If innovation is the growth driver for Australian and New Zealand economies, what role can our research institutions play in developing and maintaining a healthy innovation system? Our research outputs are world class, but statistics would suggest that we are failing to turn these outputs into Australasian commercial successes. Technology is created here, but is often commercialised elsewhere due to a number of market factors. If innovation is the answer to our growth needs though, what can our research institutions do to ensure Australasian research is turned into Australasian commercial success?
We have a multitude of co-working spaces, incubators, accelerators to support entrepreneurs. Some are part of universities; others are run by industry and investors. It seems each day brings announcement of yet another startup accelerator/incubator. Are pitching, lean business models, digital marketing and experienced advisors the secret to success?
The answer seems to be yes for software based digital businesses. While medical research has a well established path from research organisation to industry – specialist funds such as the Medical Research Commercialisation Fund support medical startups in Australia and New Zealand through the “valley of death” – it is much more difficult to commercialise other research in engineering, material science and the social sciences.
As such, what can universities and other research institutes do to better support entrepreneurs and the innovation ecosystem in getting great ideas to market? If it can be taught, what should out universities teach?
Join us at #KCA2016 for The Entrepreneurial University session where we have an exciting panel of presenters that will present key lessons learned, strategies for success, explore how research institutions can better prepare staff and students, and what can be done to better convert Australasian research into world class Australasian commercial success.
Senior Manager Commercialisation & Commercial Research, University of Wollongong
The countdown is on to the Innovation is a State of Mind themed 2016 KCA Annual Conference. KCA sat down with technology transfer young gun Giulia Gizzi from LaTrobe University to hear why she plans to attend the 1-2 September event being held in Brisbane.
KCA: How many years have you been involved in the commercialisation profession?
GG: 1.5 years
KCA: What is your current role?
GG: Commercialisation Administration Officer at La Trobe University
KCA: How many tech transfer conferences have you attended previously?
GG: Just one, KCA Annual Conference 2015
KCA: What is your reason for attending this year’s KCA Annual Conference?
GG: The Annual Conference is the best place to network and meet your colleagues who work in the commercialisation space, but also allows you to learn from their experiences. Being such a fresh face to the industry, it’s interesting to hear about the various tech transfer stories, both successful and sometimes disastrous, and learning the lessons from those who have worked through these cases. The conference enables an early career professional to learn through its sessions, but it can also be done by speaking with attendees who you may not normally interact with during your day-to-day work.
KCA: What session are you most looking forward to on this year’s program?
GG: I am really keen to hear the views presented in the first session: ‘Welcome to the Ideas BOOM: What the National Innovation Statement means for tech transfer in Australia’. NISA has had a huge impact on our sector, particularly emphasising that the Government is interested and willing to invest within our industry and across the broader innovation system. At the time of the conference, some items of the Agenda will have come into play, and also the political environment may have changed, so it will be quite interesting to hear from key members of our industry and the impact of NISA from various point of views.
KCA: Thanks for your time today Giulia. See you in September!
To keep in touch with Giulia, follow her @giulia_gizzi on Twitter.
Check back in a few weeks time when we speak with some of mid-career members to learn more about why they plan to come along to the 2016 KCA Annual Conference. Check out the full conference program on the KCA website.
The KCA Annual Conference
The Ideas Boom is upon us and all technology commercialisation professionals need to be across what this means for our sector. The Knowledge Commercialisation Australasia (KCA) Conference in Brisbane 1-2 Sept is the place to go to learn more about the latest trends, insights and best practice shaping innovation and commercialisation during this time. Come along to expand your network of technology commercialisation professionals from research organisations across Australia and New Zealand, and hear from an array of exciting presenters and panels talk to this theme.
KCA welcomes the publication of the National Survey of Research Commercialisation by the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science.
The National Survey of Research Commercialisation (NSRC) has been collecting data relating to the sale of public sector intellectual property since 2000. The data collected for 2014 can be used in conjunction with previous year’s data to paint a picture of some of the outcomes resulting from Australian research engaging with business and government both locally and internationally.
In terms of high level indications from the data, we note that:
- Company creation has fallen significantly
- Commercialisation activity remains stable and
- Industry partnerships have grown significantly
The approach to company creation within universities has changed tangibly over the past few years, with less of a focus now on spin-out creation (where the university would have a licensing and equity interest in the company), and now more of a focus on supporting the surge in student startup activity. These are considerably different activities for universities to be involved with, and are often carried out in different parts of the university. We will work with the Department to explore how all startup activity is appropriately captured in future years.
Given the long lead/lag-time on IP commercialisation, which is often ten years or more, the recent outcomes we see for commercialisation tend to result from activity which occurred quite some time ago. It is also important to note that the influence of Government policy and support programs takes a significantly long time to feed into the system, and current data reflects the end product of programs past.
On the other hand, company creation and research partnerships happen across a much shorter timescale (typically 1 to 3 years) and the data may be suggesting a trend that has been anecdotal until now. That is, the sector has been moving over the past few years, from having a very strong focus on IP commercialisation and spin-out company creation, towards one of research partnerships with industry.
There are two particular data sets that we want to highlight:
Income from commercialisation
Table 5.1.3: Income yielded from active LOAs (AU$ Million)*
Table 5.1.3. shows that the university sector, as a whole, generated AU$61million of income from licences in 2014.
Income from other engagement mechanisms
Table 5.5: Value of contracts, consultancies and collaborations (AU$ Million)*
Whereas when we look at table 5.5, we see that the university sector generated AU$1.3billion of combined income from consultancies, contract research and development and collaborations, which are activities which reflect research organisations working with industry. Interestingly, this figure of income which relates to money earnt from industry for our research and consultancy is two orders of magnitude greater than commercialisation income – and it’s growing at a continuous rate.
The data therefore suggests that engagement mechanisms such as consultancies, contract research and collaborations appear to be much more accurate reflection of activity and engagement between business and research compared to the traditional measure of commercialisation of IP.
But is this a unique feature of the Australian system? The answer is no. Data from the UK analysing HEIF data on university/industry engagement shows the spread of activity across the range of engagement mechanisms:
|Knowledge exchange mechanism||% Revenue|
|CPD and continuing education||20|
|Regeneration and development programmes||5|
|Facilities and equipment services||4|
|Intellectual property (including sale of shares)||2|
TOMAS COATES ULRICHSEN: Knowledge Exchange Performance and the Impact of HEIF in the English Higher Education Sector Report for HEFCE April 2014
This table surprises many, but not those of us in the Technology Transfer community. We know that while IP commercialisation is very important, it is in fact a relatively small activity in terms of overall university revenue from industry. Taking the data from the NSRC and considering our commercialisation income to be the last category and research contracts and consultancies to represent all of the others combined, the Australian data would suggest:
|Knowledge exchange mechanism||% Revenue|
|All other Engagement mechanisms||95.5|
|Intellectual property (including sale of shares)||4.5|
It’s the same order of magnitude and, if we really wanted to, we could argue that we are twice as good as the UK at commercialising IP – but we aren’t going to do that.
What we will say though is that we need a broader view of university/industry engagement beyond a single OECD chart and beyond IP commercialisation income. Let’s recognise that university/industry engagement happens in many ways, most of them bigger and more effective than commercialisation. Let’s recognise them and reward them as these are the ways that our research actually gets translated into the economy to deliver benefits to the tax-payer who funded it.
Dr Kevin Cullen
KCA Vice-Chair, Metrics
CEO, UNSW Innovations
*These tables have been sourced from the data summary report produced by the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science available here.
I was lucky enough to recently find myself diving on the Great Barrier Reef, up around Lizard Island for my holidays. This was around the time that the press started talking about coral bleaching with quotes such as “An aerial survey of the northern Great Barrier Reef has shown that 95 per cent of the reefs are now severely bleached — far worse than previously thought.” I was expecting to see a wasteland under the water, but while there were a small number of certain coral species that did exhibit severe bleaching, the reef was still spectacular, with the vast majority of coral looking healthy. Indeed recent surveys have shown that the southern reef is now in its best shape for years, following recovery after a series of cyclones. What should have been reported was something like “Up to 95% of the northern reefs had evidence of some coral being bleached”. On each reef that is a small percentage of the total coral, but that doesn’t make a good headline.
There are now rebuttals with this week a detailed underwater survey reporting “Recent underwater surveys, looking at 32 reefs between Cairns and Lizard Island, found less than five per cent were suffering severe bleaching or coral mortality”. However, the damage has been done and the global headlines were about the death of the Great Barrier Reef, although misuse of data. What has this got to do with technology transfer or commercialisation, you may ask? Well, I believe that we suffer from the same type of statistical misuse. The commonly held view is that Australia is poor at commercialisation of our research and the OECD stat that we are 29th out of 29, or 33rd out of 33 for industry who collaborate with universities is used to back this up. The fact that the OECD stat is referring to Australian business research activity, not university commercialisation activity is ignored, as well as ignoring all the research activities that we undertake with overseas businesses. If it backs up the common view we will keep quoting it. I, and many others, have tried to point this out, but with limited success.
So, what can we do about it? Quoting stats has had, and will have no effect. What we need to do is back up our case with more examples of the great work we are doing, and the genuine impact we are having on society, only a small portion of which is can be counted in dollar returns to our organisations. The greatest benefits are to the businesses, investors and society who take what we have developed and apply it, often globally.
Which brings me onto the second part of my story. Also on the boat was Dr Angel Yanagihara from the University of Hawaii who studies box jellyfish, their stings and how to treat them. She has developed barrier creams and treatments (both first aid and hospital based) to deal with what can be a deadly encounter. She is now in the process of commercialising this, initially through a licensing partner, who failed to deliver, and now through her own company Alatalab Solutions. This will save lives, mostly in less developed countries. What a great story to demonstrate why we do our job. It is not going to make loads of money, but it will save lives.
What we need to be doing to telling more of our own stories in Australia of the great things that we have done and are doing. Some may make a lot of money, like WiFi, Gardisil or IVF, whereas others will have positive impacts on society through different mechanisms, such as the Triple P Parenting Program, Low FODMAP diet and many other similar things. So let’s celebrate more of our success by sharing them through KCA, with your colleagues and collaborators and through any other mechanisms you care to think of. This is how we will change the perception of what we do, not through “Lies, damn lies and statistics.”
Chair, Knowledge Commercialisation Australasia
Investing in the Future was the theme of the 2013 KCA Annual Conference, held 13-15 November at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney. Attendees were privy to insights from a diverse array of speakers, covering topics across the spectrum from market conditions to funding to the fundamentals of the way we do business.
The cocktail reception kicked off proceedings on the Wednesday evening, and this year featured a pitching session as part of the program. Following an excellent overview of funding trends in Australia from Jeremy Colless, eight representatives from across the country got up in front of the audience and eloquently pitched their ideas and technologies, showcasing just a handful of the amazing outcomes arising from some of our member organisations.
Thursday’s program jumped right into it, delving into the future market needs of the Australian economy and things we all need to think about as we move into a knowledge based economy. This included an overview of CSIRO’s response to emerging technology trends and global challenges, as well as a recent review from the UK as to the success of various interventions to Business-University Collaboration.
This was followed by an interesting discussion on changing trends in funding of technology development in Australia: highlighting outcomes and successes from Commercialisation Australia’s program, the challenges faced by traditional venture capital through to the emergence of accelerators and incubators, their relationship to corporate venture, and considering the extent to which we can successfully copy international initiatives in these areas. The need to think and act global right from day one was also a point that was made that has merit and would provide the innovation sector in Australia with the greatest opportunities.
Thursday afternoon we benefited from talks from some of our industry partners, who addressed both the opportunities and challenges they have faced in trying to collaborate with the university sector. Representatives from Bluescope, 3M and Thales all spoke to a long history of maximising the benefit from that interaction – good examples of champions within companies who believe there is benefit to be had in collaborating with Universities and publicly funded research organisations. They also spoke to the role that they can play in acting as “technology” brokers to wider opportunities within their organisations and clients, and the challenges of effectively communicating a compelling business case through a long chain of command in larger businesses, to show how specifically a particular project aligns with the organisation’s strategic and commercial objectives. Alignment of objectives is clearly a critical success factor in collaborative projects, and now we have some good tips as to how to do that better, and some great contacts in industry who are there to help the process.
Day one concluded with an overview of what’s happening across the landscape in other parts of the world, and it was interesting to learn that much of what we’re seeing here in Australia is happening across the Atlantic in the UK and parts of Europe. The shift away from a narrower focus on licensing and patenting and the move to collaborative partnerships and Easy Access, as well as the integration of the commercial office into to fabric of University departments are just some of the common trends. Similar trends can be seen in United States (US) and Canada. Like Australia and the UK, research dollars are declining and offices and there are pressures to do more and be more involved in facilitating collaborative relationships both nationally and internationally. The sharing of stories – the impact that research outcomes are having in the wider community – was another trend growing in the US, common to what we’re trying to do more of here in the Australian market.
Asia is a growing market for Australia, being so close both geographically and in terms of time. Accessing this market is not as complicated as one might think – it’s just a matter of knowing how. Strategic relationships, “piggy-backing,” and being willing to start small to get your foot in the door were just some of the ideas put forward to being successful at entering the Asian market. Understanding cultural differences and the importance of investing in developing relationships, as well as making full use of your international faculty members were other key take-home points.
Conference delegates were able to let down their hair after a hard day of intent learning, with a boat cruise and three course dinner around Sydney Harbour. The photo booth and karaoke proved popular forms of social networking!
Friday morning the conference focussed back in on our own people and gave ideas as to how we can better invest in ourselves and our offices to improve what we do. Social innovation and a shift towards focussing more resource to investigating the creative opportunities which lie within the social sciences faculties were mentioned many times throughout the morning. The importance of brand and culture to an organisation’s success was also highlighted. Values and vision were noted as core: “Visionary, successful companies are guided by core values which include a sense of purpose, beyond making money. Values do not drive the business – they drive the people within the business.” Staff were reminded that they are the most important brand advocates: making sure everyone conveys the same consistent message is key. Handled consistently, culture and brand can reinforce each other and build success.
Friday of the conference went out with a bang, with a highly energetic presentation about how to build trust with stakeholders in just one meeting. In this industry we often only have one chance to make a killer first impression and 9 times out of 10 we all blow this chance because we are too busy focussing on ourselves and not focussing on what is truly important – the needs of the other person we are trying to engage. In just one hour, we learnt some of the basics of how to shift our thinking away to help us refrain from some engaging in some of these detrimental behaviours, and began to understand the importance of being able to read others and adapt accordingly if we want them to begin to trust us.
Thank you to our sponsors once again for all your support – Wrays, Gemaker, Commercialisation Australia and Inteum – and to our members for your active participation during discussion time.
IP Australia has just launched the Australian Intellectual Property Report 2013. The inaugural report offers accessible statistics and analysis on the state of our IP system.
“Intellectual property rights are the currency of our knowledge economy,” said Mr Philip Noonan, Director General of IP Australia. “Innovative businesses protect their IP and enjoy greater profitability and productivity.”
The report highlights key developments in IP rights.
- China is now the top destination for Australians filing trade mark applications abroad.
- QLD, NSW, VIC and TAS have seen double digit growth in patent filings for 2012.
- Australians file more patents in the USA than in Australia.
- 90% of patent applications in Australia are from foreign applicants.
Visit www.ipaustralia.gov.au for the Australian Intellectual Property Report 2013 and download spread sheets of all key data.