There are now more than 300 active startups and spinouts based on the commercialisation of Australian research, with a record 69 added in the last year, according to the peak body’s latest data. But total research expenditure, staff and inventions have all dipped.
Four universities – the University of NSW, University of Queensland, Australian National University and University of WA – accounted for 29 of the new ventures, while traditional spinout producers University of Sydney, University of Adelaide and CSIRO had a drop.
The latest yearly analysis by Knowledge Commercialisation Australasia (KCA) shows 311 active research spinouts and startups in 2021, with total equity held in the companies leaping last year to $726 million.
The value of research contracts with for-profit companies is also up to $800 million and annual commercialisation revenue grew to $251 million.
KCA says its evidence public research organisations are meaningful contributors to the emerging industries and are producing valuable products and services, after pressure from governments to deliver more from public research funding.
Both the new federal government and its predecessors have pledged more support for researchers working towards commercial applications of their work, including a $2 billion commercialisation package to bridge the so called ‘valley of death’.
But the new report also reveals research expenditure, staff and inventions fell.
Compare to the previous year, research expenditure fell from $12.6 billion to $11.9 billion, while there were 305 fewer full time equivalent research staff in 2021 at 38,717. There are now 237 full time research commercialisation staff at the 43 responding Australian institutions. Invention disclosures dropped marginally to 1333 in 2021.
KCA’s 2021 Survey of Commercialisation Outcomes from Public Research, collected data from 43 Australian universities, medical research institutes, rural research corporations and publicly funded research agencies like CSIRO, together representing research income of $7.1 billion.
According to the report, commercialisation revenue grew to $251 million in 2021, the most since 2017 when the WEHI medical research institute received $325M from the partial sale of royalty rights for the anti-cancer treatment venetoclax.
The commercialisation revenue includes gross income from all licences, options and assignments, commercial material transfers and sales of products or services based on expertise or IP, plus cashed-in equity, minus any cost of acquiring the equity.
The revenue measure excludes research funding, copyright income, non-cash value exchanged for equity holdings, value of equity not cashed-in, patent expense reimbursement, consultancies and contract research.
Some institutions went backwards on this measure, including the University of Queensland and University of Sydney, with the former also producing fewer new commercial ventures based on its research than previous years.
Total equity held in spinouts and startups increased nearly 50 per cent to $726 million in 2021, while the value of research contracts with for-profit companies reached a record $800 million.
“Over the past five years the respondents have created 307 new Companies. Respondents have collected AU$1.6B in commercialisation income from Deals; industry research contracts have amounted to more than $3.6 billion,” the report said.
Not all respondents provide data for each measure, and Survey of Commercialisation Outcomes from Public Research chair John Grace acknowledged tracking commercialisation is generally difficult.
“The path from idea to reality is full of unexpected obstacles and is often difficult to measure,” he said. “This data is positive proof Australasian public research organisations are contributing significantly to the new industries of Australia and New Zealand and are producing products and services of international significance.”
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