19 April 2018

Harnessing the Power of Partnerships

Dr Steve Brodie, Executive Manager Innovation at CSIRO

In Australia, we constantly punch above our weight when it comes to scientific research. We possess some of the world’s most talented scientists and researchers, who develop incredible ideas that are a credit to their university and their academic community. However, when it comes to this research, we need to ask ourselves this question: what are we doing with it to impact innovation in Australia? The answer: simply not enough.

Members of ON Tribe partner with Mentors.

To overcome this, I firmly believe that creating meaningful partnerships between industry and academia will help pave the way, but it is not always as straightforward as we think.

On paper, pairing the brightest minds from academia and industry to create real-world impact might appear simple, yet the reality is far from the truth. Academia and industry have unique talents, and if you imagine them to be part of an orchestra, they are highly skilled with their separate instruments. Both have a different training, sense of priority and at times temperament, however, if blended correctly, they can create a perfect symphony that can change the game in Australia.

In Australia, companies are often reluctant to engage with the academic community. This is due to a number of reasons. Firstly, to innovate is to take a risk– and many organisations are not able to accept the perceived level of risk innovating presents. If companies choose to commit resources to innovate then they must stop doing something else. Secondly, if companies are to innovate, many will attempt to do it themselves rather than look externally for a different point of view, and often organisations are not aware that they can collaborate with universities to innovate. Thirdly, it’s about bureaucracy; a view that the route to partnership with academic organisations is not easy. However, overcoming pre-conceived views around these points is the first step towards success.

For example, Proctor and Gamble (P&G) is an example in favour of the partnership between business and the research community, breeding a new tradition of innovation. At the start of the 2000s, P&G had around 6,000 internal scientists and researchers at their disposal, but unfortunately the company was failing to innovate at the level they needed to. Slowly but surely, P&G lost market share.

The company eventually came to the realisation that there were in fact two million scientists and researchers globally who had the expertise that could significantly help their business when it came to solving problems and creating opportunities. Thus, the Connect and Develop program came into fruition. This program engaged a global community of scientists to innovate with real world outcomes – from the lab floor to a commercial products. A real example of the power of open innovation.

P&G is not alone. Across the world we now see many companies working closely with universities and partnering with great success. In the United States, Silicon Valley is the perfect example of where we see many businesses working with universities to consistently innovate. It’s a very fluid environment.

In Australia, if we don’t look for new ways to innovate, there is a real risk that we will get left behind the rest of the world – particularly those countries like the US and China who are doing it well. Technology is moving so quickly that we can’t afford to simply ‘pick up’ innovations from the rest of the world; by the time we get to implementing them we will be years behind and the real value will be captured by countries other than Australia. We should be creating, and capturing, our own value from innovation on our soils.

There is a real opportunity for Australia to turn our excellent research into impact, and by developing collaborative innovation partnerships between industry and our researchers we can increase the chance of succeeding. This is where the ON Program plays a significant role.

ON acts as a catalyst for innovation, bringing together some of our country’s best and brightest researchers with skilled industry professionals. Whether it’s defence, agriculture or health to name but a few areas, our teams are making groundbreaking discoveries capable of changing industries across the world, and will help Australia to compete on the global stage.

For example, we’re currently working with ten research teams as part of our ON Accelerate4 Program. Their ideas include VR and AR technology to help medical professionals learn health related procedures, advancements in green energy resources to produce more sustainable power, and medical equipment to help doctors accurately screen and diagnose gut disorders through the power of acoustics.

ON is driving collaborative innovation opportunities between research and business; we’ve already seen partnerships develop for the better. The more businesses that we can encourage to collaborate with researchers through the program, the more opportunities for innovation, and to unlock new levels of value that will push Australia ahead of the curve.

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