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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).

Researchers urged to stop hoarding knowledge

Dom Price, futurist and head of R&D at Australia’s most successful startup tech firm Atlassian has an impassioned and personal plea for academic researchers: stop hoarding, let go and act now!

Speaking to science and technology researchers, business owners who’ve commercialised research and fledgling research-based startups, Price stressed that perfection is the enemy of progress.

“You need to have progress and a little bit of perfection. ‘Scrappiness’ should be part of innovation!” he said.

Price’s view on how to get scientists to focus on progress is to start by sharing unfinished research early.

His opening address to Inspiring Australia’s Commercialising Research forum held at Sydney School of Entrepreneurship Monday as part of the Spark Festival warned that if scientists continued to hoard knowledge in a quest to attain perfection, they will certainly miss opportunities to scale up and translate their research into useful, global solutions.

Research is a skill not a job

Adding to this provocation, Price referred to research as a skill – one among many other skills required to scale up knowledge and build large-scale businesses that are capable of global reach. While he appealed to businesses to give researchers the freedom and time to “do the scary stuff,” Price argued that maintaining a sense of urgency was critical in order for Australian scientists to be able to take advantage of commercial opportunities as they arose.

Speakers and delegates participating in the half-day Commercialising Research forum challenged traditional research-business stereotypes and looked at the culture and collaborations necessary to achieve translational opportunities in building Australia’s most successful startups. How do you turn pure research into something that works for the commercial sector and society as a whole?

The initial panel pondered whether academics are insular and business short-sighted. Chaired by Refraction Media’s Heather Catchpole, they considered the need for researchers  to “go and knock on industry doors” and “… even annoy them a bit”.

UNSW’s Laureate Professor Veena Sahajwalla, director of Sustainable Materials Research & Technology, stressed not only the importance of leveraging research funding, but the importance of businesses to leverage research. Sahajwalla also urged researchers to share their vision in order to seek investment.

Investor Martin Duursma from Main Sequence Ventures echoed her call for researchers to talk themselves up. There was also a plea to researchers from Tim Allison, the CEO of TechFit, a company currently partnering with four universities, to please stay in Australia.

New frameworks for graduates

A recurring theme throughout the forum was for stronger engagement with the industry and business sectors so that research driven start-ups can work. Many participants called for new frameworks to involve PhD students in industry settings early in their studies and better mechanisms to assist early career researchers to develop industry networks. 

An exciting element of the forum was listening to researchers discuss their commercialisation journeys and hearing from business owners who are successfully breaking the mould.

A highlight was a commercialisation masterclass during which Dr Noushin Nasiri was coached by patent attorney Dr Gavin Recchia, entrepreneur Natasha Rawlings and business advisor Dr Julie Wheway, who has specialist expertise in research commercialisation.

The young UTS post-doctorate researcher has invented nanoscale breath sensing technology that has attracted much interest from industry. A skilled science communicator, Nasiri has spoken publicly about her work, including at FameLab and TedX Sydney. She enjoys the contrast science communication offers to remaining isolated in the laboratory and on the publishing trail.

Nasiri’s communication efforts have paid off handsomely with offers now coming her way. But she needs support to navigate her future. The expert panel advised her on the next steps, raising issues like IP, future goals, teams and support.

Echoing Prof Sahajwalla from the first session, Nasiri’s message to other researchers is to embrace science communication through any and every forum available so as to present research findings to a wider audience.  You never know where this may lead.

Yes, you can fail in research

Another speaker was Dr Dharmica Mistry from BCAL Diagnostics who is developing a novel blood test for breast cancer. Her message was that failure is okay – but you need to learn and move on quickly.

“You need to feel safe enough to have a go,” she said, adding that she found the hardest part of setting up a business to be managing expectations, timelines and shareholder demands. Learning on-the-job was the most important part of the journey.

For Prof Michael Whithford, founder of Modular Photonics and Director of the OptoFab Node, the hardest part of the commercial journey was managing human dynamics, personalities and skill sets. Other challenges have been working out the best rate of growth for his company. Whithford believes that to fully develop research talent, “… you need to push researchers in their natural direction and support cultivation”.

Spark Festival continues throughout the week, with many more forums on offer.  

Follow the new Research Futures channel to explore how academia, government and business can find better ways to ensure effective transition from research knowledge to scalable, global commercial outcomes.

The Commercialising Research forum held at Sydney School of Entrepreneurship was convened by Jackie Randles, Manager Inspiring Australia (NSW) as part of the 2017 Spark Festival. Join the conversation at #researchfutures #sparkfest

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Spark brings research and business together

The Fourth Industrial Revolution has opened up unprecedented opportunities driven by data, and the innovation potential for cross disciplinary work across science and engineering is enormous.

But Australia lags far behind other countries in commercialisation, and many national programs are underway to redress this shortfall. Part of the problem is the difficulty in building collaboration between research and industry, so much so that CSIRO Chairman David Thodey recently remarked in a blogpost entitled “Business science harmony long overdue”:

“We may be “mates” but sadly, we are not naturally good collaborators. Maybe it is our sweeping plains and the tyranny of distance, but compared with other nations – and yes, most of them more densely populated than ours – our best and brightest in science and industry do not have a strong record of working together.”

Diverse program facilitating collaboration

A forum on Monday will examine how research in exciting new technology areas is opening up new businesses opportunities as expert knowledge is taken to market. Part of the Spark Festival, the Commercialising research forum looks at how scientists are translating their knowledge in both academic and commercial environments.

On the program are investors, business leaders and science and engineering researchers that have founded companies as well as those working in universities.

We’re in a new age of research discovery across the full spectrum of science disciplines. In areas from physics and quantum, astronomy and space to artificial intelligence, machine learning, genomic medicine and biotechnology, cutting edge research is underway in a variety of settings.

But a worrying gap remains between business and industry.  And the innovation hubs of each sector rarely collide. While some researchers collaborate comfortably with industry and entrepreneurs, others are more hesitant about venturing beyond the world of academia.

University working with industry

Dr Noushin Nasiri is a post doctorate researcher from UTS, whose breath sensing technology has attracted much interest from industry.

A scientist who has always imagined herself working in a university rather than in industry, Noushin is now ready to consider a wider range of options.

She’ll participate in a masterclass with an expert panel of advisors who have been enlisted to help the materials engineer consider the possibilities of commercialisation.

Her coaches include a patent attorney, an entrepreneur and business advisors with specialist expertise in research commercialisation.

Having never considered starting a company nor interacting with industry at any level, Noushin is one of a growing number of early career researchers becoming more open to the idea of research commercialisation.

“I would love to establish my own laboratory in order to conduct more research into sensing devices,” she said. “Working with an industrial partner would enable me to achieve this goal more quickly than by pursuing an academic career path – but as a researcher I have never acquired the business skills to interact with such offers.”

WATCH Noushin in Famelab

While the end goal for academic researchers like Noushin is to continue pursuing their research, the reality is that funding remains a challenge. If they develop business acumen and begin to understand the process of taking research knowledge to market, new opportunities will open up.

Also sharing his experiences at the forum will be former banker, entrepreneur and scientist Dr Alan Taylor Alan, Executive Chairman at Clarity Pharmaceuticals, a company focused on developing radiopharmaceuticals for the treatment of cancer and other diseases.

With significant experience in capital raisings, mergers and acquisitions, Alan’s experience across a broad range of industries including healthcare and life sciences, technology, and resources will be instructive to researchers considering a career in industry.

Bringing tech to community

Another inspiring story will be shared by Dr Dharmica Mistry, the founder and Chief Scientist at BCAL Diagnostics, a small Australian biotechnology company developing a revolutionary blood test for the detection of breast cancer.

Her insight into the potential of fatty acids in the blood stream, to indicate the presence of breast cancer, led to the filing of an international patent and was the basis for the formation of BCAL Diagnostics in 2010.

Despite an initial lack of resources, Dharmica has doggedly pursued her vision to develop BCAL’s technology as an accurate, early test for the presence of breast cancer, for women of all ages, worldwide.

This determination has resulted in her leading an international collaboration with researchers in Kentucky, San Francisco and Dublin, as well as in New South Wales, with the aim of bringing the technology from a research finding to the wider community.

Building connections

While many science and technology researchers working in universities have very little experience with industry, they are keen to know more and new programs are being established to build these links. At the same time universities are increasingly supporting researchers to acquire the support they need to explore commercial opportunities.

And a growing number of business owners are looking to academic research institutes for expert knowledge.

The forum will canvas a wide range of examples of how researchers are working with industry to create new products and services and develop stronger relationships. Their respective tribes may be poles apart, but there’s a willingness to come together and find a new way of working, and this is critical for Australia’s future.

Results of the 2017 Global Innovation Index released in June show another poor ranking with Australia falling to just 23rd in the world, behind China, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Singapore. While Australia was placed 10th in terms of “knowledge workers” it scores a low 52nd for innovation linkages and 48th for knowledge absorption.[1]

And this is despite scoring in the top 10 worldwide for innovation input – infrastructure, human capital, market sophistication and education.

With the CSIRO’s $200 million innovation fund about to be released through Main Sequence Ventures, it is anticipated that more inventions from Australian publicly funded research organisations will be commercialised in the years to come. So the time is ripe for researchers, business and startups to start talking. – Jackie Randles


Research leaders from Sydney’s universities, Data 61 and the CSIRO will join industry representatives to discuss the broad range of opportunities for today’s scientists as well as how they are working to overcome barriers to research interaction with industry. All our speakers are enthusiastic to candidly share their experiences and ideas with the aim of helping others interact more successfully.

Confirmed speakers include:

  • Dom Price, Head of R & D, Atlassian
  • Martin Duursma, Main Sequence Ventures
  • Professor Veena Sahajwalla, UNSW
  • Tim Allison, Tec.Fit
  • Dr. Julie Vonwiller, Appen
  • Shelley Copsey, Data61
  • Dr Julie Wheway, gemaker
  • Dr Gavin Recchia, Davies Collison Cave
  • Dr Alan Taylor, Clarity Pharmaceuticals
  • A/Prof Darren Saunders, UNSW
  • Dr Ben McNeil, Thinkable
  • Professor Zdenka Kuncic, University of Sydney
  • Dr Gary Colquhoun, AusIndustry
  • Dr Noushin Nasiri, UTS
  • Dr Dharmica Mistry, BCAL Diagnostics
  • Dr Ben McNeil, Thinkable.org
  • Dr Ben Wright, Cicada Innovations
  • Dr Michael Whitford, Modular Photonics

Event details

Date and Time: 2:00 pm – 7:30 pm, Monday 16 October 2017
Location: Sydney School of Entrepreneurship, 651-731 Harris Street, Ultimo
Cost: Free with registration.
Register to attend

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[1] The index, released by INSEAD, Cornell University and the World Intellectual Property Organisation, collates 81 indicators in 127 countries to rank them in terms of innovation inputs and outputs.