26 September 2018

By David Burt, Enterprise Executive Manager, ON Program

Mr David Burt and Dr Nancy Schellhorn.

Ninety-eight per cent of pesticides used in agriculture don't hit their intended target.

The consequences of this are damage to human health and contamination of the environment. The economic loss to farmers is profound, globally $US30 billion worth of fruit and vegetable production is lost due to fruit fly damage – just one pest type.

Pesticides are a critical tool of food production – but farmers need better technology so that more of what they deploy lands on target.

Lucky for us, a research team at CSIRO is doing just that. The ON Accelerate alumni RapidAIM has developed a service of real-time alerts for the presence and location of insects. These researchers combined their knowledge of insect behaviour with proprietary hardware and software that has resulted in a patented technology, which uses an ultra-low power sensor to firstly detect and classify the presence of a specific pest insect. Unlike their competitors who use camera-based traps (which have high power needs and require expensive hardware), RapidAIM's low-cost sensors identify the unique patterns of insects as they enter a trap.

After spending several years with the scientists building this new technology, I’ve come to believe that these teams are way more like professional athletes than you’d think.

Their relentless dedication to a specific area of focus. A sustained level of performance to try and achieve an exceptional result. The countless hours invested in development, and their desire and determination to be the first one to make a breakthrough. And just like elite athletes, Australia’s best researchers need a professional support team.

For every Olympic team, there are several coaches, as well as a whole team of medical staff, psychologists, and various therapists who all play a part in supporting the athlete, giving them targeted expert advice so they are able to do their best.

I recently reconnected with RapidAIM’s CEO Dr Nancy Schellhorn to see how their team was tracking after the ON Accelerate program they completed in 2016. She told me a key way ON Accelerate equipped RapidAIM for the pathway to commercialisation was introducing them to mentors who were able to guide them by sharing knowledge of their successes and more importantly, failures along the way. This access to a support network of experts was critical in enabling their team to realise the impact of the science much faster. 

Research into the wellbeing of start-up founders by KPMG states that if we want to foster a high-performance start-up eco-system, we need to find better ways to support them. At CSIRO’s ON Accelerate program have built Australia’s best support framework for early stage commercialisation.

The ON Accelerate program allows teams like RapidAIM to tap into and learn from the expertise of subject matter experts and entrepreneurs who’ve taken a technology through to commercialisation before. We help teams discover what to focus on and how to tell their story in a way that best attracts customers and investors to their cause. The ON Accelerate coaches and mentors help each team refine the business model needed to take their research from the lab into the world. We wrap each ON Accelerate team in a constellation of experts, teachers, coaches, new networks and peers who understand and can assist with what needs to come next. In three intense months, ON Accelerate helps teams focus on attracting and building that support network – the partners and resources needed to take that first step into the world of business. We help contribute some of those resources as well. This year, the best team in ON Accelerate will leave the program with $100,000 of (non-dilutive) funding to power their first steps outside of the lab.

Australia spends millions ensuring our athletes have the best possible conditions in which to perform. Each medal our athletes won at the Rio Olympics in 2016 represented $12 million of funding. Our performance at international sporting events helps define our national identity.

Australia spends billions on funding research and development. Our performance at early stage commercialisation will define our national economy – it’s been proven that only start-ups create net new jobs in an economy [pdf · 346kb] . While this finding is based on analysing the US job market, similar analysis has proved the same result for Australia. Recent research from Department of Industry showed that companies less than two years old were most responsible for driving the 1.6 million net new jobs. An astoundingly large effect of job creation happens in the first years of a firm’s life, a phenomenon that will continue to drive innovation and job creation is Australia.

It’s a massive leap for researchers to shift their focus from science to business, but with the right support, many researchers can achieve what they set out to do in the first place: make a difference in the world. Most of the scientists I’ve met got into research because they wanted to change the world – yet not enough of them feel supported enough to take their ideas into the world. ON Accelerate is here to help your team with that, to help you achieve what your research was intended for in the first place.

We founded ON Accelerate to help more of Australian science seed new industries for Australia. I’m perpetually amazed at the projects underway in Australian Universities and Research Institutes. The only thing missing is the teams ready to take these ideas into the market. More than ever Australia needs its researchers to show us the impact that their science can make – and we’re here to help those researchers willing to lead the charge.

Applications for ON Accelerate are open now and close on 28 September 2018. Apply or find out more about ON Accelerate , or contact me directly if you’d like to hear more.

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