Tag Archives: ideas boom

Innovating Australia

Australia faces a challenging period in shifting towards an ‘innovation economy’, with a drive towards greater participation in science and technology; an increased focus on commercialisation success; and partnering research with industry. But how will we get there?

In this unique series, leaders from government, industry and academia share their vision for Australia’s innovation future, including Australia’s Chief Scientist Alan Finkel, Telstra’s CTO Vish Nandlall, CEO of AusBiotech Anna Lavelle, entrepreneur, surgeon and inventor Fiona Woods, Chief Defence Scientist Alex Zelinksy, and the Vice Chancellors from QUT, Peter Coaldrake, and Western Sydney Uni Barney Glover, and many more.

Read the Thought Leadership Series: Australia’s Innovation Future, here. Commentaries will be published throughout the week.

The path forward

There is no doubt that Australian R&D often punches far above its weight for the size of the nation’s population. But for too long Australian invention has stalled at the crucial points in moving research from lab to marketplace. From a nation of thinkers, there has been too little product. Buoyed by the rich resources in the landscape, we have rested on our laurels, riding the sheep’s back or relying on our mineral wealth.

There are notable exceptions. Most Australians, for example, are familiar with the success of the cochlear implant, invented by Professor Graeme Clark and pioneered with a team of surgeons at Melbourne’s Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital. This clever little device is now distributed in over 120 countries and has helped over 320,000 hearing-impaired patients. In the inaugural 2016 Top 25 Science Meets Business R&D spin-off list, this and other less familiar success stories – including companies just starting to make their mark – were noted and celebrated.

In December 2015, the Turnbull government pushed an agenda on innovation – the so-called #ideas boom. The innovation agenda clearly indicates that Australia must move from a resource-based economy to a knowledge-based economy. It highlights the poor track record of research commercialisation, and low rates of collaboration between industry and research organisations. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development rates Australia as last or second last on the level of collaboration against other developed nations. So how much further forward does the ideas boom push us, and what more can be done?

The December 2015 agenda throws $1.1 billion towards steps to address stagnation in research commercialisation and business growth in STEM. This includes $200 million industry incentive to work with the CSIRO and Australian universities, and a 20% non-refundable tax offset for early stage investors. There’s also money for Australian businesses looking to relocate overseas, bonuses for universities collaborating and resources allocated towards raising awareness of the importance of STEM in education.

While the money sounds great, transitioning towards a knowledge economy is more than just a fiscal move – it requires a fundamental shift in the notion of what it is to be Australian. The pathway towards this mental reimagining is far from clear, and will involve people in business, education, research and communication industries to change their thinking, develop ideas and set in motion a totally different model of achievement.

In this thought leadership series, those stepping up to deliver on this challenge describe their vision of science, technology, engineering, maths, and medicine – in the way we do the research and in how we benefit from these fields – to describe their first step towards this brave new world. – Heather Catchpole

Read the Thought Leadership Series: Australian Innovation Future, here.

Contributors

Dr Alan Finkel AO, Chief Scientist of Australia

Dr Anna Lavelle, CEO and Executive Director of AusBiotech

Professor Peter Coaldrake AO, Vice-Chancellor of QUT

Dr Krystal Evans, CEO of the BioMelbourne Network

Professor Peter Klinken, Chief Scientist of Western Australia

Professor Barney Glover, Vice-Chancellor and President of Western Sydney University and Dr Andy Marks, Assistant Vice-Chancellor (Strategy and Policy) of Western Sydney University

Dr Cathy Foley, Chief of CSIRO’s Division of Materials Science and Engineering

Dr Alex Zelinsky, Chief Defence Scientist and Head of the Defence Science and Technology Group

Vish Nandlall, Chief Technology Officer of Telstra

Professor Fiona M Wood, FRACS AM, Director of the Burns Service of Western Australia and the Burn Injury Research Unit at the University of Western Australia

Everyday this week

John Pollaers, Chairman of the Australian Advanced Manufacturing Council

Robert Hillard, Managing Partner of Deloitte Consulting

Kim McKay AO, CEO and Executive Director of the Australian Museum

Philip Livingston, Founder and Managing Director of Redback Technologies

Making innovation work

The ubiquity of the term, ‘innovation’ in the Australian political, business and social lexicon risks diffusing its meaning and, worse, its broader uptake in the national interest. Identifying the true meaning and value of innovation requires we significantly rethink the way we approach the generation of ideas and their application into society.

The current transactional approach to innovation in Australia generally eschews direct supports in favour of tax incentives which, unusually in a global context, comprise roughly 90% of government expenditure on innovation. This is like a vending machine approach to innovation, one in which all attention is focused on the end product and little or no concern is directed towards understanding, or better still, enabling and improving the mechanics of its delivery.

If we are to be more expansive and impactful in our approach to innovation then we need to engage it in its fullest sense and not just concern ourselves with input and output triggers. This requires we focus on identifying the factors that both comprise and, more importantly, help create successful innovation ecosystems.

making innovation work
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull visits Western Sydney University’s LaunchPad – an initiative to support startups and technology based businesses in Western Sydney. Credit: Sally Tsouta

Strengthening literacy in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines from a very early age affords us a bedrock on which to build workforce capacity and the intellectual capital necessary to generate and sustain innovation. Existing educational structures will need to adapt and change in a way that both responds to and supports the highly fluid and dynamic features of a thriving innovation ecosystem. Adjusting curriculums or modifying our expectations of graduate attributes, while important exercises, will not get us to where we need to be.


“The development of the skills-base required to drive sustainable innovation will both depend on and necessitate a very deliberate blurring of the borders between business, industry and education.”


According to last year’s ‘New Work Order‘ report by the Foundation for Young Australians, “70% of young Australians currently enter the workforce in jobs that will be radically affected by automation”. Add to this an expected average of 17 job changes for each of these new workers over the course of their working lives and it is clear that career narratives within the mooted ‘Ideas Boom‘ will be conditionally diverse and non-linear.

Disrupted, diverse and adaptive career pathways demand innovative responses from business as well as the education sector. The development of the skills-base required to drive sustainable innovation will both depend on and necessitate a very deliberate blurring of the borders between business, industry and education. The key to making this work is not so much an exercise in imposing demarcations on the role each of these groups perform collectively, rather it is centred upon letting go.

When circumstances conspire, Australia’s public research entities and business can produce remarkable innovations, as is evidenced by world leading inroads in, for example, solar technology, quantum computing and medical research; but we need to rely on more than circumstance and a dwindling linkage and research infrastructure funding pool.

While it is early days, universities and business are – in incubator, accelerator, and shared strategic (precinct) spaces – forming the beginnings of the deliberately diffused collaborative relationships needed to build sustainable innovation ecosystems. Encouragingly, the policy and funding frameworks put forward by the National Innovation and Science Agenda offer much to support this process.

The real determinant of our success in innovation will be the aspirations and behaviours of the emerging generation of workers. Diversity in career experience will be the attractor to study STEM disciplines, not curriculum reform. If we get it right, STEM skills will be seen as essential navigation tools in an as yet unknown adventure through a thriving innovation ecosystem where business, industry and universities coalesce to disrupt, diffuse and diversify in the interest of ideas.

Professor Barney Glover and Dr Andy Marks

Vice Chancellor and President of Western Sydney University Assistant Vice Chancellor (Strategy and Policy) of Western Sydney University 

Read next: Dr Cathy Foley, Deputy Director and Science Director of CSIRO’s Manufacturing Flagship on the Path to a ‘right-skilled’ workforce.

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

Kickstart innovation culture

Kickstarting the innovation culture

On Monday 7 December, in his first major policy announcement since becoming Prime Minister in September 2015, Malcolm Turnbull unveiled an innovation package to drive an “ideas boom” in Australia.

Speaking at CSIRO in Canberra, Turnbull and Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Christopher Pyne announced $1 billion in government spending over four years. The funds, says Turnbull, will kickstart an innovation culture in Australia.

“This statement is an absolutely critical part of securing our prosperity. The big shift is cultural – if we can inspire people to be innovative, the opportunities are boundless,” says Turnbull.

The plan outlines 25 measures across four key areas: culture and capital; embracing risk; incentivising early-stage investment in startups; and addressing governance issues through the establishment of two new bodies to oversee the plan: the Innovation and Science Sub-Committee of Cabinet, chaired by the Prime Minister, and newly established independent advisory board, Innovation and Science Australia.

These, according to Pyne, will “put science and innovation at the heart of government policy”.

“I wrote a list of expectations before I went in and got to tick everyone of them,” says Dr Tony Peacock, Chief Executive of the Corporate Research Centres Association (CRCA). “Now startups will be much better placed to raise their own funds,” he says.

According to Peacock, by changing the insolvency laws, such as reducing the default bankruptcy period from three years to one, and making it easier for startups to gain access to capital, “the government has put the ball back in the innovator’s court”.

The biomedical and biotechnology industries have also welcomed the announcement.

“We are keen to see this positive policy transformed into action that makes a difference to Australia’s ability to commercialise and benefit from our world-class research and development,” says Dr Anna Lavelle, CEO of biotechnology organisation AusBiotech.

The plan represents a major step forward for science innovation in Australia, according to Dr Peter French, CEO and managing director of biopharmaceuticals company Benitec Biopharma, and “is the most exciting and refreshing statement of vision for Australia that I have seen from our politicians”.

French, named this month one of Australia’s “Innovators of Influence” by the Australian Science Innovation Forum, says that ”rewarding academics for working with industry is well intentioned, but without safeguards, could end up being counter productive to Australian innovation”.

The package includes a $100 million boost to the CSIRO budget, reversing the $110 million cut under the Abbot Government last year. The Government will also co-invest with the private sector in the $200 million CSIRO Innovation Fund for new spin-out and startup companies and services created by research institutions. Biomedical research will also benefit from a $250 million Biomedical Translation Fund.

These funds will support investment in spin-off and startups, to develop and commercialise promising products and services from Australia’s research community.

Science research will receive an injection of funding, with $520 million for the Australian Synchrotron facility and $294 million for the Square Kilometre Array over the next decade. The National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) will also receive $1.5 billion to deliver world-class research facilities to Australian researchers in Australia and abroad.

The package also includes a $36 million Global Innovation Strategy to support collaboration between Australian researchers and businesses with their international counterparts. Landing pads for Australian startups and entrepreneurs will be established in Tel Aviv, Silicon Valley and three other key locations around the globe.

There will also be a $99 million investment in programs to improve digital literacy and skills in STEM amongst young Australians. And $13 million will be made available to increase opportunities for women working in research and STEM industries and start-ups.

“Innovation and Science are two sides of the same coin, and this plan will bring them both together: driving jobs, growth and investment and igniting a national ‘can-do’ attitude,” says Pyne.

– Carl Williams