Commercialising Research: Building an Innovation Economy

Author: Jake Herington

One of our biggest motivations here at Elite Robotics is the potential impact robotic technology will have on the lives of people all around the world. We envision that robotic technology will shape the lives of many. For some it will go as far as to save their life, and for everyone else it will surely benefit them in some way or another. The means of achieving these goals will involve a great deal of research and collaboration, ultimately resulting in commercially viable solutions that will become a part of everyday life. But, believe it or not, this has historically been more difficult to achieve than it sounds.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Australian Universities – primary hubs for robotic research and development – rank among the lowest globally in collaboration with large or small to medium sized companies. This means that while there is a great deal of excellent research being produced by Australian Universities, a relatively small portion of the technology itself is being commercialised to create products with a tangible social impact.

One reason for this is the difficulty transitioning from a research environment to a startup environment. The value of university research is measured mostly by publication in academic journals and books, which doesn’t necessarily translate to success in the business world. Also, those who have conducted research and are looking to commercialise their ideas through startup companies generally lack the required business knowledge and resources to succeed, succumbing to the many pitfalls that see the a great deal of startups fail.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, in his Innovation Statement in 2015 called for what he calls an “ideas boom”. The federal government committed to spending almost $1.1 Billion over a 4 year period in a bid to promote business-based research, development and innovation, aiming to strengthen collaboration between business and universities. Funding was also allocated for school students to learn coding basics, as well as promoting digital literacy, and initiatives to encourage women to become involved in the science and innovation sector. The huge government investment will hopefully shape the Australian economy around the production and development of innovative technology.

The federal government’s commitment to cultivating an innovation economy is encouraging, but the mentality behind research and development and its purpose and meaningfulness is what really needs to change. The idea of ‘open innovation’ could be what prompts this shift, bridging the gap between research and commercialisation.

Open innovation means to allow third party entities and organisations to collaborate on research, development and production while making sure IP remains with its rightful owner. The idea has been very successful for businesses such as IBM, BMW and Cisco, and some researchers have speculated that the idea may be viable within a University environment. With the goal of developing IP to a commercial ready stage, Universities could use this as a new KPI, an alternative to judging performance based only on publications. Providing unique commercialisation opportunities may attract students, researchers and staff and secure funding at a time where online universities and other learning sources are becoming a serious threat to traditional universities.

The world is growing and changing around us at a rapid rate. We need to keep up. It’s time Australian universities started taking advantage of their excellent resources and facilities, skilled students and researchers, and strong industry connections and build the innovation economy envisioned by the federal government. Through collaboration, innovative ideas and ground-breaking technology can be developed, and change the lives of people all over the world.

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