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.
Knowledge Commercialisation Australasia (KCA) Research Commercialisation Awards has all three winners from Melbourne, which were announced last night at its annual conference dinner also in Melbourne.
Success lay with the University of Melbourne which won Best Commercial Deal for the largest biotech start-up in 2014; the Melbourne office of the Defence Science and Technology Group which won Best Creative Engagement Strategy for its reducing red tape framework; and Swinburne University for the People’s Choice Award.
“These awards are all about celebrating the achievements of those who are bringing research knowledge to life, and recognising their unique contributions in enabling business and the wider community to benefit from the application of research outputs,” said KCA Executive Officer, Melissa Geue.
Details of the winners are as follows:
The Best Commercial Deal is for any form of commercialisation of knowledge which is innovative in its approach, provides value-add to the research institution and has significant long term social and economic impact:
University of Melbourne – Largest bio tech start-up for 2014
This was for Australia’s largest biotechnology deal in 2014 which was Shire Plc’s purchase of Fibrotech Therapeutics P/L – a University of Melbourne start-up – for US$75 million upfront and up to US$472m in following payments. Fibrotech develops novel drugs to treat scarring prevalent in chronic conditions like diabetic kidney disease and chronic kidney disease. This is based on research by Professor Darren Kelly (Department of Medicine St. Vincent’s Hospital).
Shire are progressing Fibrotech’s lead technology through to clinical stages for Focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, which is known to affect children and teenagers with kidney disease. The original Fibrotech team continues to develop the unlicensed IP for eye indications in a new start-up OccuRx P/L.
Best Creative Engagement Strategy showcases some of the creative strategies research organisations are using to engage with industry partner/s to share and create new knowledge:
Defence Science and Technology Group –Defence Science Partnerships (DSP) reducing red tape with a standardised framework
The DSP has reduced transaction times from months to weeks with over 300 agreements signed totalling over $16m in 2014-15. The DSP is a partnering framework between the Defence Science Technology Group of the Department of Defence and more than 65% of Australian universities. The framework includes standard agreement templates for collaborative research, sharing of infrastructure, scholarships and staff exchanges, simplified Intellectual Property regimes and a common framework for costing research. The DSP was developed with the university sector in a novel collaborative consultative approach.
The People’s Choice Awards is open to the wider public to vote on which commercial deal or creative engagement strategy project deserves to win. The winner this year, who also nabbed last award is:
Swinburne University of Technology – Optical data storage breakthrough leads the way to next generation DVD technology
Using nanotechnology, Swinburne Laureate Fellowship project researchers Professor Min Gu, Dr Xiangping Li and Dr Yaoyu Cao achieved a breakthrough in data storage technology and increased the capacity of a DVD from a measly 4.7GB to 1,000TB. This discovery established the cornerstone of a patent pending technique providing solutions to the big data era. In 2014, start-up company, Optical Archive Inc. licensed this technology. In May 2015, Sony Corporation of America purchased the start-up, with knowledge of them not having any public customers or a final product in the market. This achievement was due to the people, the current state of development and the intellectual property within the company.
Wrays Patent Attorneys were the major sponsor of the 2015 Awards:
Wrays’ CEO Frank Hurley said: “In supporting the KCA Research Commercialisation Awards, we hope to promote an understanding around intellectual property value in the commercialisation process. The two award categories acknowledge both creative business strategy and commercial acumen, which reflects Wrays’ ethos and ties in closely with the services we provide to our clients. Sponsoring KCA is part of an overall vision to nurture relationships with future entrepreneurs by enabling them to protect and generate wealth from their innovations.”
Sharon Kelly (gemaker)
M: +61 414 780 077
The 2014 KCA Annual Conference, themed “Commercialisation: There are no Rules,” was held 18-19 September in Brisbane.
Day one kicked off with a lively, theatre style comical debate about the whole concept of institutional technology transfer and whether or not it actually works. It was an entertaining mudslinging affair, as both sides battled it out, arguing their points with passion to try win over the adjudicator audience. Valid arguments were presented on both sides, and while there was stronger support for the opposing team, the audience supported the notion that while in its current form the system is broken, the notion of technology transfer is still very important and a worthwhile endeavour. You can read more about the debate on the gemaker blog.
Day one continued on with updates from DECO on the defence trade control act, IP Analytics from IP Australia and some creative strategies around how to commercialise IP within the humanities and social sciences. Deakin talked us through how crowdfunding and using platforms such as Pozible do offer opportunities for society benefiting social projects, however these sites require strong commitment from the project team and the leveraging of the teams social and professional networks to really make the most of the opportunity and to gain the most out of the exercise. Creative commercialisation in education was also shown to offer benefits as presented by Griffith.
The afternoon session saw the finalists of the inaugural KCA Research Commercialisation Awards join the stage to talk about some of the lessons learnt though their projects. Of course the most exciting part of day one was the awards dinner, tech transfers night of nights, where our winners of our three awards categories were announced in front of their peers and sector supporters. Just to recap in case you missed the hype (or the official press release), Best Commercial Deal went to Uniquest for their Janssen Dendright deal, Best Creative Engagement Strategy went to Griffith Enterprise for SEED, and the People’s Choice went to Swinburne for their 3D IMAX project. Congrats once again to all our winners, and a big thanks to all our award sponsors Wrays, gemaker, Crowe Horwath, Business Spectator and Joanne Jacobs.
Day two launched with a cracker marketing session. How to use social media in the tech transfer office and other pearls of wisdom came down the line from guru Laura Schoppe calling in from North Carolina in the US. Changes in the social media scene in Australia were presented by prize donor Joanne Jacobs, while an inspiring tale of perseverance, creative financing and the power to influence via social media was shared with the group by Justine Flynn from the Thankyou Group.
Start-ups and student entrepreneurship featured in the mid-morning session. Andrew Stead shared NICTA’s model of the land of spin-ins, an IP strategy that sits somewhere between licensing and spin-outs. Uber passionate Petra Andren spoke on ATP Innovations student accelerator programs and the potential for universities to use them as a vehicle for commercialisation, and Colin Kinner rounded out the session with the importance of start-ups to the Australian economy and tips as to how tech transfer offices can turn themselves into start-up powerhouses.
The humorous Michael Klug took on the graveyard shift and converted it into a show-stopping finale for attendees. We only gave him an hour, but he manages to impart substantive information in that short window, drawing on a good forty years of experience in the black art of negotiation.
All in all, a pretty good two days – hopefully you each have a few new “tools” to store away into your industry toolkit. Thanks for all of your feedback – it’s a really great starting point for next year’s program! Don’t forget to let me know if you’d like to join the 2015 organising committee! The 2015 conference will be in Melbourne in mid-September. Dates to be confirmed shortly.
Celebrating Australian Innovators translation of Knowledge & Research into business
Australia punches above its weight in research with journal publications and patent applications. Translating that research success into commercial uptake by industry and creation of Australian jobs, is an intricate, challenging and resource intensive process.
The inaugural Knowledge Commercialisation Australasia (KCA) Research Commercialisation Awards recognise research organisations success in creatively transferring their knowledge into the broader community and transferring their research into products or services with companies to grow new industries in Australia.
This year’s Awards include;
- Best Commercial deal for any form of commercialisation of knowledge which is innovative in its approach, provides value-add to the research institution and has significant long term social and economic impact.
- Best Creative Engagement Strategy to showcase some of the creative strategies research organisations are using to engage with industry partner/s to share and create new knowledge
Best Commercial Deal
Curtin University – Scanalyse sale
Curtin University sold its shares in award winning “Scanalyse” to international engineering company Outotec. Scanalyse laser scanning technology accurately models the interior of crushers and mills to monitor their condition, saving the mineral processing industry millions of dollars per annum. The business continues to employ 25 local staff in Western Australia.
Griffith Enterprise (Griffith University) – Silicon Carbide Coast
Griffith University is helping build a Silicon Carbide Coast through a suite of deals designed to commercialise its silicon carbide (SiC) on silicon (Si) platform technology. A multi-million contract with UK-based SPTS Technologies has facilitated mass-production of SiC wafers. A second million-dollar contract with Chinese microelectronics company SICC Materials, was then secured to build and commercialise devices utilising SiC. Partnering with equipment manufacturer and next-gen device manufacturer enables Griffith to maximise the new material’s commercialisation opportunities. Building on this foundation Griffith and partners aim to establish an R&D, prototyping and high tech manufacturing precinct in South East Queensland.
UniQuest – Janssen deal with dendright technology targeting rheumatoid arthritis
Researchers at the University of Queensland have designed a new drug, Curcusome-RA to treat rheumatoid arthritis before irreversible joint destruction takes place. UniQuest were successful in closing a funding deal with Pharmaceutical company Janssen to support Phase 1 clinical trials and ongoing R&D and have access rights to commercialise Curcusome-RA worldwide.
Best Creative Engagement Strategy
Griffith Enterprise (Griffith University) – SEED
SEED combines Griffith’s popular music, creative arts, film and marketing students to develop and promote an album each year. Students learn how to interact with online music providers and make valuable industry connections. Through major partners such as Queensland Performing Arts Centre, they perform a concert series The Seed Project, building a following and enhancing their, and in turn Griffith’s, reputations.
Swinburne University of Technology – A 3D IMAX Initiative – The ‘Giants Are Coming’ but they need to turn into the ‘Hidden Universe’.
Risk adverse university joins with creative film company to produce Australia’s first 3D IMAX film which has already been seen by more than 700,000 people in cinemas across the planet. Hidden Universe uses real images captured by the world’s most powerful telescopes to take audiences on a journey to the farthest reaches of our Universe and excite their interest and awareness of science and technology.
Adelaide Research & Innovation Pty Ltd – “One Health” Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance
Adelaide University have formed the most comprehensive data set and national network in collaboration with Zoetis(formerly Pfizer) and 22 govt, private and university veterinary diagnostic labs for Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in animals anywhere in the world. The collaborative program for the surveillance of AMR, known as “One Health” tackles bacterial infections that kill over 9000 people in Australia annually, more than breast cancer, prostate cancer and car accidents combined.
Curtin University – West Tech Fest/ OzAPPs
The West Tech Fest/OzAPP Awards provides a focal point to attract global entrepreneurs and investors to Perth at least once a year to enable local developers, researchers, budding entrepreneurs and others to engage, learn and be inspired. Raising $1 million in cash/in kind contributions towards prize money and running the event has led to the establishment of a numerous of start-up companies and laid a path to a more diverse economy in the region (OzAPP Awards partners with a range of co-working spaces, accelerators and other organisations accessing over 400+ start-ups and 25,000+ people with a passion for technology).
Wrays the major sponsor of the 2014 Awards, Wrays’ CEO Frank Hurley says, “Through our support, we hope to raise awareness of the importance of understanding often undervalued intellectual property to leverage new ideas, and subsequently nurture relationships with future entrepreneurs by enabling them to protect and also generate wealth from their innovations.”
The winners will be announced at the 2014 KCA Annual Conference Awards dinner on Thursday 18 September, in Brisbane.