Tag Archives: commercialisation

Research and industry – A relationship guide (Part 2)

Leaders from both academia and business agree that the best way to foster innovation in science and technology is by getting researchers, business and startups working together.

We’ve prepared this two-part Relationship Guide to canvass the issues and promote the assistance and support available to researchers who want to interact more closely with industry. Read Part 1 here.

Businesses look to universities and research institutes for new knowledge that can help them scale up and innovate their products and services. By accessing the latest research findings, businesses of all kinds can improve their efficiency and profit. At the same time, researchers can create sustainable jobs, novel solutions and global pathways for their knowledge. While there’s robust support available to facilitate research-business relationships, it can be hard for a business to find the knowledge they need. Cultural differences and misunderstandings can also get in the way.

  Get out of your bubble!

The best way for researchers to find new opportunities is by networking, knocking on doors and telling others about their discoveries. There will be no collaborative opportunities for those that can’t be found and the new commercial engagement KPIs attached to federal research funding provide strong incentives for all academic researchers to widely communicate the value and potential of their work.

It’s all in the timing

Academics might resist the faster timeframes imposed by businesses seeking knowledge input in order to take a product to market, but unless researchers are prepared to respond to commercial timeframes and develop a sense of urgency, there’s a chance that opportunities will pass them by. No matter how closely a research project aligns with a commercial product, the early bird will get the worm.

Knowledge exchange

Universities are increasingly supporting students and academics to acquire the skills they need to explore commercial opportunities, with assistance provided by way of incubators, accelerators, short courses and government support. Learn more about some of the initiatives that help facilitate and accelerate research-business partnerships: Tech Connect, AMSI Intern, CSIRO’s ON, Cicada Innovations and Data 61’s Ribit and Expert Connect platforms.

 

Don’t rely on government support

While a broad range of government support is available to help researchers get started, Appen founder Dr Julie Vonwiller warns that to succeed, a product must be able to stand alone on its own merit in a marketplace without the need for ongoing subsidies.

Publish or perish?

There’s often a tension between publishing and protecting knowledge with IP, but patent attorney Dr Gavin Recchia says it’s all about getting the timing right.

It’s a team sport

Business owners Dr Alan Taylor and Dr Julie Vonwiller say the entrepreneurial journey requires a vast array of skills and talents and innovation all the way along as a business evolves. 

 

– Jackie Randles

Find more insights about research-industry partnerships from the Commercialising Research Forum on our Research Futures information channel developed with Inspiring Australia.

Research and industry – A relationship guide (Part 1)

Leaders from both academia and business agree that the best way to foster innovation in science and technology is by getting researchers, business and startups working together.

We’ve prepared this two-part Relationship Guide to canvass the issues and promote the assistance and support available to researchers who want to interact more closely with industry.

As part of the 2017 Spark Festival, Inspiring Australia NSW hosted a forum to explore what it would take to create more value from publicly funded knowledge.

Participants discussed what needs to change in universities to better prepare researchers for the future.

The 2017 Global Innovation Index ranks Australia 23rd in the world, behind China, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Singapore. While Australia is placed 10th in terms of “knowledge workers” it scores a low 52nd for innovation linkages and 48th for knowledge absorption. This is despite our ranking in the top 10 worldwide for innovation input – infrastructure, human capital, market sophistication and education.

So what’s not working in our research-business relationships and how can we fix it?

Changing the culture

With the next generation of STEM researchers often being trained by academics who lack the expertise, training and knowledge to commercialise research knowledge, there’s a pressing need for universities to think more innovatively about education and industry engagement. Even when an opportunity does not exactly align with a researcher’s particular interests, there may still be collaborative partnerships to explore.

Moving between academia and industry

When microbiologist Dr Dharmica Mistry left academia to enter industry, she felt like she was jumping to the dark side and abandoning a research career forever. The founder and Chief Scientist at BCAL Diagnostics, a biotech company commercialising a blood test for breast cancer screening, would like academics to be able to move more freely between the academic and commercial worlds.


Communicating is not a hobby

Dr Noushin Nasiri develops novel sensors that can detect disease in human breath. When the post doctorate researcher began talking publicly about her research and its application as an affordable, nanoscale diagnostic device, four industry partners made contact to explore commercial opportunities.  But communicating research, she says, is still seen as a hobby.


A shared vision

Professor Veena Sahajwalla says that in order to develop commercialisation outcomes, it is critical for researchers to be able to both articulate the value and potential application of their work and also to understand the needs of the industry partner and their vision for the future.

Business can access research knowledge 

AusIndustry Innovation Facilitator Gary Colquhoun helps Australian businesses identify opportunities for research collaboration to address their knowledge gaps in all kinds of ways, driving business innovation and creating a positive impact on the economy.

Sustainable startups

Shelley Copsey leads New Ventures and Commercialisation at Data61 and is working with research startups to help them develop the sustainability and longevity they need to build a product pipeline. She says that to successfully commercialise knowledge, researchers must develop the skills to build solid relationships with multiple research organisations as well as in-house R&D capability.

– Jackie Randles

Click here for Research and industry – A relationships guide (Part 2).

photovoltaic research

The sunshine factory

Featured image above: World record holder Xiaojing Hao with CZTS thin-film cells atop the Tyree Energy Technologies Building at UNSW’s Kensington campus.

Xiaojing Hao couldn’t sleep. Two weeks earlier, the UNSW engineer had sent a thin black tile, barely the size of a fingernail, to the US for testing, and she was waiting anxiously for the results. Her PhD students were equally on edge.

It was midnight when Hao checked her email one more time. It was official: her team had broken a solar cell world efficiency record. “I was full of joy at the achievement,” Hao recalls. “I shared the good news with my team immediately – we made it!”

Hao’s thin black tile had become the newest champion in the solar cell race: one of seven world records UNSW photovoltaics researchers broke in 2016. Efficiency records are not just notches in the scientists’ belts. The more sunlight solar cells can convert, the less manufacturing, transport, installation and wiring is needed to deliver each watt – moving solar energy closer and closer to knocking coal off its perch as the cheapest form of energy.

UNSW photovoltaics researchers, led by Martin Green – often dubbed the ‘father of photovoltaics’  – have held world records for efficiencies in solar cells in 30 of the past 33 years. And with its strong track record in research commercialisation, UNSW’s prototype technology is setting the trends for the commercial solar market.

Meanwhile, their focus is on developing the next generation of solar cells – pushing forward to a zero-emission future. 

Martin Green and Wei Zhang measure the adhesion between metal contacts and solar cells.

Making a commercially viable product

Hao moved to Sydney in 2004 from China, where the solar industry is booming. A materials engineer by training, Hao was intrigued by the frontline photovoltaic research on thin-film solar cells at UNSW.

These cells have benefits over the more traditional silicon cells. The manufacturing process doesn’t require high temperature steps. They can also be much thinner than bulky wafer silicon, and so could engender new solar applications: imagine solar-powered electric cars,  building-integrated solar cells or photovoltaic glazing on windows.

So far, the thin-film uptake in the markets has been sluggish: commercial thin-film cells make up only around 8% of the solar market. The problem is that the commercial products available, cadmium telluride and copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS), are made of toxic or rare materials: cadmium is highly toxic and tellurium is about as abundant as gold.

So Hao decided to go back a step. “We’re trying to make the whole world ‘green’, right?” she says. “So, we should choose materials that are non-toxic and cheap, and that would ensure their deployment in the future – without constraint on raw materials.”

Finding a material worth investigating

Her quest for a greener world began in 2011, after she returned from maternity leave. Hao and her PhD supervisor, Martin Green, knew what they were looking for: a mix of elements that would absorb and conduct energy from sunlight, and are commonly found in nature.

“We worked our way through the periodic table for materials that met those criteria – CZTS was the one that popped out at you as worthy of investigation,” Green explains.

In 2012 CZTS – copper, zinc, tin and sulphide – was recorded for the first time in the solar cell efficiency tables, an internationally curated list of solar cell performance. Inclusion in the tables means a new cell has been independently tested for efficiency by a recognised test centre, and indicates the new cell has features that will be interesting for the photovoltaic community.

Hao began making her own version of the CZTS cell, looking for defects, ironing out the kinks and pushing efficiencies, bit by bit.

At the basic level, all solar cells absorb photons from sunlight and funnel them into an electric current. Hao discovered that tiny holes in her CZTS cells, formed as the components were baked during production, acted like a roadblock for that charge. By adding a microscopic grid layer through the cells, her team stopped these holes from forming, and raised their efficiency to 7.6% in a 1cm2 cell.

That was Hao’s first world record. By changing the buffer that helps the CZTS cell collect charge, the team could further tweak the current flow and voltage output. This buffer netted Hao another world record in September 2016 – a 9.5% efficiency for a 0.24cm2 cell, beating a 9.1% record previously held by Toyota.

“We’re completely leading CZTS solar cell technology at the moment,” Hao says with a smile.

The energy output of Xiaojing Hao’s CZTS cells are tested.

According to Hao, these records have already sparked interest from Chinese, US partners China Guodian Corp – one of the five largest power producers in China – and Baosteel, the giant state-owned iron and steel company based in Shanghai.

Hao is also in talks with thin-film manufacturers MiaSolé of the US, Sweden’s  Midsummer and Solar Frontier in Japan. The companies are commercial producers of CIGS cells and their production lines use similar methods; Hao says they could easily adapt them
for CZTS production.

Hao believes efficiencies of above 15% will start moving CZTS to the commercial market. She is already well on her way, aiming to bring her CZTS cells to 13% efficiency by 2018.

Taking on the solar cell market

After four decades in photovoltaics research at UNSW, Martin Green has a healthy scepticism when it comes to marrying new breakthrough technologies with commercial markets. “The solar industry is just so huge that you need enormous resources to introduce a new product to the market – and there’s a huge risk associated with that,” he says.

With a firm grip on 90% of the commercial solar cell market, “the situation with silicon is a bit like that of the internal combustion engine,” Green explains. “That engine is not the best fossil fuel engine, but the huge industry supporting it means it has been very difficult to displace.”

But CZTS does not need to compete with silicon – the two can complement each other. Silicon absorbs red light better than blue, while CZTS absorbs blue wavelengths better. A CZTS layer on top of a silicon cell can catch the wavelengths silicon does not use efficiently. Green says the big silicon manufacturers could trial the new CZTS technology by selling these ‘stacked cells’ as a premium product line.

“Companies that are well established would be interested in exploring that space – it just seems like a natural evolutionary path for photovoltaic technology,” he says.

Collaborating with the competition

Just a few labs down the corridor of the Tyree Energy Technologies Building at UNSW’s Kensington campus, Anita Ho-Baillie is working with Green to put another ‘stackable’ thin-film solar cell through its paces.

In 2009, a material called perovskite arrived on the thin-film solar cell stage with an efficiency of 3.8%. Perovskites have since shot up in efficiency ratings faster than any other solar cell technology.

After Ho-Baillie’s team found a new way to apply perovskite to a surface in an even layer, their solar cells broke three more world records in 2016. Her next step is to make perovskites more durable to match the current lifetime of silicon solar cells – an essential prerequisite for large-scale commercial deployment.

Anita Ho-Baillie with her record-setting perovskite cells.

As the leader of the perovskites project in UNSW-based Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics (ACAP), Ho-Baillie stands at the nexus of Australia’s greatest cluster of scientists pushing thin-film technologies forward. 

This alliance consists of six research organisations around Australia: the national research agency, CSIRO; Melbourne’s Monash University and the University of Melbourne; the University of Queensland in Brisbane; the Australian National University in Canberra; and UNSW in Sydney.

ACAP director Martin Green says, “We’ve been able to draw on the expertise of all these groups and come at problems from different angles, so it’s really put us in a good spot internationally”.

Ho-Baillie admits balancing collaboration with competition is tricky in a field where everyone is trying to claim the top spot. “It’s hard, but we find working together really helps,” she says. 

Much like CZTS and other thin films, perovskite cells are flexible, making them a perfect candidate for energy-harvesting glazes on building materials, cars or windows. But Ho-Baillie has even greater ambitions: with their low weight-to-power ratio, perovskites would be perfect for supplying precious energy to spacecraft, where every kilo counts. 

“Perovskites came from nowhere,” she says. “Now I think they will lead us to something that we never even thought would work.”

Improving the cost of solar energy by 150 fold

Thin films are making their mark, but Green is also working to squeeze more energy from sunlight using silicon, smashing two more world records in 2016. Using specialised mirrors and prisms, Mark Keevers from Green’s team pushed silicon cells to collect concentrated sunlight with 40.6% efficiency, and unconcentrated sunlight at 34.5%.

Mark Keevers made silicon cells more efficient using specialised mirrors and prisms.

Although these prototypes are perfect for soaking up photons on solar tower ‘concentrators’ with heavy-duty efficiency, their manufacturing costs are too high to make them viable in the consumer market.

But on the rooftop, silicon is still king. And it’s thanks to plunging costs made possible by a UNSW-led boom in silicon solar cell production in China, which now provides more than half the world’s solar cells.

In 1995, Green and his long-term collaborator Stuart Wenham – along with (then) PhD student Shi Zhengrong – started solar cell company Pacific Solar in Australia.

Solar pioneers Martin Green and Stuart Wenham

After six years racking up a wealth of management and manufacturing know-how, Zhengrong returned to his native China and founded the silicon solar manufacturing company Suntech Power in 2001, using technology developed at UNSW to dramatically reduce costs.

By 2005, Zhengrong became the world’s first ‘solar billionaire’, and a wave of Chinese companies hit the market, following Suntech’s recipe. The global solar industry was growing at an average 41% year-on-year. And within a decade, China’s market share of the global photovoltaic industry had grown from near zero to over 55%. Suntech itself delivered more than 13 million solar panels to 80 countries.

Where photovoltaic solar cells used to deliver one watt for US$76.67 in 1977,  that’s down to just US49¢ today. That’s a 150-fold improvement in the 40 years Green has been in the field.

“Shi was the right person at the right place and the right time to move in both Chinese and Western cultures,” Green says.

“It’s interesting to ponder what would have happened if UNSW hadn’t kick-started the Chinese industry.”

Breaking through the next barrier of photovoltaic research

With plunging module prices, rising efficiencies and more durable cells, why is the world still relying on coal for the lion’s share of its electricity needs? 

Perhaps it’s not the solar technology that we’re waiting for. A fundamental challenge remains: how to store the energy we can now capture from sunlight for later use.

“I think photovoltaics has already reached the tipping point – the efficiency and cost is already able to compete with fossil fuels,” says Wenham. “I think the next breakthrough needs to be in energy storage, to bring down that cost enough to make photovoltaics usable everywhere at any time.”

This doesn’t mean UNSW photovoltaics scientists are calling it a day. Instead, they continue to push silicon to its limits, while new technologies, such as Hao’s record-breaking CZTS tile, are racing to catch up to silicon’s powerhouse.

“Solar technology will continue to be higher-efficiency, lower-cost – and will keep getting better,” says Wenham. “The more we develop photovoltaic technology, the easier the transition will become.”

“We’ve reached a new era where coal is no longer the cheapest way of making electricity – it’s solar,” says Green. “And the exciting thing about that is – I regard solar as still in a very primitive stage of development, so there is plenty more cost reduction to come.”

– Viviane Richter

Photography: Quentin Jones

For more stories at the forefront of engineering research, check out Ingenuity magazine.

Recommended for you: The Quantum Gamble

Nimble funding for CRC-Ps

Featured image above: CSIRO, Norwood Industries and Solafast staff inspect a length of printed solar film. Credit: CSIRO

The new, nimble, business-led funding rounds that led to the Cooperative Research Centre Projects (CRC-Ps) are winning praise across industry, government and academia for their fast turnaround time, focus, and appeal to small-to-medium enterprise.

With the second round of successful grants announced in early February 2017, there are now a total of 28 projects granted funds ranging from $425,000 to $3 million through the CRC-P initiative.

CRC Association CEO Tony Peacock says the initiative came out of a recommendation made by the Miles Review for “smaller collaborations operating on short project timelines with simpler governance and administration arrangements and less funding”.

“I think CRC-Ps will probably become more important to the start-up sector because it is a significant amount of money early in a company’s development,” says Peacock.

One such start-up benefiting from CRC-P funding is Solafast who, in partnership with CSIRO and Norwood Industries, received $1.6 million to help develop building materials that integrate flexible, printed solar films.

“The product we’re creating will look much better than standard solar panels on a roof, be quicker and easier to install, and allows for more flexible building design,” says Leesa Blazley, Solafast’s Director of Business Development.

The project brings together CSIRO’s expertise in printed solar films, Norwood’s experience in commercial printing, and Solafast’s roll-formed cladding. It is a partnership that is aiming to deliver a proof-of-concept product within two years.

“By the end of the project we’ll have a working prototype and be close to scaling up for commercial release,” says Blazley.  “Without the funding it would have been very difficult to develop a product that was market ready.”

CSIRO’s Dr Fiona Scholes, who is also working on the Solafast project, says the CRC-P funds are well geared towards the needs of CSIRO’s small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) industry partners.

“What we have found through our interactions with the Australian manufacturing industry is that they’re not short of ideas – they’ve got a real thirst for innovation – but the stumbling block is almost always lacking the funds to make something meaningful happen,” says Scholes, Group Leader in Industrial Innovation at CSIRO Manufacturing.

“Having that requirement to have an SME on these projects is accommodating the Australian manufacturing innovation ecosystem in a relevant way.”

Another CRC-P is using the funding opportunity to significantly advance an important diagnostic test that could help pick up metastatic cancer a lot earlier than is currently possible.

Dr John Deadman, CEO of Chemocopeia, which is leading this CRC-P, says the funding has been essential to moving the diagnostic test from theoretical to practical.

“Chemocopeia and the CSIRO had developed an understanding of the biological side of the project, but we didn’t have the expertise around setting up an assay system to clinical standard in an accredited format that would be able to be used rigorously and robustly,” Deadman says. 

With $582,500 from the CRC-P initiative, they have joined forces with Innoviron and 360biolabs, and are well on their way to developing the diagnostic assay.

“At the end of the year we hope to have a reproducible and robust system that we can start to test clinical samples with,” explains Deadman.

He also says that the set-up of the CRC-P funding is unique in fostering a greater focus among participants. “What’s good is it’s trying to tackle a specific problem rather than just make a particular stage in a bigger project.”

In the pipeline

The first round of CRC-P funding, which was announced in June 2016, funded 11 projects in total:

  • Integrated driver monitoring solution for heavy vehicles
  • Hydrocarbon fuel technology for hypersonic air breathing vehicles
  • Printed solar films for value-added building products for Australia
  • R&D to accelerate sustainable omega-3 production
  • Innovative prefabricated building systems
  • An antibody-based in-vitro diagnostic for metastatic cancer
  • High-performance optical telemetry system for ocean monitoring
  • Combined carbon capture from flue gas streams and mineral carbonation
  • Improving Australia’s radiopharmaceutical
    development capabilities
  • Innovation in advanced multi-storey housing manufacture
  • Future oysters

The second round, announced in February 2017, funded the following projects:

  • Large area perovskite photovoltaic material coating on glass substrate
  • High-power density motors incorporating advanced manufacturing methods
  • New super high oleic bio-based oil
  • Manufacturing of high performance building envelope systems
  • Lightweight automotive carbon
    fibre seats
  • Targeting tropomyosin as anti-cancer therapy
  • Glass technologies and photovoltaics in protected cropping
  • Modelling navigational aids in tidal inlets
  • Field deployable unit for the detection of perfluorinated contaminants
  • Universal solar module inspection and data storage system
  • Targeted therapy for sleep apnoea
  • Enhanced market agility for tea tree industry
  • Tech-enabled care for head trauma
  • Industrialisation of a diagnostic biosensor for bladder cancer
  • Wear life extension via surface engineered laser cladding for mining
  • Graphene supply chain certification
  • Power efficient wastewater treatment

– Bianca Nogrady

Find out more about the CRC Programme 

Read more CRC discovery in KnowHow 2017

The future is innovation

Collaboration between industry and research is vital. We know that unlocking the commercial value of Australian research will result in world-first, new-to-market innovation and new internationally competitive businesses. Cooperative Research Centres (CRCs) are an excellent, longstanding example of how industry and researchers can work together to create these growth opportunities.

The CRC Programme supports industry-led collaborations between researchers, industry and the community. It is a proven model for linking researchers with industry to focus research and development efforts on progress towards commercialisation.

Importantly, CRCs also produce graduates with hands-on industry experience to help create a highly skilled workforce. The CRC Programme has been running for more than 25 years and has been extremely successful.

Since it began in 1990, more than $4 billion in funding has been committed to support the establishment of 216 CRCs and 28 CRC Projects. Participants have committed an additional $12.6 billion in cash and in-kind contributions.

CRCs have developed important new technologies, products and services to solve industry problems and improve the competitiveness, productivity and sustainability of Australian industries. The programme has produced numerous success stories; far too many for me to mention here. A few examples include the development of dressings to deliver adult stem cells to wounds; creating technology to increase the number of greenfields mineral discoveries; and spearheading a world-leading method for cleaning up the potentially toxic chemicals found in fire-fighting foams.

These examples demonstrate not just the breadth of work being done by the CRCs, but also the positive benefits they are delivering.

Click here to read KnowHow 2017.

KnowHow 2017

Senator the Hon Arthur Sinodinos AO is the Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science in the Australian Government.

science and innovation

Crossing the cultural divide

Australia’s future health and economy is a vibrant, interactive ecosystem with science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) at its core. STEM is central – and essential – to Australia’s ongoing success in the next 50 years. Australia is considered an incredible place to do cutting-edge research, pursue blue-sky ideas and commercialise innovative products. Pioneering discoveries fuel the innovation process. Students cannot wait to enrol in science and maths. Policies are developed using peer-reviewed evidence and broad consultation. Aspirational goals are backed by practical solutions and half of our STEM leaders are women – it’s the norm.

Sounds good doesn’t it?

To excel in science and innovation, however, Australia needs a major culture shift. We can all ‘talk the talk’, but as OECD figures demonstrate, we cannot ‘walk the walk’. Australia rates lowest compared to other OECD countries when it comes to business-research collaborations – not just large businesses, but small to medium-sized enterprises as well.

Academia blames industry. Industry blames academia. Everyone blames the government. It’s time to turn the pointing finger into a welcoming handshake and engage across sectors to actually make innovation happen.

Literally thousands of researchers in this country want to see our academic and industry leaders reach across the divide and make change happen. With every decision made, their future is impacted.

Paradigm-shifting science and innovation takes time and requires a diverse workforce of highly-skilled researchers and professionals that specialise in these fields.

The lack of a skilled workforce and poor collaboration are significant barriers to innovation. As part of the National Innovation and Science Agenda, the industry engagement and impact assessment aims to incentivise greater collaboration between industry and academia by examining how universities are translating their research into social and economic benefits.

Australian academic institutions have begun to break down silos within their own research organisations with some success. In medical research for example, the breadth and scale of interdisciplinary collaborative projects has expanded exponentially – spanning international borders, requiring a range of skills and expertise, terabytes of data, and years of research.

Research teams have become small companies with synergistic subsidiaries – diagnostic, basic, translational and clinical teams – working toward a common goal.

Yet their engagement with industry is low. Industry struggles to navigate the ever-changing complex leadership structures in higher education and research. When you speak one-on-one with researchers and industry leaders, however, they seem almost desperate to cross the divide and connect! It’s a detrimental dichotomy.

How can we harness the full potential of our research workforce?

We can energise innovation by fostering a culture that values basic research as well as translation of discoveries to product, practice and policy. A culture that opens the ivory tower and is not so sceptical of industry-academia engagement. That responds to failure with resilience and determination rather than deflating, harsh judgement. That sees the potential of our young researchers.

We need to lose the tall poppy syndrome and openly celebrate the success and achievement of others. We must hold ourselves to higher standards and in particular, women must be equally recognised and rewarded for their leadership.

As a nation, we must ensure we are prepared and resourced for the challenges ahead. Not only do we need the best equipment and technologies, but we also need a readily adaptable workforce that is highly-skilled to address these issues.

To facilitate a culture shift and increase engagement with business and industry, we need to provide researchers the skills and know-how, as well as opportunities to hone these skills. Young researchers are ready to engage and hungry to learn; and they must be encouraged to do so without penalty.

They then need to be connected with industry leaders to identify the qualities and expertise they need to strengthen, and to extend their network.

We can change this now. The solution is not expensive. It is simply about letting down our guard and providing real opportunities to meet, to connect, to network, to exchange ideas and expertise – and to share that welcoming handshake.

Dr Marguerite Evans-Galea

Executive Director, Industry Mentoring Network in STEM, Australian Academy of Technological Science and Engineering, Melbourne

CEO and Co-founder, Women in STEMM Australia

Read next: Professor David Lloyd, Vice Chancellor of the University of South Australia, believes university and industry have a shared purpose.

Spread the word: Help Australia become a collaborative nation! Share this piece on science and innovation using the social media buttons below.

More Thought Leaders: Click here to go back to the Thought Leadership Series homepage, or start reading the Digital Disruption Thought Leadership Series here.

partnerships

Coming to the table

While it may not be immediately obvious, universities and industry have a shared purpose: universities focus on educating people and creating new knowledge; industry seeks to be more innovative, productive and diverse. Our shared purpose is in delivering solutions to help tackle social challenges and drive economic growth.

We’re in the midst of a global knowledge economy and universities are a vital centre of competence for end-users such as industry. Industry and the professions get the benefit of universities’ research and intellectual capacities. Universities get access to stimulating questions, new challenges and opportunities for our students.

Collaboration works when you have something the other party wants. Being open to collaboration begets other collaboration and it leads on from there.

That being said, universities are a business like any other. We may not be commercial organisations but we’re pro-commercial. And in business you have to supply what the market wants.

The European universities where I began my career are active collaborative institutions and I saw an opportunity to bring this ethos to the University of South Australia, an institution that has a history of working with industry and the professions.

In the four years that I have been Vice Chancellor of the institution I have seen the growth of more than 2500 partnerships that range from guest lectureships to program advisory boards to co-creators of program content.

One great example of collaboration is the one we have with Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE). We co-developed a 4-year Honours degree, the Bachelor of Information Technology (Honours) (Enterprise Business Solutions) which offers 12 month paid internships for students. HPE has also become an Anchor Industry Partner in our Innovation and Collaboration Centre for students and start-ups and they’re a Foundation Partner in our new Museum of Discovery that’s due to open in 2018.

I have also seen the breaking down of silos within my own institution as we plan our new education precinct, which will be a focal point of educational innovation and enterprise.

The first partnership is with the State government, the schooling sector and the university. This was followed by partnerships between our engineering people, our environmental management experts, our architects and interior designers to build a precinct that will ultimately accommodate all facets of education.

We’re extending transdisciplinary approaches to education by engaging social work, psychology and other areas to contribute to the learning and holistic development of young people.

Having sat on both sides of the table I have seen collaboration work, and not work. It works when you have a shared vision of the project and you can see what each party stands to gain. You also need to know to walk away early if you know something is not going to work.

Ultimately collaboration allows you to do what you do even better.

I don’t know if the question is ‘Collaborate or crumble’. Collaborate or become increasingly irrelevant might be more apposite.

Professor David Lloyd

Vice Chancellor, UniSA

Read next: Hon Philip Dalidakis MP, Victorian Minister for Small Business, Innovation & Trade, discusses cybersecurity as a perfect example of turning a challenge into a collaboration opportunity.

Spread the word: Help Australia become a collaborative nation! Share this piece on university partnerships using the social media buttons below.

More Thought Leaders: Click here to go back to the Thought Leadership Series homepage, or start reading the Digital Disruption Thought Leadership Series here.

research collaboration

Research collaboration in the startup scene

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

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

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

1. Establish a direct link between research institutions and startups

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

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

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

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

2. Understand and account for your differences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Petra Andrén

CEO of Cicada Innovations

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

Spread the word: Help Australia become a collaborative nation! Share this piece on research collaboration using the social media buttons below.

More Thought Leaders: Click here to go back to the Thought Leadership Series homepage, or start reading the Digital Disruption Thought Leadership Series here.

gemaker

Sowing the seeds of technology transfer

Originally I trained as a chemist, but recently I’ve been thinking about the commercialisation of research outcomes – our area of expertise at gemaker – in botanical terms. At the risk of sounding like hippie Neil from ‘The Young Ones’, I’ll explain by asking you to consider the timeless wonder of a seed…

The seed represents a new idea, resulting from years of work by researchers in a university or similar institution. Given the right conditions, the seed will grow into an entirely new variety of plant. The innovative ideas of researchers have the potential to improve our lives in myriad ways, so the metaphorical plant could be a new source of food or medicine, or it might produce an exquisite perfume, or superior wood.

Having created a seed with wonderful potential the researcher needs someone like a farmer, to sow the seed and grow it, producing a bumper harvest. In other words, the researcher needs an industry client.

Like a farmer, the industry client has customers to please, and if customers want crisper apples, the farmer won’t waste time and money cultivating redder roses. The wisest researchers engage with industry clients to learn about market problems and demands before commencing R&D, then create seeds to meet needs.

To reach the targeted market, innovations need funding like plants need water – and more than just a drip feed. Without adequate funding for pest control (IP protection), viable mutations (prototyping), taste testing (beta testing) the researcher’s seed will never grow to fruition. It may look like a plant that’s been sitting at the supermarket for weeks losing value as it dries up and dies.

How do customers like them apples?

With funding, innovators can prove their concept: how do customers like them apples? Beta testing delivers feedback to guide product or service refinements before market entry, as well as creating an opportunity to acquire valuable early-adopter testimonials for marketing purposes.

To grow tall, new products and services need the sunlight of strategic marketing to shine on them. In the energising glow of a strong campaign, online and in traditional media, the innovation will thrive. With effective marketing, yields are maximised; without it, even the greatest innovations shrivel and die.

We do our best to help innovators achieve their optimal commercial outcome, whether this is a spin-off from a research organisation, growing sales of the product or service, licensing agreements, or sale of a business. Like anything worthwhile, the commercialisation process takes time. Few innovators achieve ‘overnight’ success, but it’s possible: you can produce strawberries in just two months. If you plant an apple tree, it takes six to ten years to bear fruit.

Like farming, commercialisation is challenging, and we all depend on it being done well. Better research-industry engagement, enhanced professionalism in technology transfer, supportive government policies and improved funding strategies will all help to turn more of our researchers’ discoveries into new Australian industries, achieving a better future for us all. To quote the wisdom of Neil: ‘This self-sufficiency thing really is amazing.’

How does gemaker help?

Gemaker helps researchers to:

• Match their research to commercial applications
• Find industry partners
• Source consistent commercialisation funding
• Identify how to best protect their intellectual property, and
• Sell their wonderful seeds so they can grow to fruition for everyone’s benefit

We keep an eye on the sky (we study global market trends and government policy changes), searching for rainclouds (grants and other sources of funding) that could hydrate seedlings (spin offs and startups). If necessary, we’ll dig an irrigation channel and perform a rain-dance (to attract angel investors or venture capitalists).

– Natalie Chapman

university-industry collaboration

Blueprints to a collaboration boom

Featured image above: Robin Knight (right) and Patrick Speedie (left) are cofounders of university-industry collaboration platform IN-PART. Credit: IN-PART

Robin, you’re four years into the IN-PART journey, and you’re already connecting 70% of your university opportunities with potential partners. Can you take us back to the start, and tell us how you first came to be interested in university-industry collaboration?

Prior to setting up IN-PART I was in academic research at King’s College London. I was always interested in collaborating with industry partners, especially when working in an area with potentially translatable outputs.

While undertaking my PhD I started working on an academic-to-academic platform with a couple of colleagues, and during that time I had a conversation with my now co-founder and long-time friend, Patrick Speedie, who was working in IP management and publishing. Our shared experiences and discovery of the need to better connect the two worlds of academia and industry motivated us to form university-industry collaboration platform IN-PART.

Tell us a bit more about IN-PART and how it gained traction?

At its core, IN-PART a tool to help Tech Transfer teams (and by extension researchers) find external partners interested in their research. The translation of academic research into impactful outputs is key to the advancement of society, and we wanted to be a key part in increasing those outputs.

So we began by building a network of individuals in industry who were both capable and motivated to interact with universities about research. Then we had to figure out the best and most efficient way to showcase opportunities to them.

After piloting a minimum viable version of IN-PART with six UK universities in 2013, we managed to find 25% of provided opportunities with potential industry partners in just two months. Three years and two investment rounds later, we now provide over 70% of each university’s content with potential partners.

IN-PART is all about university-industry collaboration. Why did you choose to focus on universities in particular?

We use the broader term of universities to represent publicly-funded research. Amongst these we will also include research institutions, and notably we recently welcomed Public Health England to IN-PART. They are a very interesting case as the outputs from a government lab differ from those of a traditional research institute, owing to the more hazardous bio-projects they undertake and different potential technologies that result.

Our industry audience are often seeking to access the academic behind available IP, especially if considering a license. It’s rare that a company would be able to take a technology and have it fit directly into their research pipeline – expertise is required for guiding that fit and this makes universities and research institutions such an attractive resource.

An important element of what we do is making sure all the content we have is ‘available’. This means we do not ‘scrape’ websites for technology nor trawl the internet, which turns up expired patents and technology where the academic is no longer associated. Instead we keep in close communication with university teams to make sure everything we have is relevant and up to date.

We do not work with company or industry generated IP seeking licensees. We also never want to be in the industry of trading IP for the sake of litigation, which from my personal point of view seems to counter our progression as a species.

I’ve noticed that at IN-PART, you restrict your platform to particular industry professionals. Have you found this to be important to the success of your collaboration model?

Yes, very important. When we first piloted IN-PART in the UK under a beta-test with six universities, it was clear that we wanted to only provide introductions to end-users in industry. By restricting our audience in this manner it meant that every contact we passed along was meaningful and high-value. What we didn’t want to do was pass on opportunities to work with consultants. That being said, consultants provide a valuable component within the ecosystem and we’re currently exploring how they can be included within our community.

To hear more from Dr Robin Knight about the key drivers behind successful commercialisation and collaboration, click here.

profile_inpartrobin

Dr Robin Knight is Co-founder and Director of UK-based university-industry collaboration platform IN-PART.

Click here to find out more about opportunities with IN-PART. To find more industry-ready technology from Australian universities, visit Source IP.

successful commercialisation

Key drivers behind successful commercialisation

Featured image above: Robin’s team driving successful commercialisation and university-industry collaboration at IN-PART. Credit: Jennifer Wallis, Ministry of Startups

Robin, it’s great to have you with us to share your insights into successful research-industry partnerships. Let’s start with universities. In your experience, what factors make a university’s research most ripe for application by industry?

That’s a good question, and one that doesn’t have an easy answer! It’s entirely dependent upon the sector, the company, and what they’re seeking from a university. We’ve never pigeonholed ourselves as being a ‘commercialisation platform’ per se, as we believe that university-industry collaboration in all forms can lead to great outcomes.

Some of the best instances of successful commercialisation have occurred alongside goals for longer-term strategic partnership with a research program. End results in this instance include funding for studentships, secondments, and research commercialisation on a large scale. By virtue of this, the earlier relationships can be established the better.

I’m a complete believer in ‘research for research’s sake’, but for programs designed to have societal impact, the best way of achieving it is with a commercial partner in mind from the beginning.

What have you found universities who’ve achieved successful commercialisation do better than others?

University tech-transfer teams have numerous roles to fulfil, and one of those is to manage two often very different mindsets and expectations when it comes to their academics and potential partners in industry. Their role is a crucial one, and being a steadfast, efficient liaison is key. That means being responsive, knowledgeable and more often than not, flexible to both the needs of the academic and industry partner.

In the first instance people need to speak, and if there are prohibitory conditions and pensive overseers during initial dialogues, it can sully a relationship from the beginning, which at its core relies upon growing and nurturing trust between parties. That being said, it’s a tough line to walk, but the best are those most willing to participate in the first instance.

What factors have you found to be vital to both forming and maintaining successful collaborations between research and industry?

Technology transfer in the university sector benefits from great membership networks, with KCA in Australia, Praxis in the UK, ASTP-Proton in mainland Europe, and AUTM in the US. These networks promote best practice amongst the community, and it’s always great to hear people sharing experiences whilst networking.

Owing to this openness within the community there’s been a rapid evolution for adopting new tech-transfer techniques (that work). From our experience it is those people who are most amenable to engage with new initiatives and alter how they interact, who work best. That means making the most of existing networks and proactively expanding them at conferences, on the phone, through Linkedin, and of course, through IN-PART.

Additionally, feedback from industry tells us that university websites are labyrinthine, and the sites that work best do not showcase the internal complexities of organisations, but have key individuals for contact regarding broad academic sectors. These people provide triage on inbound inquiries, directing them through the most efficient channel; essentially taking the work off potential partners who might struggle to identify who it is they should speak with in the first instance.

To hear more from Dr Robin Knight about breaking down barriers to university-industry collaboration, and emerging trends in university-industry partnerships, click here.

profile_inpartrobin

Dr Robin Knight is Co-founder and Director of UK-based university-industry collaboration platform IN-PART.

Click here to find out more about opportunities with IN-PART. To find more industry-ready technology from Australian universities, visit Source IP.

blindness

New river blindness vaccine begins trial

Featured image above: The new vaccine Advax could prevent river blindness, which affects 17 million people globally. Credit: Flinders University 

A new vaccine with the potential to prevent millions of cases of blindness is a step closer to commercialisation.

The river blindness vaccine is being developed using the patented adjuvant technology Advax by biotechnology company Vaxine Pty Ltd in South Australia.

The vaccine, which uses a unique sugar-based adjuvant, is set for cattle trials before the end of the year.

According to the World Health Organisation, river blindness, also known as onchocerciasis, affects about 17 million people globally.

It is spread by blackflies that breed in rivers, infecting humans and cattle with a parasitic worm known as Onchocerca volvulus.

The parasites can cause eye inflammation, bleeding, and other complications that ultimately lead to blindness.

Advax makes the pathogen in the vaccine more easily recognised by the body’s immune system so it can develop appropriate antibodies.

The vaccine is being primed for a cattle trial in the United States after successful testing in mice.

Vaxine Scientific Director Nikolai Petrovsky said the company planned a two-pronged approach to effectively preventing the disease.

“First we’re looking to vaccinate the cattle, which are a breeding ground for the parasite,” he says.

“Then the other side of this is to immunise the children so if they come in contact with the parasite it blocks the infection.

“Our technology is a bit like melding a turbocharger to the engine and in this case makes the vaccine dramatically more powerful.”

Blackflies bite the host, passing on the parasite in the process. The parasitic worms then produce microfilariae that migrate to the skin, eyes and other organs.

Onchocerciasis is a major cause of blindness in African, particularly in the western and central parts of the continent. It is also prevalent in many South American countries.

River blindness is partly responsible for the reduction of economic productivity in many of those areas, causing vast tracts of arable land to be abandoned.

Potential solutions to the problem, such as ivermectin, have been developed but have often led to a resistance to the drugs.

Professor Petrovski says one of the main problems was that other methods used aluminium-based adjuvants, which were not always effective.

“We offer a new alternative that is not only potentially safer because it is a sugar instead of a metal/salt with high toxicity,” he says.

“Our adjuvant also works for a lot of vaccines that wouldn’t work with aluminium. The ones that tried to create an onchocerciasis vaccine didn’t take but ours actually works.”

Vaxine is funded by the US National Institutes of Health to develop polysaccharide adjuvants that have played a vital role in the development of a range of vaccines for infectious diseases, allergies, and cancers.

It is internationally renowned for developing the world’s first swine flu vaccine during the 2009 pandemic and is active on other fronts including Ebola and Zika virus research.

The river blindness vaccine was developed in association with Thomas Jefferson University and the New York Blood Centre in the United States.

The group has received a grant from the US Government for the cattle trial and plans to begin tests in the coming weeks.

The results of the vaccine’s mice trials were published in National Center for Biotechnology Information.

This article was first published by The Lead South Australia on 18 November 2016. Read the original article here.

research and industry partnerships

What you can do for industry

My team and I have just run a two-day workshop at a Sydney-based university aimed at empowering academic researchers to engage professionally, effectively and sustainably with industry, and it was an eye-opening experience for us all.

As always happens when I teach, I learnt a lot, even though technology transfer is my expertise. I learnt more about what holds researchers back from beneficial partnerships with industry, and shared the joy of ‘A-ha!’ moments, when they realised what they could change or start doing, to seed the relationships they need.

From 1 January 2017, academic researchers will need those ‘A-ha!’ breakthroughs more than ever, as the Australian Government intends to introduce new research funding arrangements for universities that give equal emphasis to success in industry and other end-user engagement as it does to research quality.

After two days exploring industry imperatives and restrictions, and developing skills in market research and commercial communication, I interviewed the 16 participants, to determine any leaps in understanding they had made during the workshop. I found two major developments in their thinking:

1. Looking at the relationship with industry from the other side

‘I need to engage with the needs of the stakeholder,’ said one participant.

‘Go with open questions – don’t make it about you,’ said another.

To paraphrase JFK, academics should ask not what industry can do for them, but what they can do for industry. Only by identifying and understanding the needs of businesses (driven by the needs of customers), can academics think about how outcomes of their research – innovative ideas or new technologies – might solve some problems faced by industry. This is the first step in building a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship.

A particularly switched-on workshop participant realised the value of talking to industry before starting a new research project, then designing the project to deliver a real-world solution, identifying the ‘importance of prior planning – allowing time for the relationship to develop’. A-ha!

For many, the breakthrough came when they realised that this is not selling out – that commercialisation is not the dark side of research. Commercialisation is how researchers can turn their potentially life-saving or world-bettering discoveries into real products or services to make an actual difference in medicine, the environment, space, communications, data, energy, or wherever their passions lie. I have written more about this here.

2. Appreciating the importance and value of social media – especially LinkedIn – in finding industry contacts and maintaining industry partnerships.

‘I need to advertise myself better,’ was one participant’s succinct take-home.

Yes! Otherwise industry will struggle to find you, even if your R&D capabilities are a perfect fit for their needs. It came as a surprise to several academics that the kings and queens of commerce do not spend hours trawling ResearchGate, seeking potential partners, or in many cases even know of it. They hadn’t considered that ResearchGate is a closed door to non-researchers. In contrast, a targeted, professional and proactive presence on LinkedIn will rapidly get a researcher’s foot in the right industry door.

Other breakthroughs in learning about research and industry partnerships

One workshop participant found it enlightening to think about research outcomes ‘in measurable terms’.

Another experienced ‘surprising results from acting outside my comfort level’ when they were tasked with approaching and engage strangers in conversation.

Engaging with industry can be confronting for researchers, requiring investment of time and some additional knowledge and skills, as I know from personal experience, shared here. But what if you consider the potential comfort of ongoing funding from a productive industry partnership, plus the satisfaction of turning your research findings into measurable real-world benefits..?

A-ha!

– Natalie Chapman, Managing Director, gemaker

You might also enjoy this post on research and industry partnerships:

Engaging industry in research

technology transfer

Empowering knowledge transfer

To date TTPs have lacked clear and identifiable career paths.  While commercialising publicly funded research is relatively new, the drive from external stakeholders such as Government and business to “do better” has escalated the need to better define the practice, and outline what is required to effectively put research to use in both an ethical and competent manner.

Knowledge Commercialisation Australasia (KCA) commissioned the development of a world-first career Capability Framework that defines the skills, knowledge, behaviours and values required by a team taking research to market, and outline career paths for those working in the role at different levels. 

Entitled Knowledge Transfer in Australia: Is there a route to professionalism?,  the new Framework is the result of intensive research where 103 TTPs, 31 stakeholders and 64 Australasian organisations were interviewed and surveyed. It describes up to 200 desired capabilities for TTPs, divided into seven clusters and sixteen sub-clusters, and classified by development stages: early-career, mid-career and senior level. 

Infographic

technology transfer professionals
Click the image above to open KCA’s Technology Transfer Professionals infographic.

Results

Study participants perceived the skills of Australasian TTPs to be strong in the area of intellectual property advice and knowledge transfer, plus the qualifications and experience of those in the industry is well respected. The skills requiring the most development are in the areas of business acumen, communications and influence, legal compliance and advice, marketing and relationships, social media, and strategy and results.

KCA Chair and Director of Monash Innovation at Monash University, Dr Alastair Hick says that with increased demand and interest in improving the transfer of research to market, the KCA Framework comes at the right time. 

“To date there has been a lot of discussion about Australia’s record of translating research success into commercial uptake and jobs creation, with much of it focussing on the researcher,” says Hick.  

“However, technology transfer professionals play a vital role in commercialising research out of research organisations so ensuring they have the right skills and development are crucial to this commercial success. The framework is helping us to benchmark our performance and skills and see where KCA can provide additional training opportunities for our members.”

Applications

In March 2015, the Professional Standards Council awarded a $98,000 grant to KCA to develop the framework for the professional competency standards of the technology transfer sector.

“The Capability Framework we have developed provides benchmarks for technology transfer professionals (TTPs), against which the performance of individuals and teams can be measured,” says Hick.

“A digest of the Framework will be provided to KCA Members as a toolkit to improve recruitment practices, select targeted professional development, communicate their capabilities to stakeholders, and enable informed self-assessment and career planning.

“Researchers and industry stakeholders can also use the Framework to improve their understanding of the role of TTPs, thereby promoting more transparent, accountable and productive partnerships.”

Next steps for Technology Transfer Professionals

Recommendations for KCA and similar organisations include the development of a Code of Ethics for the TTP sector; focused education programs to address the identified skills gaps; secondment and mentoring programs involving Technology Transfer Offices and industry stakeholders and a formal processes for stakeholder feedback on the performance of TTPs.

“We are delighted to see this report, as it tackles the issue of advancing knowledge exchange and commercialisation by providing insights to build Australian industry,” says Dr Deen Sanders, Chief Executive Officer of the Professional Standards Council.

“It also shows that this sector is taking a serious and strategic approach to raising standards and becoming a profession,” says Sanders. 

Read the full report here.

This information was first shared by Knowledge Commercialisation Australasia and gemaker on 9 September 2016. Read the original article here.

industry engagement

Engaging industry in research

Featured image above: Industry engagement expert Natalie Chapman and the Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometer (SIMS) at ANSTO

The Australian Government is making changes to universities’ funding that will compel researchers to cross the border from Academia into Industryland, to meet and trade with the natives, under the banner of ‘industry engagement’. This is inspiring for some researchers, but nerve-wracking for others.

I empathise with those who feel nervous, because when I was a new researcher, I was sent on a commercialisation mission into Industryland.

Fifteen years ago, I started in a role at ANSTO where I was tasked with operating a SIMS surface science instrument (Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometer) on behalf of clients (researchers from around Australia) and conducting research, as well as being expected to create a spin-off business by finding new clients from research and industry.

This was an ambitious and daunting project. Not only did I have to learn how to operate an extremely complex piece of scientific equipment (it took me six months to achieve competency), but I also had to provide a highly reliable service to existing clients, while finding enough new customers to support the annual operating expenditure.

I had no background in semiconductors (the field of R&D for which the instrument was ideally suited), no knowledge of which research groups or companies (Australian or international) were strong in this field, and no clue how to create a commercial relationship with them. It was a tad overwhelming.

But my scientific training had at least equipped me with problem solving skills, so I took a deep breath and mapped a logical sequence of steps to take to make the task manageable.

Seven key steps towards industry engagement

1. Use the Internet to identify key locals and learn their language

First, I found out how semiconductors worked. Next, I found relevant conferences in Australia and Singapore (the semiconductor capital of South-East Asia). Before attending the conferences, I searched the programs for both research and industry contacts and analysed their use of semiconductors, to make a ‘hit list’ of useful people to connect with.

2. Attend conferences and network as if your funding depends on it

I attended semiconductor and advanced materials workshops and conferences to learn more about these fields and to meet people. I asked lots of questions of everyone I met and explained the capabilities of ANSTO’s instrument to them.

3. Create some industry friendly marketing material

I wrote some simple information which addressed the problems experienced by potential customers and explained how the SIMS could help them. It’s a long walk from authoring a scientific paper to wordsmithing a marketing flier, so if you’re not up for it, use a professional writer. These days everything is visual so if you can use photos, video or animation to help describe complex concepts you’ll have better engagement.

4. Make some cold calls to relevant locals and ask for meetings

I found a semiconductor company (the only one in Australia) located in Homebush and arranged to meet with them. Then I discovered a solar cell manufacturer two doors down and introduced myself to them as well. I contacted wafer fabrication manufacturers in Singapore to learn about that market, what their needs were and how we could assist them.

5. Follow up meetings by sending your marketing materials and invite them to free trial the service

Using the SIMS instrument, I ran free test samples for potential customers so they could see the type of information it was possible to garner from their own samples and lowered the barrier to them buying.

6. Collaborate and cross-promote

I partnered my project with other ANSTO capabilities and experts to offer a packaged solution to clients. This was better value and of interest to clients rather than a small, isolated piece of analysis, which didn’t solve their problem or provide them with advice on how to fix it.

7. Approach the competition and propose a mutually beneficial relationship

After a bit of background research on the competition I approached the largest competitor Evans Analytical Labs (a US based company), to discuss the possibility of partnering with them as their South-east Asian hub, providing services to Singapore and the region.

Did I succeed in establishing an ANSTO colony in Industryland?

Sort of. I certainly found new customers for ANSTO. But the proposed spin-off company was not viable, because the Australian market was simply too small, and to succeed in South-east Asia, we needed a back-up instrument to offer 100% reliable service.

Nonetheless, I returned from my expedition with a new mindset, a new industry engagement skill set and new confidence in my ability to engage with the inhabitants of Industryland, while remaining true to my values and my first love, Science.

– Natalie Chapman, Managing Director, gemaker

You might also be interested in these articles about industry engagement and commercialisation:

Research commercialisation is push and pull

Industry engagement must start at school

Is commercialisation the dark side?

e-textile

E-textile helps soldiers plug in

Featured image above: BAE Systems new e-textile could benefit a wide variety of professions, including the military. Credit: BAE Systems

A wireless conductive fabric that allows soldiers to plug electronic devices directly into armour is making a commercial push into Southeast Asia.

BAE Systems has developed the Broadsword Spine garment, which is being distributed throughout the Asia Pacific region by its Australian arm, based in Adelaide.

It was designed using a unique e-textile created by Intelligent Textiles Limited in the United Kingdom and can be inserted inside vests, jackets or belts.

BAE Systems’ wireless connector promises a range of benefits for multiple professions including the emergency services.

Broadsword Spine is on display this week at the Land Forces 2016 event in Adelaide, the capital of South Australia.

Program manager David Wilson said the technology was extremely lightweight and was able to pass power from any source, which made it adaptable to an assortment of devices.

“It’s revolutionary in terms of how it can pass power and data through USB 2.0,” he says.

“It reduces the weight and cognitive burden of the soldier because it is doing a lot of power and data management automatically.

“It also has no cables, which means you’ve got no snag hazard and no issue in terms of the breaking of cables and having to replace them.”

Broadsword Spine has been designed to replace contemporary heavy portable data and power supplies used by the military as well as firefighters, paramedics and rescue personnel.

The lack of cables and additional batteries make the new material 40 per cent lighter than other systems.

The e-textile was also developed to withstand harsh environments and is water, humidity, fire and shock resistant.

The material uses highly developed yarns that act as the electricity and data conductor.

It is able to connect to a central power source to support all electronic devices and is easily recharged in the field using simple batteries or in-vehicle charging points.

There are eight protected data or power ports that are capable of supplying 5A and operate at USB 2.0 speeds.

The management of power and data is automated and is performed by a computer that is embedded into the e-textile loom.

Users also have the option of monitoring and controlling the technology manually using a smartphone app.

Wilson said contemporary models were often heavy could be highly complicated products that required special maintenance.

“It’s unique in that regard in that we don’t sell the whole system, we sell the middle architecture and allow the customer to decide what they want and how to integrate that system,” he says.

“We’ve published the pin-outs and connections so they can create their own integration cables. They don’t have to keep coming back to us and that way they can support it themselves.”

Low rate production of the  Broadsword Spine has begun in the United Kingdom.

Wilson said when production increased, the company would work to distribute the product to the Asia-Pacific region from its Adelaide base next year.

Land Forces is the Southern Hemisphere’s premier defence industry exhibition and has more than 400 participating exhibition companies from about 20 countries as well as about 11,000 trade visitors.

South Australian exhibitors at the event include University of South Australia, which has developed  camouflage cells for tanks, and Supashock, which has unveiled damping technology taken from race cars for use in army trucks.

– Caleb Radford 

This article was first published by The Lead South Australia on 8 September 2016. Read the original article here

job growth

What are the big three drivers to job growth?

Increased collaboration, stability of policy and acceleration of commercialisation are three main drivers of innovation and job growth that must be addressed to accelerate Australia’s economy in the next 15 years.

The top three drivers were identified at the AFR National Innovation Summit today by Chairs of the boards of Telstra, BHP Billiton and Innovation and Science Australia.

The panel warned that fears around the effects of disruption on jobs must be part of the conversation, and that the effects of digital disruption through automation, and artificial intelligence were inevitable.

This disruption will affect people and jobs whether they are “in Woomera or Sydney”, says Bill Ferris, Chair of the board of Innovation and Science Australia.

“In five years we’ve seen the rise of Uber and Instagram, and the collapse of the mining boom. What is coming towards us will dwarf the change of pace [in disruption] to date,” says Dr Nora Scheinkestel, Chairman of Macquarie Atlas Roads and Director of Telstra Corporation and Stocklands Group.

Policy and R&D tax incentives

Crucial to Australia’s ability to innovate is the stability of policy such as the R&D tax incentive, which aims to encourage private investment in Australian R&D.

Along with Chief Scientist Alan Finkel, Bill Ferris was part of a team that reviewed the incentive for government to evaluate how much investment the incentive has created and the scheme’s effectiveness.

“I agree it is valuable and should be continued,” says Ferris. “Can it be improved? I think so. It’s been a $3 million cheque and the largest there has been. But there is nothing in the scheme that requires collaboration, whether CSIRO or academia.”

Incentivising collaboration is a no-brainer next step, says Ferris.

“I don’t think business is trying as hard as academia. Universities are getting on with business, creating spin-offs like QUT’s Spinifex, and Ian Fraser’s cancer vaccine. It’s very impressive.”

Stability of the R&D investment scheme is key to its success, says Carolyn Hewson AO, Director, BHP Billiton, Stockland Group and Federal Growth Centres Advisory Committee.

Hewsen says BHP Billiton was ‘deeply’ affected as a company by the collapse of the mining boom this year. “Every company is under pressure to innovate.” (See “How big companies can innovate)

“There is a role for government to address the KPIs they set around research funding.

KPIs need to move to speed of commercialisation rather than publication in tier 1 journals.”

“My concern is it is very easy for government with 3-year time horizon to make decisions on funding over a long term investment. Research projects extend out many years. To be subject to be changing regulation of government regulated by short-term political cycle is very worrying.”


How big companies can innovate

– Carolyn Hewson AO, Director of BHP Billiton, Stockland Group and Federal Growth Centres Advisory Committee

  • Hastening production
  • Accelerating technology competencies
  • Innovation hubs working to address innovative solution to specific challenges, eg. automation of trucks and drills
  • Step-up programs to build from the inside of the company
  • Partnerships with universities and CSIRO, CRCs on engineering and remote operations

Collaborate and commercialise for job growth

Ferris is optimistic about Australia’s ability to respond to the challenge to grow jobs by 2030. Agribusiness, aquaculture, cybersecurity, environmental services, renewables, and new materials were all strong potential job growth areas, he says.

“A lot more work needs to be done by business on reaching in. If we can’t commercialise around our inventiveness we won’t create the jobs that we could and that we deserve.”

Scheinkestel says the ecosystem is essential to drive innovation and job growth.

“The big message from Israel is the ecosystem created between business and academia, and in their case the military, where young people are taught strong leadership skills. They commercialise or adapt tech they have been looking at, get the backing of VC, which are supported by consistent policies from government around tax regimes.

“Again in Silicon Valley, you are talking about an ecosystem, a constellation of start-ups with shared resources and again consistency in policies and tax incentives.”

Hewson agrees that work skills are essential to our future and that there is concern about workforce skills in Australia across a number of advanced manufacturing, mining and medical sectors.

“We want to enhance global competitiveness and build on strategic collaboration within these sectors,” she says.

“It’s not just about growth, it’s about survival,” adds Scheinkestel.

Heather Catchpole

Overcoming academic barriers to innovation

In the Government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda, the messaging is as important as the content.

The agenda states that our future prosperity and well-being are intimately tied to the nation’s ability to innovate, that is, to draw on new ideas to develop new products and services.

This is of course not a new concern. For more than three decades governments have noted that Australia languishes at the low end of international measures of innovation and, in particular, lags well behind other developed nations when it comes to links between university research and the world of business.


“There is clearly a great deal more that can and must be done if we are to truly make the most of our national potential, and if we are to remain competitive in a knowledge-intensive global economy.”


Over the years many programs have been developed to remedy this state of affairs, and across the country we can see the fruits of these endeavours. Webs of connections have developed among our universities nationally, and from universities to the wider world of industry, government, professionals and the wider community.

But there is clearly a great deal more that can and must be done if we are to truly make the most of our national potential, and if we are to remain competitive in a knowledge-intensive global economy.

The fact that we remain behind the international pack in building productive links between our university researchers and those who might put research to practical use indicates that concerted efforts are needed at all levels to overcome some persistent barriers.

One of those barriers comes from what might be thought of as ‘business as usual’ within universities. One of the strengths of universities is that they provide a home for independent-minded and highly intelligent people to pursue their passions and to delve at depth into their areas of speciality.

This strength can be a weakness, however, if universities as a whole are unable to coordinate and support academic expertise in ways that make the whole more than the sum of the parts.

Even the most powerful universities, such as Harvard in the U.S., have long struggled with this issue.

At QUT we have sought to break the mould by making partnerships an integral feature of our research by, for example, establishing research institutes which are not stand-alone ‘research hotels’ but instead bring together researchers from multiple disciplines to work on carefully selected themes, alongside people who can make best use of the research findings.

This approach is most fully developed in health research, at the Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation (IHBI), which is complemented by a range of research partnerships. These include other universities, research institutes, hospitals and other public health and clinical players, including the recently established Translational Research Institute.

The goal is not just to translate research into better health products and practice, but also to develop new interdisciplinary models of education and training. Particular examples are the following:

Examples of interdisciplinary models

1. The Centre for Emergency and Disaster Management within IHBI has been developing its international links, hosting 14 present and future leaders from the Maldives, the Philippines and Pakistan for a five-week intensive training program in 2014 to advance disaster risk reduction and management.

2. QUT’s Medical Engineering Research Facility (MERF) at the Prince Charles Hospital Chermside provides a comprehensive suite of research and training facilities in one location. MERF allows researchers in medical and healthcare robotics to develop applications that will be able to be translated directly to human use. Fellowships have been supported by orthopaedics company Stryker to provide training and research in hip and knee replacement surgery, and Professor Ross Crawford has supervised more than 40 PhD students in orthopaedic surgery techniques, with many of these students working in robotics.

Many of these initiatives are relatively new, and sustaining them will require commitment from all partners and ongoing innovation in our own models of working. QUT is determined to see that not only these efforts flourish, but that they also provide a model for innovation and partnerships in other fields. This is evidenced through the following examples.

Providing a model for innovation and partnerships in other fields

1. QUT has put considerable investment over time not only into the institutes but also into ensuring they integrate seamlessly with the rest of the university. For example, developing models of funding and recognition of research outputs that work across institute and faculty boundaries. This enables researchers to move between their academic “home” and the research institute, in contrast to the usual stand-alone model of a research institute.

The institute model is being extended in QUT’s Institute of Future Environments (IFE) which also adopts a multidisciplinary thematic focus to research in major areas of challenge in our natural, built and virtual environments. It also incorporates a range facilities on and off campus, including the Central Analytical Research Facility (CARF), the Samford Ecological Research Facility (SERF), the Banyo Pilot Plant Precinct and the Mackay Renewable Biocommodities Pilot Plant.

2. Within IHBI, research is being translated into improved therapies and support services for patients. Professor David Kavanagh launched a $6.5 million e-mental health initiative in 2014 to train primary health practitioners in the use of e-mental health services. Professor Kenneth Beagley led the development of a new oral vaccine that shows promise for protection against herpes simplex virus and Dr Willa Huston has developed a new chlamydia diagnostic for infertility in women.

3. The IFE’s Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities researchers have had a significant breakthrough with the world’s first human trial of pro-vitamin A-enriched bananas. The genetically modified bananas have elevated levels of betacarotene to help African children avoid the potentially fatal conditions associated with vitamin A deficiency. This work has been supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Professor Peter Coaldrake AO

Vice-Chancellor of QUT

Read next: Dr Krystal Evans, CEO of the BioMelbourne Network on Gender equality and innovation.

Spread the word: Help to grow Australia’s innovation knowhow! Share this piece using the social media buttons below.

Be part of the conversation: Share your ideas on innovating Australia in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!

bridging the innovation gap

Bridging the innovation gap

Professor Fiona M Wood, FRACS AM, is the inventor of spray-on skin, and Director of the Burns Service of Western Australia and Burn Injury Research Unit at the University of Western Australia.

We encounter innovation at every turn in our daily lives. The capacity to live as we do today is through the evolution of yesterday’s ideas. But is this as good as it gets? Clearly the answer is ‘No!’ – we continually learn from today to ensure tomorrow is better.

We innovate by identifying a problem and seeking answers. The chain of activities from question to answer is long and complex: discovering a problem, chasing down a solution (supported by a rigorous research framework), dealing with regulatory safety hurdles, scaling the solution from the lab to the marketplace, and delivering it in a practical and cost-effective way – a process that requires tenacity above all else.

Australia enjoys a level of excellence in a number of areas of research, and it is time to connect these areas and realise their potential on the world stage. There are plenty of hurdles on the path to commercialisation; however, those who have succeeded in creating innovative, commercially successful outcomes provide us with the encouraging examples we need to keep going.

Linking problems with solutions is a skill we need to teach at every opportunity. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are pivotal to the success of our economy, but their potential lies in their utilisation: in problem solving, and in developing the skills to collaborate and progress along the innovation chain.

Professor Fiona M Wood, FRACS AM

Director of the Burns Service of WA and Burn Injury Research Unit at the University of Western Australia

Read next: Dr Alan Finkel AO, Chief Scientist of Australia on Engineering solutions.

Spread the word: Help to grow Australia’s innovation knowhow! Share this piece using the social media buttons below.

Be part of the conversation: Share your ideas on innovating Australia in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!

investing in small business

Investing in small business

Featured image above: Charles W. Wessner is a distinguished scholar and research professor in Global Innovation Policy at Georgetown University, and director of the Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship program at the National Academies.

Innovation is recognised as a key to growing and maintaining a country’s competitive position in the global economy. Australian scientists produce top-quality research and punch above their weight in terms of peer-reviewed publications; however, Australia is much less successful in creating innovative products and processes based on research investment. If we want more innovation, university and government policies need to change.

Part of this change requires learning from the successes of other nations. Successful policy changes include increased support for universities and research centres, growing funding for competitively awarded applied research, sustained support for small businesses, and a focus on partnerships among government, industry and universities in bringing research ideas to market.

The USA is the land of free-market capitalism, but it is also an active entrepreneurial state. A highly effective US government initiative, for example, is the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, which has been in existence for 25 years and was recently renewed by Congress.

Instrumental in this renewal was an assessment by the National Academy of Sciences, which found the SBIR program “sound in concept and effective in operation”.

The program provides highly competitive, phased innovation awards to small businesses and start-ups to develop products that meet agency mission objectives or provide social value. The awards range from US$150,000 to more than US$1 million. The grants are often linked to the procurement process, for example in the case of military acquisition and support. In other fields, such as health and energy, grants provide a means to push good ideas to market.

SBIR has a strong track record. In recent years, it garnered 20–25% of the top 100 R&D awards for the US economy as a whole, and helped agencies like NASA address specific needs such as instruments for exploring Mars. SBIR doesn’t replace venture capital, but rather augments it by de-risking ideas to the point where private investors can step forward. Reflecting its success in the USA, SBIR has been adopted by a number of other countries.

While SBIR is a success, it is not a panacea. Effective innovation policy is multidimensional, and a supportive policy framework that encourages universities to commercialise new products and processes is required. Policies that facilitate start-ups and encourage small to medium-sized businesses are also needed.

Governments need to invest in places where researchers and companies can meet, learn, cooperate and grow. For example, science and technology parks near universities, incubators, accelerator programs, and innovation awards that facilitate collaboration.

Adopting pro-innovation policies does not guarantee instant success – but not adopting them guarantees long-term stagnation.

– Charles W. Wessner

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: international insights

Top 25: international insights

Some argue that Australian start-ups are more vulnerable to the “valley of death” than businesses in other countries, with only 3.2% becoming high-growth companies. 

Here, leaders of the Top 25 Science Meets Business R&D spin-off companies answer the question: What lessons have you taken from R&D spin-offs in overseas markets as to how to navigate the difficult journey from prototype to commercial product? 


CATAPULT GROUP INTERNATIONAL LTD

“A key point here is that the journey from prototype to commercial product is much more difficult if you’re trying to penetrate overseas markets at the same time.

When Catapult became a commercial product in 2006, the company’s focus was on the Australian market – specifically Australian football.

Within a couple years the technology reached saturation point in the Australian Football League (AFL), the product was stable and developed based on local feedback, and then we started to attempt a new market in the United Kingdom through a local distributor.”

Shaun_intext

– Shaun Holthouse, Chief Executive Officer


SMARTCAP TECHNOLOGIES PTY LTD

“Firstly, I don’t think it makes sense to classify all start-ups as being the same, in my view it depends on the attitudes of the early markets a particular start-up is targeting.  

CRCMining carries out research primarily into new technologies and mining equipment, which would be used within the mining sector. Australia has traditionally been an early adopter of new mining technologies, and the mining industry generally recognises the importance of innovation and is supportive of the development of new technologies. This assists tremendously in mining technology companies successfully negotiating the valley of death. 

Mining is, however, a relatively small, niche market for new technologies, so mining technology start-up companies do need to have a plan to become global providers very rapidly.

Secondly, I believe there are a number of factors that need to be solved adequately for a spin-off to have a chance of being successful:

  1. Is there a viable, readily accessible market that is sufficiently large to support a spin-off company?
  2. Is there innovation capability within the spin-off – in particular, do the inventors want to transfer to the spin-off?
  3. Is there competent management and sales capability to direct the business, and generate revenue for the company? (Typically different from the researchers.)
  4. Is there appropriate funding available to get the company through to a viable revenue stream?

If all of the above can be answered appropriately, then a spin-off has a good chance of getting through to the commercial product phase and becoming an operating business.” 

– Kevin Greenwood, Chief Operating Officer


PHARMAXIS LTD

“Developing new pharmaceutical products is a very long process that requires access to a lot of capital.

I observe in the USA, and to a lesser extent in Europe and Asia, that R&D spin-offs tend to have access to greater amounts of venture capital (VC), allowing them to get to clinical proof of concept before undertaking an initial public offering (IPO). The IPO then tends to be substantial and provides the necessary cash to get all the way to the market.

In Australia it is difficult to get enough VC funding to reach proof of concept, so companies are often forced to IPO prematurely and for much smaller amounts.

At Pharmaxis, we are actively looking for opportunities in Australia that haven’t yet reached proof of concept, where we can provide alternatives to an early IPO by collaborating and incubating the technology to a significant value step.

venture capital

– Gary J Phillips, Chief Executive Officer


ADMEDUS

I think it is a balance and companies need to remain flexible in their strategy so they can adapt to market conditions.

Having some revenue does help underpin the business. Getting an initial program to commercial returns helps to get over the ‘Valley of Death’.  

You should avoid laying single bets, as one-program companies are binary and this can make raising capital difficult.

venture capital

– Dr Julian Chick, Chief Operating Officer


ENGENEIC LTD

“It is very difficult to take too many lessons from overseas since, for example, investors in the USA would invest enough money to allow you to be a high-growth company; even getting from concept to clinic. Many European countries like Denmark also invest heavily in start-ups.

None of this applies to Australia since we neither have a deep and knowledgeable biotechnology investment community, nor successive governments which advocate evolution from start-up to high-growth company.

While there were some government investment programs in years past, they have only applied to early-stage companies, and biotechnology takes a long time.”

HimanshuandJennifer_intext

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


REDFLOW

“Making sure the product that is developed suits the market that is available. Ensuring the target market is the best for new technology and has a compelling business case to current incumbents.”

Stuart Smith_intext

– Stuart Smith, Chief Executive Officer


ACRUX DDS PTY LTD

“You need to develop a strong strategy. This involves mitigating inevitable risks through solid and rigorous planning. Developing a well-defined target product profile is key as this will guide your planning and risk mitigation strategies.”

Michael Kotsanis_intext

– Michael Kotsanis, Chief Executive Officer


SPINIFEX PHARAMCEUTICALS PTY LTD

“In overseas markets such as the USA, the scale of Series A capital is about tenfold higher than it is in Australia and the venture capital firms making these Series A investments typically have very large funds at their disposal. Hence, these firms have the capital needed to make subsequent Series B and C investments for progressing from prototype to commercial product.”

– 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 PTY LTD

“A key point for any new venture is to prove there is a market for the product. So we focused on getting product into customers hands as soon as possible.”

– Gary Pennefather, Chief Executive Officer


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

Top 25 R&D spin-offs

Top 25 R&D spin-offs

For a country that makes up just 0.3% of the world’s population, Australia packs a heavyweight punch in science – generating 3.9% of the world’s research publications. However taking that research to market has proved a broader challenge.

Fostering the commercialisation of research success and encouraging collaboration between industry and researchers is at the forefront of the government’s renewed focus on scientific innovation, with over $1.1 billion earmarked to kickstart the “ideas boom” as part of the National Innovation and Science Agenda.

“Collaboration is key to turning Australian ideas into viable and lucrative commercial products and services,” says Christopher Pyne, Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, adding that high-tech knowhow plus innovative R&D will drive jobs and wealth in the future.

“We must capitalise on the opportunities that are presenting themselves in the economic transition taking place in Australia by being agile, innovative and creative,” Pyne says.

He notes a range of measures, including the $155 million Industry Growth Fund and the R&D Tax Incentive program, are supporting firms to innovate and drive investment into new high-growth industry sectors.

From industry-funded ventures to university spin-offs and rising star start-ups, these are the Science Meets Business Top 25 Australian research and development spin-off companies.

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


FIBROTECH THERAPEUTICS PTY LTD

 

TYPE: NOT LISTED

CEO: Darren Kelly

SOLD FOR: US$557.5 million

INNOVATION RATIO*: 0.15


Fibrotech develops novel drug candidates to treat fibrosis (tissue scarring) associated with chronic conditions such as heart failure, kidney and pulmonary disease, and arthritis. The company spun out of research by Professor Darren Kelly at the University of Melbourne in 2006, and its principal asset is a molecule, FT011, which helps prevent kidney fibrosis associated with diabetes. In May 2014, in one of Australia’s biggest biotech deals at the time, Fibrotech was acquired by Shire, a Dublin-based pharmaceutical company, for an initial payment of US$75 million. Further payments, based on a series of milestones, will bring the total value of the sale to US$557.5 million, and the deal was awarded Australia’s best early stage venture capital deal in 2014. At the time of the sale, FT011 was in Phase 1b trials for the treatment of renal impairment in diabetics – a market worth US$4 billion annually.

*Innovation ratio = patents published/cited

Founder, CEO & director of Fibrotech Therapeutics, Professor Darren Kelly
Founder, CEO & director of Fibrotech Therapeutics, Professor Darren Kelly

SPINIFEX PHARMACEUTICALS PTY LTD

 

TYPE: LISTED

MARKET VALUE: $264 million

CEO/President: Dr Tom McCarthy

INNOVATION RATIO: 0.13

SOLD FOR: acquired by Novartis for US$200 million up-front payment plus milestone payments


Spinifex Pharmaceuticals was launched in 2005 to commercialise chronic pain treatments developed by Professor Maree Smith of The University of Queensland. Pharmaceuticals giant Novartis acquired the company in 2015 for a total of US$725 million, based on the promising results in Phase 1b and Phase 2 clinical trials. Spinifex’s treatment targets nerve receptors on peripheral nerves rather than pain receptors in the brain, making it possible to treat the pain from causes such as shingles, chemotherapy, diabetes and osteoarthritis without central nervous system side-effects such as tiredness and dizziness.

Dr Tom McCarthy_intext
CEO/President of Spinifex Pharmaceuticals, Dr Tom McCarthy

ADMEDUS LTD

 

TYPE: LISTED

MARKET VALUE: $61.88 million

COO: Julian Chick

INNOVATION RATIO: 0.02

REVENUE: $10.2 million


Admedus is a diversified healthcare company with interests in vaccines, regenerative medicine, and the sale and distribution of medical devices and consumables. Currently, the company is developing vaccines for herpes simplex virus and human papillomavirus based on Professor Ian Frazer’s groundbreaking vaccine technology. In the regenerative medicine field, Admedus is the vendor of CardioCel®, an innovative single-ply bio-scaffold that can be used in the treatment of congenital heart deformities and complex heart defects.


BIG 3 – RESMED LTD

 

TYPE: LISTED

MARKET VALUE: $7.85 billion

CEO: Michael J Farrell

INNOVATION RATIO: 0.02

REVENUE: $1.68 billion


For more than 25 years, ResMed has been a pioneer in the treatment of sleep-disordered breathing, obstructive pulmonary disease and other chronic diseases. The company was founded in 1989 after Professor Colin Sullivan and University of Sydney colleagues developed nasal continuous positive airway pressure – the first successful, non-invasive treatment for obstructive sleep apnoea. Today, the company employs more than 4000 people in over 100 countries, delivering treatment to millions of people worldwide.


BIODIEM LTD

 

TYPE: NOT LISTED

CEO/Executive Director: Julie Phillips

INNOVATION RATIO: 0.22

REVENUE: $203,809


BioDiem specialises in the development and commercialisation of vaccines and therapies to treat infectious diseases. The Live Attenuated Influenza Virus vaccine technology provides a platform for developing vaccines, including one for both seasonal and pandemic influenza. BioDiem’s subsidiary, Opal Biosciences, is developing BDM-I, a compound that offers a possible avenue for the treatment of infectious diseases that resist all known drugs.


VAXXAS PTY LTD

 

TYPE: NOT LISTED

CEO/Director: David Hoey


Vaxxas is pioneering a needle-free vaccine delivery system, the Nanopatch, which delivers vaccines to the abundant immunological cells just under the skin’s surface. Preclinical studies have shown that vaccines are effective with as little as one-hundredth of a conventional dose when delivered via a Nanopatch. In 2014, Vaxxas was selected by the World Economic Forum as a Technology Pioneer, based on the potential of Nanopatch to transform global health.


6 ACRUX DDS PTY LTD

 

TYPE: LISTED

MARKET VALUE: $122.39 million

CEO: Michael Kotsanis

INNOVATION RATIO: 0.01

REVENUE: $25.4 million

Biotech company Acrux was incorporated in 1998 after researchers at Monash University developed an effective new spray-on drug delivery technology that improved absorption through the skin and nails. In 2010, Acrux struck a US$335 million deal with global pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly for AxironTM, a treatment for testosterone deficiency in men. It was the largest single product licensing agreement in the history of Australian biotechnology.

CEO of Acrux, Michael Kotsanis
CEO of Acrux, Michael Kotsanis

PHARMAXIS LTD

 

MARKET VALUE: $72.9 million

CEO: Gary J Phillips

INNOVATION RATIO: 0.76

REVENUE: $59.25 million

Listed on the ASX in 2003, Pharmaxis has two products on the market: Bronchitol, a treatment for cystic fibrosis; and Aridol, a lung function test to diagnose and assess asthma. In 2015, Pharmaxis sold the rights to a treatment for the liver condition nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, to Boehringer Ingelheim in a deal that could be worth US$750 million.

Garyphillips_in text
CEO of Pharmaxis, Gary J Phillips

OPTHEA PTY LTD

 

TYPE: LISTED

MARKET VALUE: $42.80 million

CEO/MD: Dr Megan Baldwin

INNOVATION RATIO: 0.01

REVENUE: $939,008

With a focus on ophthalmology, Opthea’s main product is OPT-302 – a treatment for wet age-related macular degeneration – which is currently in a Phase 1/2a clinical trial. Wet macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in the Western world. Opthea was formerly known as Circadian Technologies, acting as a biotechnology investment fund before transitioning to developing drugs in 2008.


BENITIC BIOPHARMA LTD

 

TYPE: LISTED

MARKET VALUE: $63.01 million

CEO: Greg West

INNOVATION RATIO: 0.14

REVENUE: $1.37 million

Benitec Biopharma’s leading product is DNA-directed RNA interference (ddRNAi) – a platform for silencing unwanted genes as a treatment for a wide range of genetic conditions. ddRNAi has broad applications, and can assist with conditions as diverse as neurological, infectious and autoimmune diseases, as well as cancers. The company’s current focus inludes hepatitis B and C, wet age-related macular degeneration and lung cancer.


10 CATAPULT GROUP INTERNATIONAL LTD

 

TYPE: LISTED

MARKET VALUE: ~$256 million

CEO: Shaun Holthouse

REVENUE: $11.8 million

Catapult makes athletic performance monitoring systems using global and local positioning technologies for more than 750 elite teams, universities and institutions worldwide. The technology was commercialised in 2006 and its IPO in December 2014 raised more than $12 million from investors – including from US billionaire Mark Cuban.

CEO of Catapult, Shaun Holthouse
CEO of Catapult, Shaun Holthouse

11 SMARTCAP TECHNOLOGIES PTY LTD

 

CEO: Dush Wimal

INNOVATION RATIO: 0.03

TYPE: NOT LISTED

Using a wearable electroencephalograph (EEG), SmartCap monitors driver fatigue by measuring changes in brain activity without significant discomfort or inconvenience. It notifies users when they are fatigued and what time of day they’re most at risk. SmartCap was formally EdanSafe, a CRCMining spin-off company.

CEO of Smartcap, Dush Wimal
CEO of Smartcap Technologies, Dush Wimal

BIG 3 – COCHLEAR LTD

 

TYPE: LISTED

MARKET VALUE: $4.8 billion

INNOVATION RATIO: 0.05

CEO/PRESIDENT: Chris Smith

REVENUE: $925.6 million

Cochlear delivers hearing to over 400,000 people worldwide through products like the cochlear implant. Pioneered by the University of Melbourne’s Professor Graeme Clark and developed with assistance from The HEARing CRC, the bionic devices were first successfully implanted by the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital for people with moderate to profound hearing loss. The global company now employs 2800 staff and assists people in 100 countries.

CEO/President of Cochlear, Chris Smith
CEO/President of Cochlear, Chris Smith

12 ECOULT PTY LTD

 

TYPE: NOT LISTED

CEO: John Wood

Founded by the CSIRO in 2007 to commercialise the UltraBattery, Ecoult was acquired by the East Penn Manufacturing Company in 2010. The UltraBattery makes it possible to smooth out the peaks and troughs in renewable power, functioning efficiently in a state of partial charge for extended periods.


13 QUICKSTEP HOLDINGS LTD

 

MARKET VALUE: $87.09 million

CEO/MD: David Marino

INNOVATION RATIO: 0.04

REVENUE: $39.51 million

Composite materials company Quickstep was founded in 2001 to commercialise their patented manufacturing process. Working with the aerospace, automotive and defence industries, Quickstep supplies advanced carbon fibre composite panels for high technology vehicles. In 2015, the company increased its manufacturing capacity, establishing an automotive production site in Victoria in addition to their aerospace production site in NSW.


14 ENGENEIC LTD

 

TYPE: NOT LISTED

JOINT CEOs/DIRECTORS: Dr Jennifer MacDiarmid and Dr Himanshu Brahmbhatt

MARKET VALUE: $178 million

INNOVATION RATIO: 0.03

EnGeneIC’s cancer treatment platform, the EnGeneIC Dream Vector (EDVTM), is a first-in-class cytoimmunotherapy.

The EDV is a nanocell mechanism for delivering drugs and functional nucleic acids and can target tumours without coming into contact with normal cells, greatly reducing toxicity. Above all, the EDV therapeutic stimulates the adaptive immune response, thereby enhancing anti-tumour efficacy. More than 260 patents support the technology, developed entirely by EnGeneIC, giving the company control over its application.

Joint CEOs and directors of EnGeneIC, Dr Jennifer MacDiarmid and Dr Himanshu Brahmbhatt
Joint CEOs and directors of EnGeneIC, Dr Jennifer MacDiarmid and Dr Himanshu Brahmbhatt

15 SNAP NETWORK SURVEILLANCE PTY LTD

 

TYPE: NOT LISTED

CEO: Simon Langsford

CTO/FOUNDER: Dr Henry Detmold

Snap’s FMx is a unique approach to video surveillance that forms cameras into a network based on artificial intelligence that learns relationships between what the cameras can see. It enables advanced real-time tracking and easier compilation of video evidence. Developed at the University of Adelaide’s Australian Centre for Visual Technologies, the system is operational at customer sites in Australia, Europe and North America.


16 ORTHOCELL LTD

 

TYPE: LISTED

MARKET VALUE: $32.89 million

MD: Paul Anderson

INNOVATION RATIO: 0.81

REVENUE: $1.69 million

Orthocell develops innovative technologies for treating tendon, cartilage and soft tissue injuries. Its Ortho-ATI™ and Ortho-ACI™ therapies, for damaged tendons and cartilage, use the patient’s cells to assist treatments. Its latest product, CelGro™, is a collagen scaffold for soft tissue and bone regeneration.


17 REDFLOW

 

TYPE: LISTED

MARKET VALUE: $111.3 million

CEO: Stuart Smith

INNOVATION RATIO: 0.16

REVENUE: $265,436

As the demand for effective energy storage grows, RedFlow’s zinc-bromide flow batteries are gaining attention. RedFlow has outsourced its manufacturing to North America to keep up with demand, while the company’s research and development continues in Brisbane.

CEO of Redflow, Stuart Smith
CEO of Redflow, Stuart Smith

18 MINIFAB PTY LTD

 

TYPE: NOT LISTED

CEO: Dr Erol Harvey

INNOVATION RATIO: 2

Since 2002, precision engineering company MiniFAB has completed more than 900 projects for customers across the globe. MiniFAB provides a complete design and manufacturing service, and has developed polymer microfluidic and microengineered devices for medical and diagnostic products, environmental monitoring, food packaging and aerospace.


19 RAYGEN RESOURCES PTY LTD

 

TYPE: NOT LISTED

CEO: Robert Cart

INNOVATION RATIO: 0.74

RayGen’s power generation method involves an ultra high efficiency array of photovoltaic cells, which receive focused solar energy from heliostats (mirrors) that track the sun, resulting in high performance at low cost. In December 2014, RayGen and the University of New South Wales (UNSW) collaborated to produce the highest ever efficiency for the conversion of sunlight into electricity. The independently verified result of 40.4% efficiency for the advanced system is a game changer, now rivalling the performance of conventional fossil power generation.

Robert Cart_intext
CEO of RayGen Resources, Robert Cart

BIG 3 – CSL LTD

 

TYPE: LISTED

MARKET VALUE: $44.93 billion

CEO/MD: Paul Perreault

INNOVATION RATIO: 0.05

REVENUE: US$5.6 million

CSL is Australia’s largest biotechnology company, employing over 14,000 people across 30 countries. The company began in 1916, when the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories was founded in Melbourne. It was incorporated in 1991, and listed on the ASX in 1994. Since that time, CSL has acquired established plasma protein maker CSL Behring, and Novartis’ influenza vaccine business, and has become a global leader in the research, manufacture and marketing of biotherapies.


20 CARNEGIE WAVE ENERGY LTD

 

TYPE: LISTED

MARKET VALUE: $88.38 million

MD: Dr Michael Ottaviano

INNOVATION RATIO: 0.21

REVENUE: $1.72 million

Carnegie Wave Energy’s CETO technology converts ocean swell into zero-emission renewable power and desalinated freshwater. Ten years of research at test sites off the coast of Western Australia, along with over $100 million in local and foreign investment, has helped grow the company’s global profile.

A recent £2 million grant from the Scottish government boosted stock prices.


21 DYESOL LTD

 

TYPE: LISTED

MD: Richard Caldwell

MARKET VALUE: $110.13 million

INNOVATION RATIO: 0.12

REVENUE: $1.44 million

Dyesol Limited (ASX: DYE) is a renewable energy supplier and leader in Perovskite Solar Cell (PSC) technology – 3rd Generation photovoltaic technology. The company’s vision is to create a viable low-cost source of electricity with the potential to disrupt the global energy supply chain and energy balance.

MD of Dyesol, Richard Caldwell
MD of Dyesol, Richard Caldwell

22 EVOGENIX LTD

 

TYPE: NOT LISTED

SOLD FOR: $207 million

INNOVATION RATIO: 0.11

EvoGenix began as a startup in 2001 to commercialise EvoGene™, a powerful method of improving proteins, developed by the CSIRO and the CRC for Diagnostics. It acquired US company Absalus Inc in 2005, then merged with Australian biotechnology company Peptech in 2007, to form Arana Therapeutics. In 2009, Cephalon Inc bought the company for $207 million.


23 MURADEL PTY LTD

 

TYPE: NOT LISTED

CEO/MD: David Lewis

REVENUE: $4.18 million

With a vision to create sustainable energy through renewable biofuels, Muradel is a joint venture between the University of Adelaide, Murdoch University and SQC Pty Ltd. Their $10.7 million Demonstration Plant converts algae and biosolids into green crude oil. Muradel has plans for upgrades to enable the sustainable production of up to 125,000 L of crude oil, and to construct a commercial plant capable of supplying over 50 megalitres of biocrude from renewable feedstocks.


24 iCETANA

 

TYPE: NOT LISTED

CEO: Gary Pennefather

INNOVATION RATIO: 0.05

iCetana’s ‘iMotionFocus’ technology employs machine learning to determine what is the ‘normal’ activity viewed by each camera in a surveillance system and alerts operators when ‘abnormal’ events occur. This enables fewer operators to monitor more cameras with greater efficiency.


25 PHYLOGICA LTD

 

TYPE: LISTED

MARKET VALUE: $33.82 million

CEO: Dr Richard Hopkins

INNOVATION RATIO: 0.09

Phylogica is a drug discovery service, and the owner of Phylomer® Libraries, the largest and most structurally diverse suite of natural peptides. It has worked with some of the world’s largest drug companies, including Pfizer and Roche, to uncover drug candidates.


The Top 25 Science Meets Business R&D spin-off companies was written by Refraction Media in consultation with universities, industry and funding bodies, and supported by data from Thomson Reuters.

The research compiled by Refraction was judged by a panel comprising of: Dr Peter Riddles, biotechnology expert and director on many start-up enterprises; Dr Anna Lavelle, CEO and Executive Director of AusBiotech; and Tony Peacock, Chief Executive of the Cooperative Research Centres Association. The panel considered the following: total market value, annual turnover, patents awarded and cited, funding and investment, growth year-on-year, social value, overseas expansion and major partnerships.

CtX forges $730 m deal for new cancer drug

The new cancer drug, which was developed with support from the UK-based Wellcome Trust and Cancer Research Technology (CRT), has potential clinical applications in both cancer and hemoglobinopathies (non-cancer blood disorders).

According to Dr Tom Peat from CSIRO, one of the key research partners in CTx, the new cancer drug is designed to inhibit the protein PRMT5, which is associated with a range of cancers, including mantle cell lymphoma, lung cancer, breast cancer and colorectal cancer.

“Patients who have these types of cancers often have high levels of this protein, which is unfortunately also linked to poor survival rates,” Peat said.

“Using our recombinant protein production facilities, we were able to produce samples of these proteins, crystallise them for structure based drug design and support the consortium’s pre-commercial investigations and trials.

“Access to high quality protein is absolutely critical in structural biology approaches to drug discovery, and CSIRO is pleased to be able to contribute this key capability.

“The CTx consortium was able to develop a drug that binds to this protein, allowing it to target the cancerous cells.

“We’re thrilled to be part of this development, which has the potential to make a real difference for patients here in Australia and around the globe.”

Under the terms of the license, Merck US will now further develop the new cancer drug, taking it to clinical trials, with a view to worldwide commercialisation.

Science commercialisation success

“This is a great result for Australian science and further demonstrates what can be achieved when science and commercialisation capabilities unite,” CTx chief executive Dr Warwick Tong said.

In addition to applications for cancer, PRMT5 inhibitors switch on important genes in the development of blood.

This could provide disease-modifying treatment options for patients with blood disorders like sickle cell disease and beta thalassemia.

The deal provides potentially significant financial returns, which will be shared between CRT, CTx and the Wellcome Trust, with the majority being returned to CTx and its Australian research partners including CSIRO, Monash University, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute.

 

This article was originally published by CSIRO.