Tag Archives: research outcomes

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..?


– Natalie Chapman, Managing Director, gemaker

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

Engaging industry in research

Australia: nation of inventors or innovators?

If Australia wants to become more than just a land made up of quarries, farms and tourist beaches, it has to ensure more scientists and engineers are trained to drive innovation, warns Dr Katherine Woodthorpe, Chair of the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre, and panellist at last week’s inaugural Science Meets Business event.

The event, hosted by Science and Technology Australia, aimed to “kickstart a reshaped and refreshed conversation on ways to boost collaboration between Australia’s great businesses and scientists”.

Speakers at the event came from a wide range of industry, government and research, each presenting their ideas for an innovative future.

Keynote speaker Dr Larry Marshall, CEO of CSIRO, celebrated ‘deep tech’ as an ecosystem of plenty, responsible for 100% of US jobs last year. In his experience, deep tech entrepreneurship creates a virtuous cycle of innovation.

Marshall wants to meet industry halfway, working together to understand what customers want. This is not an overnight solution, he warned. “Both CSIRO and Australia will be in beta for the next five years.”

In exploring problems of “diagnosis and lifting the game”, Ken Boal, Vice President at CISCO Australia and New Zealand, said businesses should lean in more, connect with universities and help in the translation of research to the wider community.

Australia: nation of inventors or innovators?

Intrinsic to this translation of research outcomes is a STEM outreach program to schools. Professor Ian Frazer AC, Head of the Diamantina Institute at the University of Queensland, identified the roots of the problem beginning where schools focus on students achieving high-performance marks. Science is tough, and often students are advised to choose an easier subject to maximise their score. He also emphasised the need to place greater value on science and teachers.

Hugh Bradlow, Telstra’s Chief Scientist, suggested that technology could be part of the education solution. If technology is able to reduce costs of education, then perhaps we can pay our teachers more and attract a higher calibre of staff, he proposed.

The Hon Karen Andrews MP, representing Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, believes business and science need each other, and Australia needs both. Even though we don’t know what the jobs of the future are going to be, we know there will be core skills required, like coding and data science, she explained. Maths and statistics will be in high demand, alongside creative thinking and entrepreneurship. Andrews is putting together an action plan to connect industry and research.

While the official announcement was still under wraps, Australia’s next Chief Scientist Alan Finkel encouraged a celebration of Australia’s achievements and an effort to build upon the engagement that already exists, like relationships between Rio Tinto and the University of Sydney, and GlaxoSmithKline and Monash University.

Woodthorpe suggested that superannuation funds have a role to play in Australia’s innovation growth, and that fund managers need to realise this in order to support their next generation of members. Another barrier to innovation is the lack of digital experience in the top 300 ASX companies. Boards need to see technology as a future business model, not a piece of equipment, she said.

Newly returned from the US and now heading up Commercial Strategy at the Kinghorn Centre for Clinical Genomics at the Garvan Institute, Dr Russell J Howard has had recent success at raising capital for a new venture. He believes the three key imperatives to commercialisation success are:

  1. To nurture smart capital, and to show founders how to create good intellectual property;
  2. To create an innovative environment;
  3. To enable access to experienced management – people who have experience in commercialisation.

Finally, Mr Peter Yates AM, Deputy Chairman of the Myer Family Investments talked about his own support of start-ups. He likes to collect entrepreneurs rather than artists – in 15 years both have usually increased in value!

– Karen Taylor-Brown, CEO and Publisher at Refraction Media