Curtin University is pulling out all stops to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship. As one of Australia’s largest tertiary institutions, it aims to set the tone for undertaking research that will benefit Western Australia’s community and economy, channelling its funds and efforts towards students and staff, government and industry.
With more than 44,000 students across a broad range of undergraduate and postgraduate courses in business, health sciences, humanities, Aboriginal studies, science and engineering, the university has a strong international presence with campuses in Perth, Sydney, Singapore and Malaysia.
Much of its efforts and investment are centred on areas where the state has strong research strengths and industry know-how: minerals and energy, ICT and emerging technologies, health and sustainable development.
“Our research revolves around the pillars of our economy. We pride ourselves as an ‘industry-engaged’ university. Driving innovation and entrepreneurship – it’s a space that we are comfortable working in,” said the university’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Deborah Terry.
Backing the talk with action right in its own backyard, the university has launched Curtin Accelerate, a business concept development program to help its own community of students, staff members and graduates convert their business ideas into reality.
Over 10 weeks, they will be provided with the support and guidance needed to commercialise new products or services.
This includes $5,000 in seed funding, access to co-working space, a structured mentoring program to help them build and launch their business, and access to industry contacts and networks including commercialisation experts, investors and potential partners.
To date, 13 businesses have passed through the program and moved on to launch products, win awards and receive investment funding.
One notable example is Sciosity, a virtual reality (VR) development firm that has revolutionised skill-based learning and assessment by offering integration of virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and analytics to universities, schools, resource sector companies, and the defence sector.
Not only is Sciosity Western Australia’s first VR company dedicated to transforming learning through virtual reality, it is also among the first entities in Asia Pacific to successfully utilise and combine VR, artificial intelligence, and data mining analytics to create a next-generation method of learning and assessment.
Over a short span of two years, the firm has picked up awards in Australia, Thailand, Taiwan and Singapore. The firm now operates across Australia and Singapore and is becoming one of Asia Pacific’s fastest growing edtech/VR companies.
“We have always been a very accessible university in that we work hard to encourage entrepreneurship among the students and staff. Our established and highly anticipated programs, including Curtin Accelerate, is testimony to that,” said Prof Terry.
Curtin Accelerate was ranked ninth on the BNiQ List of Start-up Accelerators Places and Programs, ranked by dollar value of funds in 2015.
Outside its home-ground, underpinning Curtin University’s research endeavours are a series of ongoing partnerships with government and industry to advance feasible and high-impact outcomes for the community here and abroad.
One such initiative is the OzAPP Awards initiated by the university and global venture capitalist Bill Tai to recognise Asia Pacific’s best early-stage start-ups with mobile, web and cloud app concepts.
Applicants must have a compelling and innovative app offering, fulfil a market need for the product and outline a significant path to revenue. Winners are awarded significant cash, in-kind resources and mentoring.
Western Australia presents particular challenges as well as opportunities, one of which is its proximity to Asia, says Prof Terry.
She sees great merit in the awards to foster dialogue and collaboration between innovators, researchers, investors and industry, and to further stimulate innovative business culture around Australia. The 2014/2015 competition attracted 210 start-ups from nine different countries across the Asia Pacific region.
Industry partnerships too, are invaluable to beefing up research income that will support further expansion of research activity and build deep and long-term relationships with international collaborators.
Last year, the university, together with US networking company Cisco and oil and gas giant Woodside Energy, committed $30 million to establish an Internet of Everything (IoE) Innovation Centre in Perth.
The centre is the eighth in the world, and just like the others, helps to catalyse and showcase innovation and development, bringing together customers, industry partners, start-ups, application developers, government organisations and universities.
“Curtin has a successful track record in developing first-to-market products and services especially in ICT and mining,” said Prof Terry.
“You can’t drive commercialisation if you don’t have strong underpinnings coming out of R&D. We produce a huge amount of research and we train our people well. Without any doubt, this partnership will lead to many more different projects across wireless, networks, analytics, big data, etc.”
Hosted at its Bentley Campus, the centre houses a cutting-edge laboratory, a technological collaboration area, and a dedicated space to showcase IoE applications, and will focus on cloud, analytics, cybersecurity, and IoE. Now with the Sydney centre opened early this year, it will enable work to be undertaken on both west and east coasts.
“Consistency and the ability to follow through on recommendations is important. Policies in place have to transcend political cycles, and it’s essential that we get this right,” she said.
This is why Curtin University wasted no time in getting on-board to sign up as a ON partner to fast-track its science and technology innovation through ON, Australia’s national innovation accelerator program, led by CSIRO.
Under the two ON accelerators offered, university researchers will gain access to an extensive national network of mentors from the private sector, investment community as well as business and commercial experts.
Through this network, researchers can increase their entrepreneurial capacity, go through a structured experience to validate market opportunity and test business models to accelerate science and technology towards real-world outcomes.
“The good news is a lot of the raw ingredients are in place, but we still have to do due diligence to follow through to build a genuine and robust innovative system. Establishing the knowledge-based economy of the future is critical for our country, just as it is for any other country.”
Curtin University made remarkable improvement in its rankings in the highly regarded Academic Ranking of World Universities. It is now placed in the 201-300 band, a big step up from the 401-500 band three years ago.
Terry attributed Curtin’s jump in the rankings as a great result that reflected the University’s strengthening profile and reputation in a number of key areas led by nationally and internationally renowned researchers.
Indeed, that’s what you get when you put all your heart and soul into what you believe in.