved the Food and Agribusiness Growth Centre which is part of the $225 million Industry Growth Centre Initiative. The Growth Centre headquarters will be located at the CSIRO’s Food Innovation Centre in Werribee, Victoria.

The four main areas the Growth Centre will be focusing on will be reducing regulatory burden, commercialising new products and services, engaging with global markets and supply chains, and improving workforce skills. Food Innovation Australia Ltd (FIAL) will receive $15.4 million from the Australian Government for the first four years of its operation as a Growth Centre, and look to increase this investment from industry and other sources.

The new Growth Centre board met for the first time on 29 June 2015, and various strategic issues relating to the food and agribusiness sector were discussed. Details about the forthcoming sectoral strategy that will be used to align the Growth Centre activities will be shared over the coming year.

This information was shared by the CRC Association Newsletter on 29 July 2015. Read the newsletter here.

Driverless car trials in South Australia

A major European carmaker will conduct the first on-road trials of driverless cars in the Southern Hemisphere in South Australia in November.

The testing by Volvo will be held in conjunction with an international conference on driverless cars in Adelaide.

Volvo will test the same vehicle being used in their “Drive Me” project in Sweden.

South Australia legalized the use of driverless cars on its roads earlier this year.

The testing is part of independent road research agency ARRB’s Australian Driverless Vehicle Initiative.

ARRB Managing Director Gerard Walton said that automated vehicles are a short-term reality that Australia needs to be prepared for.

“The South Australian Government has been quick to recognise this,” he said.

“ARRB will establish how driverless technology needs to be manufactured and introduced for uniquely Australian driving behaviour, our climate and road conditions, including what this means for Australia’s national road infrastructure, markings, surfaces and roadside signage,” said Waldon.

Volvo’s testing will be undertaken in conjunction with Flinders University, Carnegie Mellon University, the RAA and Cohda Wireless.

The Premier of South Australia, Jay Weatherill said the technology promises to not only improve safety, reduce congestion and lower emissions, but also to provide a real opportunity for South Australia to become a key player in the emerging driverless vehicle industry.

“This trial presents a fantastic opportunity for South Australia to take a lead nationally and internationally in the development of this new technology and open up new opportunities for our economy,” he said.

The driverless car trials will take place on an expressway south of the capital city of Adelaide on 7–8 November 2015.

Multiple vehicles will conduct manoeuvres such as overtaking, lane changing, emergency braking and the use of on and off ramps.

The International Driverless Cars Conference will be hosted at the Adelaide Convention Centre and Tonsley precinct on 5–6 November 2015.

This article was first published by The Lead on 21 July 2015. Read the original article here.

Australia’s energy future

Australia’s renewable resources include wind, solar, wave and geothermal energy, and there’s significant research happening to improve generation and storage technologies to overcome the inherent disadvantage of intermittent flow.

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has completed 32 projects and is managing more than 200 others, including several large-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) plants and wind farms, which are considered the most advanced technologies in terms of making a short-term impact on our renewable electricity generation.

Australia’s CRC for Renewable Energy (ACRE), which operated 1996–2004, developed a state-of-the-art facility for testing grid-connected renewable energy systems, as well as small-capacity wind turbines for remote generation.

Australian scientists at the CRC for Polymers (CRC-P) have made big strides in the development of flexible, lightweight solar cells, which CEO Dr Ian Dagley describes as the “antithesis” of rigid rooftop solar cells. These lightweight cells offer intriguing possibilities: their flexibility means they can be placed on a variety of surfaces, from walls to windows, and they can operate indoors to help charge electrical devices.

They’re also attractive because they’re considerably cheaper to manufacture than silicon solar cells. Dagley says his CRC-P team has been working on refining the manufacturing technique, which uses low-cost components and reel-to-reel printers. One of the goals is to increase the lifespan of the cells, which is about five years, whereas rigid cells last roughly 30 years.

Meanwhile, the CRC for Low Carbon Living (CRCLCL) is looking at ways to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions by developing smarter, more energy efficient buildings and cities. CEO Dr Deo Prasad says lower carbon buildings can be realised by optimising design to ensure maximum energy efficiency, through integration of next-generation technologies, such as solar PV cladding and heat and electricity capture systems for on-site energy offsets, and by using more sustainable building materials that need less energy to extract, process and manufacture. At the suburb and city scale, Prasad says decentralised renewable energy generation, reliable storage and smart grids, linked with information and communications technology-based intelligence, will lower carbon impacts.

“We recognise there is not going to be a silver bullet solution to carbon reductions,” says Prasad. “The approach needs to be holistic and driven by industry and governments.”

There are challenges associated with increased renewable energy levels, but Australia’s National Electricity Market seems to be handling integration well so far, says Dr Iain MacGill, joint director of the UNSW Centre for Energy and Environmental Markets. Studies by the Australian Energy Market Operator show it’s possible to operate the national grid with 100% renewables. “It won’t be cheap – just a lot cheaper than unchecked climate change,” MacGill says.

Russell Marsh, director of policy for the Clean Energy Council, emphasises the importance of commitment. “Investors need long-term certainty to ensure a rate of return,” says Marsh. “The Federal Government needs to lock in a firm, long-term target.”

MacGill agrees that the right policies can incentivise investment, but adds that it requires leadership and social consensus. “Australia is contradictory on clean energy. We have an early history and remarkable success in renewable energy deployment, and fantastic renewable resources. But we are also among the world’s largest coal and gas exporters,” he says.

“Will we take a leadership role, or do all we can to keep our international coal and gas customers buying from us?”

energy5


Remodelling energy

While coal and gas continue to be our dominant energy sources, the once-burgeoning renewables industry has been hindered by the Federal Government’s recent review of the Renewable Energy Target (RET). The review recommended scrapping the 20% target for renewable electricity generation by 2020, resulting in political deadlock and investor uncertainty across the renewable energy sector.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s Australian head, Kobad Bhavnagri, says the review was especially damaging because it came “very close to making retroactive changes to a policy”.

“Whenever retroactive changes are made to policy it becomes, essentially, Ebola for investors,” he says. “When governments act unpredictably and destroy the value of existing assets, it scares people – for a long time.”

Australia generates more carbon emissions per person than any other OECD country. One-third are generated by the electricity sector, in which coal and natural gas account for roughly 85% of generating capacity. Renewables, mostly from hydropower, account for about 15%.

Reaching the 20% target during the next five years will not be cheap. At the time of the review it was estimated that another $18 billion of investment would be required to reach the target.

But the costs associated with increased generating capacity are yet to be weighed against the costs of potentially catastrophic climate change. Scientists have warned a 2°C increase in overall average temperatures from pre-industrial levels is the limit our planet can withstand before the effects of climate change become irreversible.

In December 2014, following the release by the International Energy Agency (IEA) of its report World Energy Outlook 2015, the agency’s chief economist and director of global energy economics, Dr Fatih Birol, told Bloomberg’s Business Week that global investment in renewable energy needs to quadruple to a yearly average of $1.6 trillion until at least 2040, to stay below that warming threshold.

Some of the world’s biggest economies have taken note. Estimates by the Climate Interactive indicate the US-China emissions deal, if implemented in full, could keep some 580 billion tonnes of CO2 out of the atmosphere between now and 2030 – more than all global fossil fuel emissions from 1990 to 2013.

In 2014 – while China spent US$64 billion on large-scale clean energy projects, increasing its 2013 total by about US$10 billion – the USA spent nearly US$13 billion on utility-scale renewables and continued to expand production of its almost carbon-neutral shale gas reserves (see here for Australia’s progress).

Research by Bloomberg New Energy Finance found Australian investment in large-scale renewable energy in 2014 was US$223 million – the lowest in more than a decade. 2014 saw Australia nose-dive from 11th largest investor in commercial clean energy projects to 39th, behind developing nations such as Honduras and Myanmar.


The 2040 outlook

If Australia is serious about boosting its capacity for renewable energy, 2040 is a good deadline, says Iain MacGill, joint director (engineering) for the Centre for Energy and Environmental Markets at UNSW Australia – by then we’ll need “a major infrastructure transition”.

Russell Marsh is Director of Policy for the Clean Energy Council, the peak body representing Australia’s clean energy sector. “With the right level of support we could see the deployment of renewable energy at least double between 2020–2040,” he says. “But if the target is not extended beyond 2020, it is unlikely that we will see further growth.”

This view is backed by the Australian government’s Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics (BREE). In a November 2014 report looking towards mid-century electricity production, it reported “In the absence of potential new policy initiatives, the relative shares of fossil fuels and renewables in electricity generation are not likely to change significantly”.

In fact, BREE’s projections show renewable generating capacity remaining stable, meeting 20% of Australia’s total demand from 2020–2050. In this scenario, coal-fired power would still account for 65% of electricity by mid-century.

There are concerns that the current policy uncertainty is reaching a tipping point, which could see companies exiting Australia or going into distress.

Policy uncertainty  is taking a toll on  the business end of renewable energy.
Policy uncertainty is taking a toll on the business end of renewable energy.

In July 2014, RenewEconomy reported that Recurrent Energy, a US solar power plant developer being acquired by Canadian Solar, was planning to cease its Australian operations, citing concerns over policy uncertainty. Several other large international renewable energy companies, including Spain’s Acciona and US-based First Solar, have warned of possible exits, should the Renewable Energy Target be amended.

MacGill says exits are inevitable. “Why would an internationally focused renewable energy company stay if there is no prospect for their projects to go forward?

“They can, should and will depart at some point,” he says. “And with their departure, we will lose institutional capacity – such as people, money and industrial knowhow – which will inevitably
slow our ability to deploy clean energy, and increase its costs.”

Marsh agrees the risk to the industry is significant. “Every day, week and month that goes by with a cloud hanging over support for the renewable energy industry are days, weeks and months when our international competitors are racing ahead of us – and reaping billions of dollars in investment in this global growth market.”

Dr Deo Prasad, CEO of the CRC for Low Carbon Living, says that while the effects aren’t as dramatic, policy uncertainty also impacts the research community, especially “end-user driven projects where collaboration is essential”.

“Many a research direction and focus has had to change over the years, for the worse, due to policy uncertainty,” he adds.

Myles Gough

CRC for Low Carbon Living

CRC for Polymers (CRC-P)

Transforming innovation in Australia

When it comes to fostering innovation and the commercialisation of world class research, there is something the United States has that we lack. We ought to learn from the successes of the US in this area, and emulate one program they have pioneered to give our own innovative industries a much needed kickstart.

For dozens of Australian researchers returning to the country after working in the US, the lack of an equivalent to the US’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) scheme here reflects a major hole in our innovation ecosystem.

Charles Wessner, Professor at Georgetown University and Director of the Global Innovation Policy unit, says the SBIR scheme triggered a fundamental shift in attitudes in American universities when it was introduced in 1982.

According to Wessner, before SBIR, the Dean of a faculty would ask young academics how many publications were going to come out of their latest piece of research.

Thirty years on, the Dean is now asking whether the research can be converted into a product or service, and whether they should spin it out of the university to access SBIR funding. It has been a profound change of mindset, says Wessner.


Simple but effective

The SBIR scheme is a fairly simple design that hasn’t changed much since its introduction. US government agencies, which undertake more than US$100 million worth of R&D outside the agency, are required to allocate 2.8% of their R&D budget to these programs. Currently, eleven federal agencies participate in the program.

Each agency takes an active role in calling for R&D – “solicitations” is the term used in the US, and with a completely straight face – for areas of concern to them. For example, the US Department of Agriculture this year is calling for projects in 10 areas. They are unsurprising fields, like “aquaculture” and “biofuels and biobased products”, but with a bit more specificity under them.

Any small business (1–500 employees) can then bid to undertake projects against those solicitations. The US Department of Agriculture issues solicitations once a year, receives about 500 applications for “Phase 1” projects (those up to US$100,000 over up to eight months) and funds about 15–20% of them. If a project is success at Phase 1, they can apply for a Phase II award, which can be up to US$500,000 over two years. Some departments have further, larger Phase III stages, although the USDA doesn’t.

For the Department of Defense (DoD), 2.8% of its extramural R&D spend is a very large amount of money indeed. Moreover, if the Department of Defense is soliciting proposals for new work, it is very likely it’ll become the first customer of that small business if the project is successful.

The DoD already has a stake in the product, and is thinking about how it might work in its own ecosystem. Given the extreme complexity of military procurement procedures, having the DoD already staked in your product is a major advantage to a new company.

Carry on Phase II and then Phase III funding, sometimes in multiple series, are available in much larger amounts from the bigger agencies, and can run to tens of millions of dollars.

Don’t imagine that means all SBIR projects are short-term or lack scientific challenges. The US Navy uses about 1.4 billion tonnes of fuel annually, and the head of its energy program, Captain Jim Goudreau, said climate change transcends politics when you are talking about that much fuel.

He pointed out that the US military is already affected by climate change in many practical ways, like having less available live fire practice days each year in California. And as he said at the TechConnect World audience in Washington last week, the Navy is contracting for materiel to be delivered in 2040, which needs to be effective into the 2070s and 2080s. So it needs to cope with a changing climate.


Pull and push

At the TechConnect meeting in Washington last week, there were literally dozens of US federal groups talking to the science and business community about their innovation needs. Big departments, like defence and energy, are represented by many specialised teams seeking out companies to work for them.

It is “customer pull” in its rawest form. The science community is here in big numbers offering new technologies to the market. When “science push” and “customer pull” mix, then the chances of successful innovation rise to a new level.

At the same time in Philadelphia, the gigantic annual biotechnology conference, BIO, was underway with more than 15,000 participants from across the globe. The two big US science funding agencies – the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) were there in force helping their SBIR companies meet up with big pharma and other collaborators to bring technologies to market.

It’s like a science festival writ large, but also in extreme detail, as companies search for new opportunities from the vast American research community.


Could it work in Australia?

The recent joint paper from Ian Macfarlane and Christopher Pyne, “Boosting Commercialisation of Research”, floated the idea that Australia needs an “SBIR-like” scheme. The Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE) has often pointed out that the lack of such a scheme is a gaping hole in the Australian innovation ecosystem.

We do have some “customer pull” oriented schemes, though. The Rural R&D Corporations definitely fall into this category, as do many of the Cooperative Research Centres (CRCs).

The government’s response to the recent “Miles Review” of the CRC program was to push CRCs to be even more industry-led.

Industry leadership is the mantra for the new Industry Growth Centres, but they are not going to be funding very much research. The ARC’s Linkage Projects and the newer Industrial Transformation Training Centres as well as the NHMRC’s Partnership Centres are each attempts to have push more of the nation’s R&D investment into more market-facing efforts.

But none of these schemes are aimed at boosting innovation from small businesses. Or at least, not exclusively so. They are often encouraged to do so, and make sporadic attempts to improve their small business engagement, but it is clearly a weak spot in the Australian innovation context.

Small businesses that are trying to expand with innovative technologies constantly struggle to raise funds at early stages of development.


Bridging the gap

SBIR is not of itself a scheme for collaboration; the small businesses involved can undertake all the R&D themselves. But the experience in the US is that SBIR fosters collaboration as high technology start-ups seek to source expertise from universities and other research agencies.

Universities immediately increased their rate of spinning out companies on implementation of the scheme in 1982. The SBIR funding attracts further seed and venture capital funding, bridging that “valley of death” between early research funding and the business becoming self-sustaining.

Ultimately, many of the small businesses get bought out by large companies, particularly in the defense and pharmaceutical areas, where massive ongoing investment is needed to introduce new products.

There’s no doubt that an SBIR scheme would fill a major innovation gap in Australia, and no doubt we could make the necessary administrative arrangements. But for an SBIR scheme to truly succeed in Australia, there would be a few hurdles that I’d suggest must be overcome before we spent the first dollar. I call these the “Fair Dinkumness” tests to ensure an Australian flavour.


Fair Dinkumness test 1

Would there be true political support?

Unless a scheme enjoyed bipartisan support, there would be no point in introducing one. With one of the shortest electoral cycles in the world, Australia is at a major disadvantage in terms of stable policy in relation to innovation.

If the political support is there, then an SBIR scheme would need a significant investment of new money. Scrounging money off another under-funded program would simply be setting both up to fail. It takes some time for industry to become confident with new schemes and start to invest in a meaningful way. We’d need a real commitment.


Fair Dinkumness test 2

Would there be true bureaucratic support?

SBIR in the US works because it is a procurement scheme as well as an R&D scheme. The bureaucracy would need to seriously commit to using the scheme to improve its own departmental knowledge or services.

That means a solicited report to the Department of Environment on management of an endangered species would need to be implemented, not just sent to the library. That means the Army would need to buy the better boots from an Australian small business.

This is perhaps a bigger mindset change than either the politicians or the business community, and would need to be monitored closely, even if there was initial high level support.

For a small country such as Australia, it is often easiest to take the pathway of least risk – so Senate Estimates would need to cut bureaucrats some slack for backing Australian inventiveness too.


Fair Dinkumness test 3

Would Australian business truly back it?

If small businesses are formed just to access SBIR money, and want to survive on providing some research to government, then we are no better off. If peak industry bodies view the money as simply an entitlement for their members, then nothing new will happen.

The whole point of giving a big innovative boost to small businesses is to turn them into high-growth businesses. Existing bigger businesses would need to accept that they won’t be able to access the scheme, and they might even be faced with competition from those that do become successful innovators. An SBIR scheme by its very nature involves giving a leg-up to the new players in town, and the incumbent players need to accept that situation.

If the federal government did undertake to create an SBIR-like scheme in Australia, it would easily be the biggest reform of the innovation ecosystem in the country since the Hawke government’s raft of “Clever Country” policies.

It may not be the size of the Medical Research Future Fund as that scheme grows, but it is significantly more complex to implement. There is no doubt the government wants business and research agencies to come together much more closely. An SBIR scheme would be a massive step in that direction.

Tony Peacock

This article was first published by The Conversation on 25 June, 2015. Read the original article here.

Australia’s leaders in research and innovation are honoured

The IP & Science business of Thomson Reuters, the world’s leading provider of intelligent information for businesses and professionals, today is honouring 43 Australians and eight institutions leading scientific research and innovation in Australia at the 2015 Thomson Reuters Australian Citation & Innovation Awards, held today at the University House at the Woodward in Melbourne. Eleven Australian Research Groups have been selected to receive Citation Awards in recognition of their outstanding contribution to research. In addition, Eight Australian organisations have been recognised for their excellence in innovation.

The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) has won an Innovation Award in the category: Government (Government or Government funded) for delivering specialised advice, scientific services and products to government, industry, academia and other research organisations through the development of new knowledge, delivery of quality services and support for business opportunities.

Research recipients span myriad areas including astronomy, the environment, oncology, technology and others. Institutional honourees fall within seven categories, separated into large and small-to-medium sized organisations, government institutions, universities and most collaborative organisations. The awards are based on a proprietary methodology and analysis of Thomson Reuters data that recognises domestic innovation and significant research contributions originating in Australia.

“We are very pleased to have the opportunity to honour the individuals and institutions making significant contributions in Research & Innovation,” said Jeroen Prinsen, senior director for Australia and New Zealand, Thomson Reuters.

“Australia plays an important role in the global scholarly and commercial ecosystem and it is through the use of Thomson Reuters data that we are able to qualify and quantify this contribution, and give credit where credit is due. Congratulations to all of today’s honourees.”

The scientific research awards are part of Thomson Reuters Citation Awards and are determined by analysing the volume and impact of a researcher’s contribution to his/her subject area. The recipients were selected using a quantitative process identifying the average number of citations their research generated over a period of time, as indexed in the Thomson Reuters Web of Science®. This covers all articles, reviews and proceedings papers with at least one Australia-based author. The average citation, in turn, reflects its impact and influence on the given subject and the importance attached to it by subsequent research.
The fields from which the Citation Awardees were drawn represent national strengths, either because of the size of the Australian contribution to the global body of knowledge or because of its impact. The wide range of subject areas covered – from astronomy & astrophysics, ecology, and environmental studies to economics, neurosciences and psychology – is an illustration of the strength and diversity of academic research in Australia and a reflection of the innovation inherent among the country’s scientists.

This information was first published on 23 June 2015 by Thomson Reuters.

Taking medical device from design to life saver

When paramedics or emergency personnel discover a patient who has suffered massive facial or airway trauma, often in situations like a car crash, they may have to perform a cricothyrotomy, which involves stabbing a tube into the patient’s throat so they can breath.

It’s a procedure you want them to get right.

But in these life-threatening situations a paramedic or doctor may have only ever performed the procedure on a training device. It’s therefore doubly important that this device teaches them the correct technique in an accurate and realistic way it’s life or death.

Many doctors will now be training for complicated cricothyrotomies on a German-built Crico Trainer called ‘ADELAIDE’ designed by Robert White and Daniel Weiss in South Australia.

“The procedure, it’s not something that most doctors will have to use,” says White, one half of the WHITE + WEISS design team.

“No one really wants to stick a tube through your throat, but if you need it, they need to know how to do it properly, to prevent you from dying.”

A cricothyrotomy involves sticking a needle and cannula through the Adam’s apple, inserting a guide wire through the cannula in to the windpipe, removing the cannula, making a small incision at the base of the guide wire, threading a Melker Crico kit (an airway catheter and curved dilator) on to the wire, and finally removing the wire  thus clearing the patient’s airway.

Medical students practice the procedure on any number of trainers, simulators and manikins, but as Daniel Weiss says, they are not all very realistic.

“Beyond just the student learning it, it’s about muscle memory,” says Weiss. “In an emergency when you don’t have time to think, you need your muscle memory to work.”

The realistic Crico Trainer ADELAIDE was conceived by White and Weiss during their Masters of Industrial Design at the University of South Australia in 2012. It’s a practical course with real clients who have real design problems.

“This particular project started with the University of Adelaide medical school. They teach their students all sorts of procedures on all sorts of medical trainers. They found that there’s a number of these trainers they weren’t happy with,” White explains.

White and Weiss both decided to tackle the cricothyrotomy device, although they were working separately at the time. They were put in touch with Dr Chris Acott, the Southern Hemisphere’s foremost throat and neck expert.

The two designers attended Dr Acott’s workshops at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, training with doctors, seeing how they use the simulators and using them themselves. They had access to Dr Acott’s collection of Crico Trainers, many of which they realised were “pretty average”.

“The existing trainers were pretty basic,” says White. “There was a basic neck shape with an Adam’s apple and a skin that stretches over the top. They were missing obvious stuff  like a chin  which seems like a really basic thing.”

As they watched some doctors insert a tube and the designers realised they were coming in at an angle that would be impossible on a real person because the chin would be in the way.

“Dr Acott would catch it and remind them that they’d have to come in at an angle,” says White. “But if an instructor missed that, they student is going to learn that procedure incorrectly.”

After eight weeks of designing their individual versions of an improved Crico Trainer, White and Weiss took their prototypes to Dr Acott. He liked aspects of both, and suggested they combine the two.

In 2013 the men decided to continue the project outside of their Masters course, receiving a grant from ITEK, the University of South Australia’s commercialisation arm, to develop a prototype.

They worked through eight prototypes with Dr Acott before arriving at a model everyone was happy with.

It was a significant improvement on the available devices. The chin was an obvious addition, but many other smart touches also improved the usability and accuracy of the trainer.

“It was very cumbersome to put the skin on the old devices,” says White. “Ours is slotted where it can slip through and pull taut. You can use it again and again. We also added multiple layers of skin to add more realism.”

Crico Trainer ADELAIDE

Feel is an important part of the procedure – doctors have to find the Adam’s apple quickly and accurately to perform a cricothyrotomy. The team also added additional layers of skin and a squishy adhesive layer to enhance the feel.

“A lot of simulators are designed to simulate the perfect case scenario,” Weiss says. “But you’re not going to be looking at the perfect 30 year old male every time  there might be damage or irregularities. That’s something we tried to incorporate, making the throat adjustable.”

Once the device was finished, ITEK started to shop the idea around to medical simulation companies. German company VBM Medizintechnik GmbH took an interest.

A licensing agreement was written up, and VBM redeveloped their Crico Trainer from the ground up based on White and Weiss’ design. With a nod to the simulator’s South Australian origins, they named the trainer ADELAIDE, after the capital city of the state, and attached a label crediting White + Weiss and the University of South Australia for the design.

The team also won a number of awards for their design. They received a Gold Student Award from the Design Institute of Australia, a Premier’s Award from the Premier of South Australia, Jay Weatherill, and were national finalists in the James Dyson awards last year.

White + Weiss are working together again, this time employed by the University of South Australia as industrial designers at the Hills Innovation Centre at the industry cluster Tonsley.

Their current project is a nurse call device for aged care residents living with arthritis. Current devices are ill suited for elderly people with dexterity issues.

“They can use this type of device ten to thirty times a day. Most have small, fiddly buttons. They can have a lot of difficulty pressing it,” White says.

Their device doesn’t have a traditional button but rather a soft, flexible silicon bulb with an air pressure switch. Residents can squeeze it with minimal dexterity, use their whole hand or press it against an object. It’s an attractively designed device that lights up when activated – the result of nearly a year’s work.

“It’s currently making its way towards production. It should be underway in the next couple of months, once the tooling is ordered and underway. It should be in production and on the market later this year.”

– Jack Baldwin

This article was first published on The Lead South Australia on 4 June, 2015.

Science Australia’s business heart

The outcome is loud and clear, the government wants to use CRCs to put science at the heart of Australian business.

CRCs will remain a feature of the Australian innovation landscape. The government only wants to support CRCs that are highly industry focused and only for a single term of up to 10 years. The application process is going to simplified to make it easier and more attractive for business to bid for a CRC.

In a bold and exciting move, they’ll be a new stream in the CRC Program called CRC-Projects (CRC-P). These will again address highly focussed industry issues but at a smaller, more nimble level than a full CRC (which are generally 7 year enterprises of maybe $100 million of activity). CRC-Ps will be up to three years, up to $3.0 million of government support and will be open for application three times a year. This is a huge development to open the CRC Program up more readily to smaller businesses and more specific projects.

Reviewer David Miles recommendations are aimed to discourage CRCs going on for very long terms. While this is a big concern for those addressing long-term innovation issues, the intent is to make the CRC concentrate on solving the problem at hand and exiting, leaving the industry players better off. This is a particularly interesting approach from Mr Miles because, prior to the commencement of his review, there was one train of thought that success in a CRC meant an ongoing body. The previous Parliamentary Secretary, Bob Baldwin, had publicly asked why more CRCs don’t continue as self-sufficient organisations beyond their government funding period?

Miles downplays the importance of an ongoing organisation in his review, making it clear that the real benefits from a CRC come when the industry players involved implement the research.

Miles also sees the industry training role of CRCs as very effective and important, encouraging more of them to do more in training postgraduates for industry roles.

CRCs that are not specifically aimed at solving industry issues are the potential losers in this Review. Time and again, the review says industry should be “front and centre” of the CRC program, arguing that when the Program tries to do everything, it achieves less. But Miles holds out a possible future for “non-industry” CRCs, encouraging other Government departments to directly fund CRCs through the Department of Industry and Science, Miles points out that this happens already (the Department of Defence funds the Defence Materials Technology Centre through the CRC Program). He points out that the CRC model works and is effective, but the Industry Department shouldn’t have to front for the cost of CRCs outside its portfolio area.

So while it is disappointing that some important areas of research may not qualify for CRCs anymore, the government is leaving the door open for other government departments to participate in the CRC Program.

For Australian business, the CRC Program should become more flexible and simpler for them to get involved in.

Dr. Tony Peacock

Chief Executive

Cooperative Research Centres Association

 

Drone used to drop beneficial bugs on corn crop

Photograph courtesy of Ausveg and Vegetables Australia

During his Summer Science Scholarship at UQ, Mr Godfrey investigated if drones could be used to spread the beneficial Californicus mite, a predatory mite which feeds on pest leaf eating mites onto crops infected with two spotted mites.

Godfrey said two spotted mites ate chlorophyll in leaves, reducing plant vigour and crop yield.

“As corn grows, it is very difficult to walk between the crop to spread beneficial bugs,” he said.

“A drone flying over the crop and distributing the insects from above is a much more efficient and cost-effective method.”

Godfrey began his project at the Agriculture and Remote Sensing Laboratory at UQ’s Gatton Campus, learning how drones function, before spending time at Rugby Farms to gain insight into potential uses for drones.

“I built a specific drone for the project, tailoring the number of propellers, stand, and size of the motor to suit the drone’s application,” he said.

“My initial concept for the ‘Bug Drone’ came from a seed spreader, and in the end I built an attachment to the drone that can be used to spread the mites over the crop from the air.”

2015-04-29_1605Initial designs using a cylinder-shaped container to hold the mites weren’t practical as it couldn’t hold enough of the predatory mites to make the process efficient.

“I used corflute material to make a large enough storage device for the mites,” Mr Godfrey said.

“The seed spreader then acts as the distributer as it has a small motor powering it.”

The device is controlled remotely from the ground.

“We’ve tested the product at Rugby Farms and I’ve successfully proved the concept that drones can be used to spread beneficial bugs,” Mr Godfrey said.

“There is still a lot of work to be done, but the most difficult part is to work out how to control the volume of bugs being distributed at the one time.

“The next step is to monitor the crops and to see what happens after the bugs have been dropped.

“Remote sensing with precision agriculture is an interesting field, and it has opened my eyes to the career opportunities in this field,” he said.

Students can study precision agriculture at The University of Queensland Gatton in a course run by Associate Professor Kim Bryceson who also manages the Agriculture and Remote Sensing Laboratory.

First tech-commercialisation skills study funded

The year-long study will be run by Knowledge Commercialisation Australasia (KCA) – the peak body for Australian organisations and individuals in knowledge commercialisation and exchange between public sector research organisations, business and government – and gemaker – a company specialising in commercialising technology.

The key objective of this study is to provide a clear understanding of what it really takes to get new ideas generated by Australian publicly funded research organisations into society and the marketplace.

To kick start the project and help consolidate the study’s framework, a series of workshops will be hosted across five states between April and June. Technology transfer practitioners and industry stakeholders will be invited to participate in these workshops, offering both individuals and institutions an exclusive opportunity to help shape the future direction of professional development within the sector in this country, and provide foresight as to the true nature of the skill set required to effectively undertake this role going forwards.

 “There is an increasing expectation from government entities within Australia for publicly funded research organisations to improve on the conversion of research into commercial outcomes. Much like the theme of our forthcoming conference – Raising the Bar – this study will enable us as a community of practitioners to look strategically at what it means to be a commercialisation professional at a research organisation in Australia, and how we might look to improve upon how we go about our practice. We are thrilled to be awarded the Professional Standards Research Grant,” KCA Executive Officer Melissa Geue said.

KCA applied for the research grant in partnership with technology commercialisation consultancy gemaker (associate member of KCA) in late November 2014. The project team is being led by gemaker’s Commercialisation Director Athena Prib, RTTP and will be comprised of gemaker’s team of specialists in capability development and workplace competencies, as well as KCA’s Executive Officer, Melissa Geue and Vice Chair and Professional Development Leader, Dr Alastair Hick (also Director of Commercialisation at Monash University).

“We are excited to be leading the first project of its kind that will open the door for the research and commercialisation sector to connect and self reflect, and we hope this study offers a baseline for our association, KCA, to build on for years to come,” said Natalie Chapman, gemaker’s Managing Director.

Overall the study will provide insight into the different technology transfer models used across Australia and the mechanism used to equip people with knowledge of skills required by industry and research. The primary goal is to look at the skills and competencies required on both the research and business side, to undertake a skills gap analysis, and to begin to assemble a framework for professional development across the Australian research commercialisation sector.

“Knowledge exchange and commercialisation is an important area of innovation for Australia and building standards and professionalisation options for the industry is an opportunity to cement Australia’s leadership,” said Dr Deen Sanders, PSC Chief Executive Officer.

“Our role is to encourage professional standards and consumer protection and so we are pleased to support the research and commercialisation sector in taking a serious and strategic approach to building a profession in this area.”

JCU develops new standard for life jackets

surf2Researchers led by Wade Sinclair from JCU’s department of Sport and Exercise Science were given a clear brief – the vests must return an unconscious swimmer to the surface and not inhibit lifesaver tasks such as diving and swimming.

The testing found that full-sized lifejackets compliant with Standards Australia’s rigorous Level 50 standard were unusable in heavy surf. Their buoyancy and impact levels from waves were too high, making their use by lifesavers exhausting.

The JCU team tested low buoyancy devices and found they could be used more comfortably in the surf, but still reliably return a swimmer to the surface.

With no Australian Standard in place for low buoyancy devices, the JCU team conducted research, trials and analysis around Australia and then wrote a report for the SLSA and Standards Australia.

The low-buoyancy, high performance vests are designated as Standards Australia Level 25 – suitable for users such as wakeboarders and surfers who need to remain agile but also face the risk of becoming disabled in the water.

Manufacturers have used the new standard to produce ten prototype life vests. JCU is now testing them in different conditions around the country.

Anthony Bradstreet from SLSA said the organisation’s board will receive the final report on the JCU trials in May. “We need to be sensible and take a risk-based approach,” he said. “I don’t think it is going to be necessary for competitors to wear these vests in flat conditions, but their potential use in rougher conditions will still be a fairly large cultural shift.”

Mr Bradstreet said SLSA wanted JCU to produce a specification, rather than choose a specific product, as that approach would ensure multiple suppliers and encourage ongoing innovation.

He said JCU won the contract to do the testing over bigger organisations for a number of reasons. “We were aware of Wade Sinclair’s work in surf sports and he had gathered a group of very keen and eager research assistants around him. There is a lot of respect for JCU’s Sport and Exercise Science department,” he said.

*SLSA has more than 160,000 members

*About 60,000 are ‘nippers’ – children aged 5 to 13-years-old.

*The vests are expected to cost between $150 – $200