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Collaboration the Key to Commercialising Good Ideas

Op-Ed in The Australian by Dr Stephen Hampson - 17 August 2016

Governments around the world recognise that the successful commercial deployment of cutting edge research and innovation is crucial to drive national growth, employment and economic development.

In Australia, the Turnbull Government has set the foundation of its policy approach to innovation through the National Innovation and Science Agenda report. The policy understands that the key to success is ensuring the regulatory environment effectively encourages robust and innovative research platforms and supports the commercialisation of resulting market opportunities.

The UK and US are commonly looked at as exemplars of innovation and commercialisation. The calibre of Australian research is equal to anything these markets can produce. While Australasia may currently lack the commercial experience of our competitors, it has all the ingredients for success, including five universities ranked within the top 100 globally.

Forge productive dialogue

Key to catalysing great research capability into commercial outcomes will be the ability of Australian business to form and maintain productive working relationships with universities and other research institutions. An ability to treat these institutions as their own outsourced research and development function on an ongoing basis will provide Australian businesses with the ability to remain competitive and relevant in a world where the pace of change in technology is ever increasing.

Powerhouse has for six years successfully worked with universities in New Zealand, building strong relationships with researchers and working to identify commercial applications for the technology they are developing. Application of capital, a systematic and procedural approach to venture development and the requisite hands-on commercialisation expertise via experienced entrepreneurs has resulted in a diverse portfolio of 26 ventures, all with significant global market potential.

All of the start-up ventures developed by Powerhouse will retain ongoing relationships with the universities from which their originating technology is derived. This is an essential part of their growth strategy and the Powerhouse model of venture development.

Powerhouse has recently brought this model to Australia and we have been delighted with the willingness of Australian universities to embrace a collaboration model to form a genuine partnership between the researchers and business.

Earlier this month Powerhouse signed a term sheet with Ferronova, a company spun out of research conducted at the University of South Australia. Through this partnership with UniSA, Powerhouse will provide capital and commercialisation expertise to support the company to take to market a new ground-breaking medical device that will help in the detection of cancers using magnetic tracers.

Turning research into profit

Commonwealth and state governments are making great efforts to encourage change around academic-business collaboration. Grant funding and co-investment are legitimate and necessary tools for early stage access to capital and have been very useful in enabling the application of resources required to develop start-up companies with global market potential

Despite this support, industry sectors and research academics have traditionally struggled to form productive partnerships to commercialise promising innovation.

The Chief Commissioner of the Great Sydney Commission, Lucy Turnbull, is right to say Australia requires a cultural shift in the way it looks at the relationship between educational institutions and business. Such a shift in thinking is crucial to capitalise on the many opportunities being developed by the talented research teams within universities and other research institutions.

Setting a foundation of closely knitted relationships between key organisations and universities is fundamental. The Commonwealth Government has set the framework for a focus around innovation. The next step is the execution and operational efforts to convert great research into profitable outcomes. It starts with partnerships.

To realise this, Australia needs to look beyond its deposits of iron ore and gas reserves to the wealth of intellectual property flowing from its world-class universities. It needs to invest in leveraging new and exciting ideas into commercial success through deep partnerships with industry, and supported by co-ordinated policy frameworks at the State and Commonwealth level. Business will need to take a lead and become proactive in forming long-term partnerships with their local universities to stay ahead and develop innovations that will lead to future growth.