Australia produces great research. But despite this, we somehow still manage to rank last in the OECD for collaboration between research and business.
It’s a disconnect that is well documented: a 2014 Department of Education report noted a low proportion of researchers working in business and academic industry research publications. A report by the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering revealed a distinct lack of university research collaboration with industry and other end users. And the recently released Innovation and Science Australia report declared Australian industry unable to commercialise research.
Though the naysayers may abound, all hope is certainly not lost. There are steps that Australian research institutions and the startups that represent the future of business can take to overcome the disconnect and engage in effective research collaboration.
1. Establish a direct link between research institutions and startups
Working in research and industry silos will always present a challenge to collaboration. So, the first step to bridging the research collaboration gap is to create a direct line of access between universities and startups.
The easiest way to reach the largest number of startups is to create direct lines to innovation hubs, such as technology-focused incubators that work with startups and scale-ups that could benefit from accessing the research capabilities that are nurtured within Australian universities.
This could take the form of a mutually-beneficial partnership, such as an industry secondment program for PhD students. Students would benefit from industry experience, while industry gains access to cutting-edge research capabilities and a potential talent pool for recruitment.
Whatever the partnership might look like in practice, by finding mutually beneficial solutions and cementing them within a concrete program, collaboration will likely be a natural outcome.
2. Understand and account for your differences
In any collaboration, working together requires working around the limitations of the other party.
As an example, the open nature of academic science can at times conflict with industry needs to protect the technologies they use. Academic research often moves more slowly due to its long-term focus, compared to industrial R&D that is driven by commercial deadlines and time-sensitive product development.
Understanding these differences upfront will allow collaborative measures and hedges to be set in place when forming a research collaboration to ensure neither party’s prerogatives are being infringed upon.
3. Identify and work towards common ground in your research collaboration
Once links have been created and differences understood and catered for, common ground can be identified, interests aligned and goals established.
Research could listen to the pain points of industry and formulate research that addresses the pain points, rather than trying to pitch a predefined project.
Conversely, industry might consider involving university research throughout the lifecycle of a project, rather than in an ad hoc fashion, to create a long-term culture of interdisciplinary collaboration and give greater meaning to research projects.
Regular interaction in the form of formal and informal meetings will ensure the research collaboration stays on track to meeting the objectives of both parties – particularly as they are likely to evolve.
By implementing all the above, our startups may have some chance of tapping into the brains of our prized research institutions to achieve sustainable and accelerated growth in the future.
CEO of Cicada Innovations
Read next: Professor Sharon Bell, board member of Ninti One, examines different approaches to collaboration and debunks the myth of individual creative genius.
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