Small to medium enterprises collaborating with universities are more successful overall than those which are not, and are much more likely to create new IP, according to a new CSIRO study which lays the groundwork for its latest mission.
CSIRO commissioned RMIT University to survey 800 SMEs across Australia, finding only 1 in 20 are currently working with researchers despite significant benefits flowing both ways for those which are.
Around two-thirds of the SMEs that are collaborating with researchers are introducing new products and services, compared to 28 per cent for those which are not, the study found.
Overall, the Australian national innovation ecosystem is “far from optimised” and SME and research partnerships need to be “markedly improved”, according to the report.
SMEs make up more than 99 per cent of Australian businesses and contribute more than half the national GDP. But Australia lags much of the developed world in SME research collaboration, RMIT Professor and report author Professor Martie-Louise Verreynne said.
“The evidence tells us that industry-engaged researchers produce more relevant and impactful research,” Professor Verreynne said.
“Now we also see the benefits to business of these partnerships, including greater innovation and resilience, along with more access to opportunities to pivot when needed.”
The study is the first of its kind in Australia and makes 23 recommendations, including more funding made available to more smaller firms and multiple stakeholders, a new mechanism to coordinate the collaboration funding schemes and a “more holistic view of the pipeline” for different schemes.
Currently, SMEs biggest barrier to collaboration is mutual trust, which was reported by 57 per cent surveyed, closely followed by mutual commitment (56 per cent) and concerns about researchers’ willingness to collaborate (54 per cent).
“Interestingly however, once companies had the experience of research collaboration they were highly likely to collaborate further in future,” Professor Verreynne said.
“This underlines the importance of fostering ongoing relationships and in arranging funding at government and university levels around collaboration as a pipeline, not a series of one-offs.”
The report also recommends reducing the research organisations paperwork for joint projects, using facilitators to help parties agree on collaboration objectives and promoting staff and student exchanges.
The report will be used by the CSIRO as part of its challenge mission to double the number of SMEs that engage with publicly-funded R&D in Australia by 2025.
CSIRO, RMIT and QUT researchers are now developing a “collaboration readiness scale” that could help identify where potential SME partners are at and the support required to collaborate with researchers.
“As Australia’s innovation catalysts we wanted to better understand the barriers and enablers that Australian SMEs face when working with universities and research institutes,” CSIRO’s SME Collaboration Nation Lead Dr George Feast said.
“With these insights we can do more to help SMEs pivot, grow business and increase their global competitiveness, especially at this critical time for many industries.”