the the federal government is investing $2.2 billion for the commercialization of academic research, which would put “academic innovation and collaboration with industry at the center of Australia’s economic recovery.”
Part of that funding includes $1.6 billion over ten years for Australia’s Economic Accelerator – a new competitive funding program to help university projects bridge the so-called “valley of death” – the place between the lab bench or the research environment and the marketplace, where many good ideas essentially die.
Increasing government funding is a step in the right direction. Here’s why it’s necessary and how it will work.
Read more: Scott Morrison pursues Australian research commercialization with $2 billion in new money
The marketing landscape in Australia
Australia is home to world class research universities. Although we have innovative ideas from our university researchers, we struggle to get from ideas born in our laboratories to innovative products on the market.
In a February 2021 speech Alan Tudge, then Minister for Education, pointed to Australia’s low invention disclosure rate, which he said was the “first step in the commercialization process”. An invention disclosure is a confidential document prepared by a scientist or engineer for use by a company’s patent department, or by an outside patent attorney, to determine whether patent protection should be sought for the invention. invention described.
[…] Survey data shows that Australian public research organizations averaged around 20 invention disclosures in 2016, about the same as in 2004, despite a more than four-fold increase in search results. Additionally, the average rate of 20 invention disclosures in Australia compares to over 40 in Canada, over 60 in Israel and over 120 in the United States.
Significant barriers to commercialization, including weak collaboration between industry and academia exist. Another significant hurdle is the lack of significant proof-of-concept funding that sinks many of our brilliant ideas into the “death valley”.
Read more: Our universities are far behind the best in the world when it comes to commercializing research. Here are 3 ways to catch up
Proof of concept could include a trial of a drug or a technology prototype to show the feasibility of a product.
All Australian universities engage in research commercialization efforts to varying degrees. While the Group of Eight supported more efforts and fundingthe resources available at other Australian universities are significantly limited.
Even at the prestigious Group of Eight universities, the level of funding available for proof of concept could only support a limited number of projects each year, mostly for the so-called “first level ideas”. These are premium ideas in cutting-edge disciplines such as healthcare that have a higher chance of success. This limits the ability to strategically market and impacts so-called second-tier ideas, even though these ideas may have potential. It is important to understand what drives commercialization decisions at the university level.
Barriers to commercialization
Let’s say that an innovative idea at a certain university needs to be commercialized. To start, universities usually select an idea three key angles
technical – the nature of the basic technology, how it develops and what it does
intellectual property – how the nature of the project’s intellectual property is changing
commercial – the technology’s commercial potential and key markets.
Some universities (such as the University of Queenland) are also undertaking other measures such as the Technology readiness level adopted by Nasa to assess how ready the technology is for commercialization.
If the idea is attractive enough, then the marketing arm of the university decides to help the researchers to develop the intellectual property strategy. The university may also provide internal competitive proof-of-concept funding to develop a prototype (such as a working medical device).
Other sources of funding also exist. For example, external funding sources such as UniSeed, state and federal government funding or even private capital can be effective in getting the idea to a working stage. Challenges remain beyond this point, particularly in finding key markets.
The success of an innovative idea (such as a new technology) is further influenced by industry adoption, a key market. Depending on the proof of concept, industry may show strong interest or decide to wait until more evidence is provided. It can be several experiments to provide data on the operation of the product.
The majority of industries in Australia are small and medium enterprises. These organizations may not have the capacity to absorb new technologies. These are also barriers to commercialization.
Why Federal Funding Matters
A prototype is the bare minimum of evidence and from a prototype to a product, it can still take several years. Resource support is needed at this stage to see the idea come to market as a product. Universities and their reservoir of creative ideas in the absence of meaningful proof of concept and subsequent funding can plunge into the so-called “valley of death”.
Read more: Will the government’s $2.2bn 10-year plan get a better return on Australian research? It all depends on the culture change
This is exactly where the $1.6 billion in funding from the federal government can help. Australian universities should be smart about analyzing innovative ideas using meaningful frameworks, engaging with the market to find strategic industry partners, and ensuring that these ideas actually turn into exciting products that can benefit to society as a whole.
Funding from the federal government can potentially help many of our brilliant ideas avoid the valley of death. This resource support is needed not only to fund the proof of concept, but to further support a working concept to be developed into an actual product available in the market.