Category: Articles for Business

Academics do want to engage with business, but need more support

The Conversation
Drew Evans, University of South Australia and Carolin Plewa, University of Adelaide

Universities today are under more pressure than ever to collaborate with industry.

In the words of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull:

Increasing collaboration between businesses, universities and the research sector is absolutely critical for our businesses to remain competitive.

Australia has a poor report card when it comes to university-business collaboration. It ranks last among the OECD countries when comparing the proportion of businesses working with universities.

But this is not all. Australia ranks only 72nd in the world on the Innovation Efficiency Ratio, a measure comparing innovation inputs to outputs. And we have one of the lowest number of scientific publications co-authored by industry in the OECD.

There is a clear impetus for change. A change towards more academic collaboration with industry.

Why are there such low levels of collaboration?

A popular belief is that researchers are focused on publishing their work in academic journals, and not interested in collaboration with industry.

At a press conference on science and innovation, Turnbull said:

… the primary motivator has been to publish and make sure your publications are cited in lots of other publications, hence the term “publish or perish”.

Publications are, and will continue to be, critical for the advancement of knowledge and for the reputation of academics and universities alike. But does that mean academics aren’t interested in working with business?

Recently the South Australian Science Council undertook a benchmarking survey to test this assumption.

The academic engagement with end users survey was designed to capture the perceptions and attitudes of academics when it comes to engaging with business, government or non-profit organisations.

The survey (which has not been published publicly due to confidentiality reasons) sampled 20% of the total academic employees across three universities in South Australia. The sample size of 852 academics is large enough to tell us something about the Australian, not just South Australian, academic.

The findings found that the most academics (nine out of ten) were motivated to engage with business to help translate their research into practice. And 86% were motivated to engage in order to have an impact on society.

Academics not motivated by money

It is not money that makes a difference. Only 25% indicated that the opportunity to increase their personal income motivated them to engage.

We often think that there are just too many barriers to engagement. These barriers range from difficulty in agreeing on Intellectual Property (IP), to mismatches in culture, to a lack of personal contacts with industry, and so on.

But are these barriers really inhibiting engagement?

Few academics in the survey agreed. Only 15% of respondents agreed that their research was too far removed from the end users. 16% agreed that end user engagement doesn’t help achieve their career goals.

Just under one third of respondents agreed that engaging with end users is difficult, that they don’t have relevant skills, or personal contacts or that it would detract them from undertaking other research.

Building stronger relationship between academics and industry

A simple focus on financial incentives alone won’t make a difference.

In the eyes of the academics responding to the survey, they need: Time, support and an environment encouraging of engagement.

Time to dedicate to the networking and relationship building that will lead to successful collaboration. It is relationships, not just single transactions, that breed success. These relationships are integral to research and teaching; integral to the university’s role in society. Yet building relationships takes time.

Support mechanisms are significant enablers. While important for all, they are crucial for newcomers. 80% of the respondents who had not previously engaged with business desire it.

The support comprises staff dedicated to assist in finding end-users, help define applications, facilitate networking and conduct project management. By supporting academics behind the scenes, they enable them to focus on what they are good at – working with their business partners on achieving the desired outcomes.

An environment perceived as encouraging engagement stimulates further engagement. The survey shows that only 29% of respondents who have not worked with business view their local research group as encouraging engagement, compared to 77% of those who have engaged extensively. An encouraging team atmosphere, support from peers and support networks can all help facilitate an engagement friendly culture.

The research suggests that we need to shift our thinking on this topic, away from extrinsic motivators such as money, and towards a focus on what intrinsically motivates academics to engage, such as impact.

The conversation must move away from “overcoming barriers”, which in the eyes of most academics don’t actually exist. We are wasting time dreaming up solutions to problems that don’t exist.

‘It takes three to tango’

Not every academic will engage closely with industry, nor do we want every academic to engage. We need to establish the ecosystem in which engagement is easy and rewarding.

As former Chief Scientist Ian Chubb recently put it: “It takes three to tango”.

Not all academics will want to tango with business; tango is close, intense and full of twists and turns. Yet many want to line dance, foxtrot, or quickstep. They want to engage in different ways.

The Australian government needs to consider the policy framework that enables academics to engage in a way that is best for them and their partners through the provision of time, support, encouragement and recognition.

Drew Evans, Associate Professor of Energy & Advanced Manufacturing, University of South Australia and Carolin Plewa, Associate Professor in Marketing, University of Adelaide

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Workshop: What skills are required to take research to market?

KCA would like to invite anyone associated with the transfer of knowledge from a research organisation to contribute to the first self-driven study to identify the skills and expertise required to take new technologies and ideas from universities and research institutions to market. We would like to gain insights from both the facilitators on the research side, as well as the recipients of new knowledge on the business side, and would appreciate insight from those employed in a variety of roles within each organisation so we can characterise the full breadth of skill sets required to execute the task.

Forums to workshop through the required skill sets will be facilitated Australia wide and we welcome your contribution.

The aim of these forums is to speak with experienced practitioners to unravel the knowledge, skills and experience needed within the Australian research commercialisation sector to effectively put research to use.  We do not want to assume anything and would very much appreciate first-hand accounts of what such a role entails.

The information gathered from these forums will be used to develop a sector specific state of play covering the following themes:

  • A sector specific professional development framework
  • An overview of sector roles and the development of sector specific position description templates
  • Defined skills sets and competency requirements for new hires to the sector
  • Suggested sector related career paths
  • A synopsis of what industry needs from our sector professionals

There are 5 workshops Australia wide.

State Location Time RSVP
Sydney (NSW/ ACT) UNSW Innovations, UNSW 2pm -5pm, Friday 15th May RSVP here
Brisbane Griffith University 2pm -5pm, Tuesday 19th May RSVP here
Melbourne Swinburne University 2pm -5pm, Friday 22nd May RSVP here
Adelaide The University of Adelaide 9am-12pm, Tuesday 2nd June RSVP here
Perth Curtin University 2pm -5pm, Wednesday 3rd June RSVP here

 

If you would like to attend please click on the RSVP link. We encourage you to extend this invite to your industry partners so that the project benefits from a diverse array of perspectives..

5 reasons why you should attend:

  • Your input will help shape the profession of tomorrow and increase its effectiveness
  • Your input will clarify who we are and what we do as a sector
  • Your input will define our roles and improve hiring
  • Your input will earn you a complimentary copy of the final report
  • You’re a member of a broader community which benefits from research being effectively put to use

About the project: Knowledge Transfer in Australia – Is there a Route to Professionalisation?

A study to identify the skills and qualities required to successfully put research to use via commercialisation was awarded $98k grant funding from the Professional Standards Council (PSC).

The year-long study will be run by Knowledge Commercialisation Australasia (KCA) – the peak body for Australian organisations and individuals in knowledge commercialisation and exchange between public sector research organisations, business and government – and gemaker – a company specialising in commercialising technology.

The key objective of this study is to provide a clear understanding of what it really takes to get new ideas generated by Australian publicly funded research organisations into society and the marketplace.

Overall the study will provide insight into the different technology transfer models used across Australia and the mechanism used to equip people with knowledge of skills required by industry and research. The primary goal is to look at the skills and competencies required on both the research and business side, to undertake a skills gap analysis, and to begin to assemble a framework for professional development across the Australian research

Special Offer for new KCA Members

To say thank you to all of those organisations that take the time to help out with this research project, KCA would like to extend a special invitation to those entities that have not been a member previously to take out half price Associate Membership* for the 2015-16 subscription period.

As a KCA member you will:

  • Have access to the growing network of professionals, network with the top tier knowledge transfer professionals in Australia
  • Be eligible for member discounts on all KCA events and those of our international counterparts ASTP-Proton and PraxisUnico
  • Be eligible to apply for Registered Technology Transfer Professional (RTTP) status through the Alliance of Technology Transfer Professionals (ATTP)
  • Be eligible to apply for scholarships and the 2015 KCA innovation awards**
  • Benefit from the hard work undertaken by volunteer committees that facilitate national commercialisation changes in relation to:
    • Advocacy – an integral part of bringing about change to our sector
    • Professional Development – designing and developing content to be delivered to educate
    • Industry & Investor Engagement – leveraging network connections to market technologies
    • Regional – New South Wales and South Australia – localised platforms from members can launch and drive initiatives
  • Receive free copies of the research project report on skills framework

*Associate Membership is available for any organisation, such as: government department, semi-government body, professional body, approved consortium, industry or business) which contributes to the fostering of commercial links with tertiary education institutions and the public research infrastructure. This includes Cooperative Research Centres.

**Please note conditions apply

Please let us know at the workshops if you are interested in taking up this offer.

Investing in the future: international scientific collaboration

An interesting article by Andrew Holmes, originally posted on The Strategist, the official Australian Strategic Policy Institute blog.

The weight of global investment in science and technology is shifting. Strong R&D growth in countries like China, India, South Korea, Singapore and Malaysia means Asia is fast catching up to the traditional scientific centres of Europe, North America and Japan. This is a pivotal period.

Nowhere is this more evident than China. According to former Chinese President Hu Jintao, ‘China has set the goal to become an innovation-driven economy by 2020′. The Chinese are backing their rhetoric with action, with real growth in R&D spending exceeding 18% per annum since 2000.

Scientific research is now a truly global enterprise. The General Electric 2011 Global Innovation Barometer forecasts that 40% of global innovation over the next decade will be driven by collaboration across national and institutional boundaries. This is because research is conducted most efficiently when ideas, data, facilities, equipment, talent and risks are shared on a competitive basis. Despite that, the Government has made decisions in recent years to retreatfrom strategic collaborative engagement.

Past investments in science and scientific collaboration have made Australia a world-classknowledge producer, problem solver and therefore an attractive partner. But past performance is no guarantee of future success. While overseas representatives seek opportunities to engage, we’ve taken ourselves to the sidelines at this fertile time, unable to properly respond to collaborative requests or to initiate strategic engagements of our own.

In 15 years, the Australian middle class consumer market is likely to be less than 1% of the size of that in the Asia region. Our larger neighbours are eager to collaborate because our scientific capacity affords us a standing far greater than the size of our population or markets. Our decision to retreat doesn’t meet the expectations of our traditional collaborators in Europe and North America and is confusing the emerging scientific communities in Asia.

In Canberra today, over a dozen foreign embassies have science counsellors or attachés whose task is to join Australia’s research efforts with their national interests. Collaboration requires shared goals but, as a Parliamentary Committee found, our roughly $9 billion annual public science investment supports the local science base and some limited overseas activities, but little, if any, reciprocal impact abroad.

Nations such as China and Korea are part of a growing group of countries that’ve taken deliberate steps to strategically foster science collaboration. That’s because they know that this has a multiplier effect on their own domestic investment, leading to greater innovation, productivity and social wellbeing. The scientific community in Australia expects to be able to deliver similar benefits.

With 0.3% of the global population, Australia produces 3% of global research. Because of our standards and past commitment to international linkages, Australia has enjoyed strong ties to the remaining 97% of new research produced elsewhere. As the global balance of R&D investment and growth shifts, our existing ties are rapidly expiring.

As noted by Nobel Laureate Professor Brian Schmidt: ‘part of Australia continuing to succeed in the rapidly evolving world of science and technology is looking beyond our borders to work cooperatively with colleagues overseas’.

Government and industry must take steps to improve our international science engagement. The scientific community looks to Government to set out a clear strategy, backed by directing a small fraction (perhaps 0.25%) of our existing science budget specifically towards strategic international science engagement.

To gain situational awareness of what’s going on and planned in the 97% of the world research scene that doesn’t occur in Australia, we need an effective network of Science Counsellors and locally engaged staff at our posts. Since 1995, our network of posted Science Counsellors hasdropped from a peak of 16 in 1995 to part responsibility of a few posted staff today.

Recently, an overseas network, posted or locally engaged by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, has been established to provide support for Australia’s education and training services. Education exports are important and value adding and deserving of strategic support. We could similarly benefit from investing in support for our strategic interests in scientific collaboration.

The USA 2010 Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review noted that ‘science and technology must be enlisted in an unprecedented fashion’. The US State Department backs this rhetoric with approximately 50 Foreign Service officers in their embassies, including several in China, to focus exclusively on environment, science, technology and health issues.

In contrast, Australia has a Counsellor and a Minister Counsellor for Education in China. As a matter of some urgency, we need to build an effective network. Scale alone suggests we ought to be proactive. The annual gross expenditure on R&D in Australia is approximately US$22 billion,compared with almost half a trillion expended by China ($220b), India (US$45b), Japan ($161b) and South Korea ($57b).

The Government’s laudable 2025 goal is to have ten of our universities in the world’s top 100. Given the importance of research and international outlook to such rankings, this is unlikely to happen without a science collaboration policy and the means to implement it.

Leveraging science and diplomacy not only amplifies and augments our domestic investment, but it also builds very strong bilateral relationships and contributes to broader foreign policy objectives. Key among the critical strategic opportunities facing our country is the choice to compete in the field of new knowledge (PDF). The science community seeks a Government policy in this important area.

We believe there’s a closing window of opportunity for Australia to maximise our intellectual contribution to the twenty-first century. Action to remain engaged and collaborative wouldn’t be a new initiative; it would be restoration of past successful policy.

Andrew Holmes is the Foreign Secretary, Australian Academy of Science. 

At what point can companies claim a tax credit for research?

A repost of an article written by Robert Krigsman that appeared on the Start-up Smart website today, outlining some of the basics on how companies can take advantage of the R&D Tax Credit scheme.

“The federal government introduced the Research and Development (R&D) Tax Incentive regime in a bid to encourage industry investment in R&D and innovation.

The scheme is administered jointly by AusIndustry (on behalf of Innovation Australia) and the Australian Taxation Office. The R&D tax incentive provides a tax offset to eligible companies that engage in R&D activities.

Companies engaged in R&D may be eligible for either:

  • a 45% refundable tax offset – for entities with an aggregated turnover of less than $20 million per annum which are not controlled by income tax exempt entities, or
  • a 40% non-refundable tax offset – for all other entities.

The registration of R&D activities is managed by AusIndustry and it checks that the activities comply with the law. The ATO determines the eligibility of the expenditure claimed in the tax return.

Eligibility begins with the structure that is conducting the R&D. The following are considered eligible entities:

  • an Australian resident company; or
  • a foreign company that is a resident of a country with which Australia has a double tax agreement and carries on R&D activities through a permanent establishment in Australia; or
  • a public trading trust with a corporate trustee.

If you are operating through an eligible entity, you must register your R&D activities with AusIndustry:

  • within 10 months after the end of the income year (registering for the income year in which the offset is to be claimed), and
  • prior to claiming the R&D tax offset in the tax return.

This means that you have until April 30 to submit your R&D application with AusIndustry. Once you have met the deadline and submitted your application, AusIndustry will review your activities in order to determine whether they are eligible ‘core activities’.

To be eligible, core activities must be experimental. As per the Tax Office’s Guide to the Research and Development Tax Incentive, these activities are those where the outcome cannot be known or determined in advance on the basis of current knowledge, information or experience, but can only be determined by applying a systematic progression of work that is based on principles of established science; proceeds from hypothesis to experiment, observation and evaluation; and leads to logical conclusions. These experiments are conducted for the purpose of generating new knowledge (including about creating new knowledge or improved materials, products, devices, processes or services).

Excluded activities can be found through the AusIndustry website.

Non-core R&D activities include:

  • market research;
  • management studies or efficiency surveys;
  • developing, modifying or customising computer software for the dominant purpose of internal administration of business functions; and
  • commercial, legal and administrative aspects of patenting, licensing or other activities.

The assessment of whether your business qualifies for the R&D Tax Incentive should be guided by the activities you are undertaking and your professional tax advisor. Although it is a common misconception – the R&D Tax Incentive is not a government grant, it is a tax incentive and its benefits flow through the company tax return.

This is largely why the ATO has a clear expectation that anyone advising businesses on R&D tax for a fee must be a registered tax agent.

Make sure that your advisor is one. If in doubt, visit the Tax Practitioners Board website.”

NSW Government launches new initiative to connect innovative SMEs

The NSW Government has announced a new initiative to drive strategic collaboration between SMEs, researchers, major corporations and end-users to develop leading edge products and services in key industry sectors.

Named Innovate NSW and backed by $6.7 million in funding over four years, the state government says the initiative will address the State’s biggest economic growth barriers and drive rapid advances in NSW innovative and industry capability.

Innovate NSW will:

  • Provide matched financial assistance of up to $15,000 for around 250 individual firms with high growth potential for market or technology validation opportunities. A key aim is to support the development of deeper collaboration by SMEs with customers, researchers and global companies.
  • Bring together consortia of over 60 innovative SMEs, large companies, researchers and end-users to develop solutions to address challenges and opportunities.

“Innovate NSW will support collaborative projects with the potential to leverage significant investment and unlock sustained economic growth for the State,” Deputy Premier and Minister for Trade and Investment Andrew Stoner says. “It will provide targeted assistance to promote collaboration between innovative SMEs and global corporate partners to bring new products and services to market, and open up new high growth business and export opportunities.

Stoner says the new initiative will help address the relative lack of connection between SMEs, the research sector, and major Australian and global corporations.

“In a globally competitive environment we can no longer afford to allow limited resources, barriers to international markets, knowledge flows, weak intellectual asset management and lack of entrepreneurial capital act as brakes on our potential. Innovate NSW will offer a low cost and low risk opportunity for businesses to trial, fine tune and validate solutions with industry and government partners and thus provide a trusted reference for promoting future domestic and international sales.”

“We are pleased to work with the NSW government on this new initiative to support the development of deeper collaboration by SMEs with customers, researchers and global companies,” adds SME Association of Australia CEO Caroline Hong. The SME Association of Australia is the peak body and voice for SMEs and we look forward to working with the NSW government on this initiative.

“NSW, and Australia, needs a Minister for SMEs working with our association, to make this initiative succeed in international markets”