‘Bench to boardroom’ skills can bring 22-fold return on govt’s $1.6b research fund

Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

A strategic approach to science skills is needed to create a “new era of economic opportunity” built on the federal government’s $2.2 billion research commercialisation plan, the president of Science and Technology Australia says.

In an address to the National Press Club during ‘Science meets Parliament’ week on Wednesday, Professor Mark Hutchinson will say the government’s “game-changer” policy can bridge the investment gap between Australian science and private venture capital markets.

Professor Mark Hutchinson

But it should be accompanied by a new “bench to boardroom” approach to scientists’ entrepreneurial skills to fully capitalise on the new funding and bipartisan support for research commercialisation, Professor Hutchinson said.

“For Australia to ‘level up’ on research commercialisation, we don’t need every researcher to become a commercialisation expert,” Professor Hutchinson will say. “But we do need to build a much bigger community of scientists with skills like this.”

Professor Hutchinson will present new analysis from Science and Technology Australia (STA) predicting a massive economic return from the government funding if it is accompanied by the same “bench to boardroom” skillsets used in the ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale biophotonics he runs at the University of Adelaide.

The analysis is based on a conservative estimate that half of a new $1.6 billion research commercialisation fund announced by the Prime Minister earlier this month will see the same type of returns currently coming from the Professor Hutchinson’s Adelaide centre.

The centre used an initial Australian Government investment of $23 million to leverage further private, state government and philanthropic investments.

“Over the past seven years, we’ve turned the initial $23 million investment into 16 startups with a combined market capitalisation and market value of $519 million,” the recently appointed STA president will say.

“That’s nearly a 22.5 fold return on the initial investment which we’ve generated for Australia’s economy.”

A similar rate of return on $800 million of the new government investment will translate to a $17.6 billion return on the federal funding.

If just 5 per cent of the innovators backed by the new research commercialisation scheme reach the same level as the ARC centre, the federal fund will have effectively paid for itself, according to the STA analysis.

“If we can turn more of our great Australian science into startups in the years ahead, it will generate vast economic returns for our nation,” Professor Hutchinson will tell the National Press Club.

“We can shape a new era of economic opportunity to create jobs for our kids and grandkids – and make Australia one of the world’s rising science and technology superpowers.”

The federal government’s $2.2 billion research commercialisation package was unveiled in February after a year long scoping study.

Most of the funding will be going towards the $1.6 billion Australia’s Economic Accelerator, a three-stage program for turning early-stage research into viable businesses. However it will take more than a decade for all the money to reach university researchers and less than a third will be released in the first five years.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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