Tag Archives: industry engagement

AMSIIntern

Disrupting the rag trade with 3D printing

Tec.Fit founder Tim Allison is a business owner bringing cutting edge technology applications to the global fashion industry. Using an innovative scanning app that outputs 3D models and measurements, Tec.Fits allows couturiers and customers to bypass the need to be in the same room when producing customised clothing. Australia’s emerging research talent is now contributing to Tec.Fit’s success.

Tec.Fit solves problems like poorly fitted garments when purchased online. It also offers the fashion industry scalable solutions for bespoke, custom designed clothing like suits, wedding attire and uniforms.

Coming from an international consumer tech background, Allison describes his business as one of the thousands of global companies that are disrupting e-commerce and the designer fashion industries.

Allison is now working with three Australian universities to develop the technology he needs to take his business to the next level by developing next generation 3D printers that can output at scale.

Working with AMSIIntern, a Commonwealth Government funded scheme that rebates engagement with PhD candidates in industry, Allison has been able to engage three PhD students as interns. Tec.Fit is working with PhD candidates from Swinburne, RMIT and Deakin universities and is on the hunt for a fourth PhD candidate to join the Sydney team.

While he knew from the start exactly what skillsets and specific expertise he needed from researchers, it took Allison about 12 months to find the right collaborator.

“I had one professor who said to me: ‘Tim I can definitely do your project – it’s no problem at all – but I am going to need to do eighteen more months of research.’ Eighteen months is a lifetime in technology terms!” said Allison.

Other difficulties he experienced along the way included negotiating with universities on IP ownership and getting priorities aligned with academic partners.

Tec.Fit founder TIm Allison

AMSIIntern Postgraduate Program

The AMSIIntern Postgraduate Program is a unique model for innovation that seeks to connect PhD candidates at universities across Australia with emerging business opportunities. The program builds valuable partnerships between industry and academia to create more collaboration and research commercialisation.

Business Development Manager Mark Ovens says that the AMSIIntern model is all about putting bright students into industry to give them critical workplace skills that enhance their specialist STEM research skills. Ovens describes the program as a stealthy means of uncovering hidden talent that is lurking in the depths of a research school rather than actively looking for work. While there is ample opportunity available, Ovens says that academic institutions can be slow in responding to the opportunities offered by business.

“In Canada, from where this program has evolved, they are placing hundreds of PhD students into industry each year. Around 50% of students have access to industry experience as a part of their doctoral experience. “In Australia the challenge for AMSI is to increase the intern programs per year with industry partners and we need help from all Australian Universities to supply the PhD’s students.” he said.

Ovens said that the scheme needs stronger support from both academia and industry to ensure that current PhD students get the chance to develop valuable industry experience before they graduate. With all Australian universities eligible to access AMSIIntern programs, the scheme provides a unique opportunity for businesses to access research talent.

“There is no employment. Rather, industry partners provide a contract for service and AMSIIntern liases with the relevant university so that the student gets paid a stipend by them,” say Ovens.

“The program allows industry partners to trial candidates during the 3–5 months for cultural and skills fit. At the end of a project they can release students to return to their studies, or if they have completed their degree, they can give them a job.”

Ovens says that the scheme is above all a low risk strategy.

“It’s also low cost with potential high returns as industry partners keep any IP that may result, making it easier to engage with universities,” he added.

Ovens said the project experience of the postgraduate student is at the heart of the scheme.

“Coached by their academic supervisor, industry experience brings new thinking, new ideas and experimentation to bear on challenges that the student must solve – an invaluable, real-world experience that will only enhance their future careers whether in academia or industry.”

Find out more about AMSIIntern here or read some case studies.

– Jackie Randles

collaborate

Collaborate to learn, learn to collaborate

One of the most marked changes in science and innovation in Australia in recent years is the attitude to collaboration. As we hold Collaborate | Innovate | 2017, there doesn’t seem to be any argument or concern over the importance of collaboration. It’s one of those things that is so well accepted that it seems strange to even remember when the value of collaboration was questioned and even argued against.

A decade ago, it was not uncommon to be virtually shunned in the scientific community for advocating a multidisciplinary approach to a problem or seeing industry as a partner to work with. The image of the lone scientist plugging away at a problem was often raised as the ideal way of doing science – if he or she was just left alone, well-funded, great things would happen.

The turnaround in attitude has been marked. I’ve seen a presentation from a demographer claiming that the fastest growing job in Australia is baristas. But I reckon Pro Vice-Chancellor Engagement, or some variation of that title, couldn’t be far behind. Universities and other research organisations have scrambled hard over the past few years to improve their level of interaction with industry. There doesn’t seem to be any resistance to the argument that Australia must improve its level of collaboration between the academic and industry sectors.


“It is in all our interests to learn more about the process of collaboration itself, so that we can continually improve.”


Winning the argument for more collaboration is only the first step. It doesn’t automatically follow that the resulting collaborations will be optimal, or even productive. Successful collaboration consists of getting a series of things right. Done right, collaboration means the whole adds up to more than the sum of the parts. Done poorly, it can be a mess.

That’s why Collaborate | Innovate | 2017 doesn’t just hammer away on the need for collaboration. It concentrates on the skills needed for good, productive collaboration. Collaborators need to be trusted partners and that can take more time and more effort than people anticipate. Collaborators may not be ready at the same time, or there may be a big differential in power or culture. These are speed bumps, not barriers.

The collaboration potential of an individual or organisation is not set in stone. It can, and does, change over time. It can be enhanced with experience, education and culture. Similarly, a dud policy can kill it off. It is in all our interests to learn more about the process of collaboration itself, so that we can continually improve.

The Cooperative Research Centres Programme has more than a quarter of a century of experience in relatively large-scale, complex collaborations. The money is of course vital to enabling great collaborations to deliver brilliant results. But collaboration is much more than an ingredient in seeking funding – it is a key to unlocking great innovation, which will result in much greater rewards than any government funding program. Deciding to collaborate is important; learning to collaborate well is vital.

Find out more at crca.asn.au

– Tony Peacock is CEO of the Cooperative Research Centres Association and founder of KnowHow.

You might also enjoy Tony Peacock’s commentary, Firing up our startups.

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

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?

commercialisation

Is commercialisation the dark side?

As an avid Star Wars fan I’d like to explore the topic of research commercialisation using terms that a Jedi Knight would recognise.

The Federal Government is seeking a better return on its sizeable investment in research through:

  • better commercialisation of research
  • more engagement between researchers and industry, and
  • changing the requirements for funding for research institutions and the incentives for researchers.

To some, this push for a more commercial and applied approach to research is like the Emperor urging Luke Skywalker to embrace the dark side of the force.

Like a Jedi apprentice, I began my science degree because of my love of science and desire to make a difference. I was not interested in doing a business degree or any degree that would purely maximise my salary prospects.

I chose an honours project close to my heart, involving ‘cis-platinum’ chemotherapy for breast cancer, with which my aunt had been recently diagnosed. Unfortunately the project was given to a student who was less passionate about it, but had a higher grade point average than me.

I was forced to find an alternative project. Seeking something with a practical application, I changed universities and chose a project sponsored by a company seeking a solution to a problem. My honours thesis titled ‘The wettability of rough surfaces’ looked at why roughening a surface could make it more hydrophobic for practical applications in non-stick surfaces.

When I started work at ANSTO, in a role that was half research and half business development, I was tasked with creating a spin-off business involving one of the research instruments.

As I was introduced to other research staff, a term came up that I was familiar with, but not in a work context. Some researchers referred to me as having moved to the “dark side”.  This was said as a joke, but it stemmed from an underlying belief that anyone associated with commercialisation, or engaging with industry regularly, was doing something wrong.

The implication was that there was something suspect about me for being involved in this type of activity, ‘tainted’ by commerce.

Being older and – I’d like to think – somewhat wiser, I now reflect that, had I continued along the pathway of medical research into breast cancer, perhaps I would have made an amazing discovery that could have saved many lives. But for my research to result in a cure would require the involvement of commercialisation experts – the kind of person I have become.

Between a cancer research discovery and a cured patient lies the long and arduous process of commercialisation which requires a team-based approach, where research and commercial staff work collaboratively.

I know now that being responsible for industry engagement, or commercialisation of a project rather than the research, does not mean my work is any less important, pure or noble. I’m using my strongest skills in the best way to have a positive impact for humanity, in my own way.

Commercialisation experts are not the Sith, we bring balance to the force by forging new Australian industries and actively training young researchers in the ways of industry, for research alone cannot achieve a better future.

I believe commercialisation is not the Dark Side, it is A New Hope.

– Natalie Chapman, Managing Director, gemaker

commercialisation

Natalie Chapman is a commercialisation and marketing expert with more than 15 years of experience turning innovative ideas and technologies into thriving businesses.

She co-founded her company gemaker in 2011 after almost a decade leading business development and marketing projects at ANSTO and, in 2013, won a Stevie Award for Female Entrepreneur of the Year in Asia, Australia and New Zealand.

Natalie specialises in mining, new materials, environmental and ICT technologies. She takes technologies from research through to start-up, assisting her clients with commercialisation strategy, building licensing revenue, securing funding grants, tenders and engaging with industry.

Natalie also heads corporate communications at ASX-listed mining and exploration company Alkane Resources and is responsible for attracting investment, government relations and marketing communications.

Natalie has a Bachelor of Science with honours (Chemistry) from the University of New South Wales and a Master of Business Administration (Marketing) from the University of Wollongong.

science literacy

Path to a ‘right-skilled’ workforce

The world is changing and changing fast! Several studies, such as Australia’s Future Workforce released by CEDA last year, tell us that 40% of the jobs we know today will not exist in 15 years. So what do we need to do be ready for this? Here is my four-step plan:

1. Need for basic science literacy

The need of a base level of science literacy is growing as our society becomes increasingly dependent on technology and science to support our daily lives[1]. However, the number of school children undertaking science and mathematics in their final years at high school is dropping at alarming rates.

Those who can use devices and engage with new technology are able to participate better in the modern world. Those unable to are left behind.

Because Australia has high labour costs, and as robotics and other automated technologies replace many jobs, school education needs to inspire young Australians to realise that science is both a highly creative endeavour, and a pathway to entrepreneurial and financial success.

We need to inspire a wider range of personality types to consider post-school science and engineering training and education as a pathway to build new businesses.

2. Need to broaden the scope of university education

Currently Australian universities are highly motivated to direct research and teaching activities towards academic excellence, as this is the recognised measure of university performance.

Industry experience and methods of solving industrial problems are not generally seen as components of the metrics of academic excellence.

We need to increase the focus on developing entrepreneurial skills and industry exposure and engagement during university education.


“If we are to achieve improvements in economic stimulus by R&D investment, it will be necessary to lift the skills base and the absorptive capacity of Australian companies.”


3. Need to lift industry skills

It is essential that businesses and technologists better understand people’s needs and wants, so they can be more successful in designing and producing products and services that increase their competitiveness locally, and allow them to enter the global market. They can do this by using the opportunities that digital-, agile-, e- and i-commerce can offer.

If we are to achieve improvements in economic stimulus by R&D investment, it will be necessary to lift the skills base and the absorptive capacity of Australian companies.

Recent statistics demonstrate that Australian manufacturing is characterised by a high vocational education and training (VET) to university-educated workforce ratio. If we are to move to a more advanced industry focus in Australia, this ratio needs to change – not necessarily by reducing the number of VET-qualified employees, but through the development of higher-value positions that necessitate a university science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) educated workforce.

In industrial settings, complexities occur where the adoption of design-led innovation principles can make a difference. Recent research has indicated that the application of design-led innovation by Australian companies can be the forerunner of future success.

4. Embracing the full human potential

As future capacity builds through the initiatives mentioned above, there is a need to engage the full spectrum of capability that is already trained in STEM.

There is latent capability there for the taking if we capitalise on the opportunities that a diverse workforce has to offer.

Development of approaches to attract and retain women, people of different cultures, broader age groups including the young and the old, and all socioeconomic classes, has the potential to lift our workforce skill set.

Time is running out. We need to act now.

Dr Cathy Foley

Deputy Director and Science Director, CSIRO Manufacturing Flagship

Read next: Dr Alex Zelinsky, Chief Defence Scientist and Head of the Defence Science and Technology Group on how National security relies on STEM.

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[1] Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics: Australia’s Future, A Report from the Office of the Chief Scientist, September 2014.