Alastair Hick, Chair – Knowledge Commercialisation Australasia
The Australian Federal Government launched its much hyped “National Science & Innovation Agenda” today, and KCA are pleased to see the Government will invest across the broader innovation system, and provide more incentives to encourage greater collaboration between business and research.
This agenda seeks to enable Australia to better capitalise on the great research and innovation being undertaken in our own backyard, and create more jobs and stimulate economic growth. The launch of the new agenda signals the start of a new journey for us all, and while it does not provide all the answers, the many significant changes are a definite step in the right direction. Most importantly for us though, is that this new agenda is not just about the money. Although we are talking about $1.1B over the forward estimates, and much more over the life of some of the programs announced, the changes on how some funds are distributed are just as important as the announcements of new money. Also of importance is the range of programs that have been put forward. The challenges we face in translating research are system wide and as such we require a range of initiatives that address issues across all different parts of the system to result in real change.
A few highlights for me show that this agenda is on the right track:
Long Term Support
There is long term support for our research infrastructure to ensure that our research can remain globally competitive and produce globally competitive innovations. It is no surprise that many of the world’s globally renowned academic institutions are also famous for their ability to produce breakthrough innovations leading to commercial exploitation.
There is the establishment of two new investment funds, one from CSIRO with a broad remit and one using funds from the Medical Research Future Fund for Biomedical Translation will significantly add to the pool of early stage investment capital in Australia. I am equally excited about the proposals for an EIS type scheme that will allow investors to get tax write offs for qualifying investments. We need access to a range of investors for different types of opportunities, from IT based student start-ups to biotech spin-outs. One is not better than the other, but they do have different investment characteristics and require investors with different approaches, capital and return requirements.
Changes to the way universities are measured and financially rewarded for engaging with industry and other end-users will encourage greater levels of engagement and stronger internal support for researchers who are interested in engagement activities. We will be measured on our performance and will have the opportunity to highlight the value we can and do already add. Funds will be allocated on the basis of engagement and so engagement will become more important.
The proposed changes to the Linkage scheme means that it will now be responsive to industry timeframes for the first time by having rolling applications instead of once or twice a year. This will make it much more relevant for industry partners and should lead to higher quality applications as well as greater engagement.
There is plenty more in there as well, and I am sure not everything will work perfectly, but what has made me feel optimistic is that innovation is firmly on the agenda and that government has grasped that this is a system wide issue where everyone needs to work together for success. Equally we don’t have all the final solutions today; the R&D Tax Incentive is still to be examined by the newly formed independent body Innovation and Science Australia, there are concerns about the new Equity Crowd Funding legislation, but as Wyatt Roy put it today:
“Of course, we can always improve this and add to this, but this is the first step. If we can improve these policies then we will, if we can add to them then we will and if something doesn’t work we’ll stop it.”
I have seen a lot of ground up activity in the startup and innovation worlds in Australia over the past two years, now we have the clear support from government to grow. We are in the spotlight, so let’s make the most of this opportunity.