Switched-ON researchers underpin innovation ecosystem success

Nicole Bittar

Realising Australia’s potential as an innovation leader is a concerted effort. Educators, mentors and program facilitators must help more researchers understand the power of their research — and use it to forge a community that uplifts the entire ecosystem.

This is where CSIRO’S ON initiative, in conjunction with complementary university innovation programs, come to the fore as a systemic supporter. Both have a key role to play in forging marketable research ventures.

Australia’s national science agency and innovation catalyst, CSIRO, has helped thousands of researchers from its organisation and Australian universities take their work from concept to market with the ON Program.

Ultimately, the program is designed to complement parallel university offerings — it aims to help researchers and scientists navigate the commercialisation process and control their research ventures.

Joanne Jacobs and Lea-Ann Kirkham

To date, commercialisation grants of more than $305 million and investment capital of more than $311 million have been attracted by ON alumni.

Longstanding ON facilitator Joanne Jacobs, who is co-CEO at Disruptors Co as well as a University of Technology Sydney Industry Fellow, said the program is key to researchers taking their ideas to execution.

With her academic and mentoring background, Ms Jacobs describes the role of universities and ON as “a bridge between research and business in Australia”.

“The main pillar of ON is enabling a direction for researchers that has not otherwise been possible, because it is not their core business,” she said.

Conversely, the ON program also allows researchers to test the waters and dispel preconceptions of their ideas being suited to a target audience that might not be a “good market fit”.

As part of a two-pronged approach, ON Prime is a free, nine-week program designed to help research teams of two-to-five people take their projects to the next level through customer discovery activities and much more. Facilitators work with researchers across all disciplines to develop a deeper understanding of research beneficiaries and sharpen their communication skills with that audience.

ON Prime is a pre-accelerator program that participants can go through before they embark on an accelerator program, whether it’s through their university or CSIRO. This helps the universities, as it builds entrepreneurial skills that researchers take back to their institution and apply to their research. It fundamentally shifts their thinking and approach.

Secondly, but by no means secondarily, the 3-month ON Accelerate offering is designed to help researchers find their path to impact and launch their companies to market.

The tailored and immersive acceleration program fully equips research teams to commercialise their discoveries. It does so by developing entrepreneurial skills through intensive coaching and peer-to-peer learning, building scalable business models and, importantly, revealing venture funding opportunities that help pave successful pathways for research innovators.

“What the ON Prime program does is designed to give researchers with a proven, legitimate scientific idea the right market; and, unashamedly, ON Accelerate is designed to create a brand-new venture — to genuinely commercialise research,” Ms Jacobs said.

The ON Accelerate 7 cohort ranges from technical support tools for risk-oriented scenarios in government and business, to defence infrastructure that improves capabilities in cyber-crimes and monitoring borders, to agricultural products that increase yield.

“What excites me about being involved with ON is that I get to change lives.”

CSIRO ON Accelerate 7 Showcase is a prime example. Dr Lea-Ann Kirkham is a research microbiologist at the Wesfarmers Centre of Vaccines and Infectious Diseases at the Telethon Kids Institute, and inventor of Spritz-OM – a low-cost nasal vaccine (currently being manufactured) that targets the major pathogen responsible for more than half of the annual 700 million ear infections worldwide.

Dr Kirkham said research institutions and CSIRO’s ON program were instrumental to the development of Spritz-OM.

“Being part of the acceleration process that the ON Accelerate program brings helped us focus as a team to identify the next steps,” she said.

“We were quite green going into the program, but it was a fast track to learning the innovation ecosystem.”

The number one outcome was having the Spritz-OM pitch polished and ready to present to any stakeholder or investor.

“Another key takeaway is understanding our team, its dynamics and possibly what we are missing or what our weak points are … and also our strong points that could be celebrated and pushed a bit more,” Dr Kirkham said.

Essentially, the main objective of the program is bringing to life a researcher’s magnum opus without risk to their livelihood, while also offering the potential to change careers.

“Every researcher will tell you that they’re driven by impact,” Ms Jacobs said. “They want to see the work that they’re doing benefit the community. This is the greatest opportunity a researcher can have to influence that.”

Participants in the ON Accelerate program are advised to clearly define their goals before taking advantage of the expert coaching and resources on offer.

Iterating and validating your business model, building strong relationships within and outside your team and embracing the learning experience are also recommended.

“Seek advice (there’s lots of ON alumni in Australia and internationally) and be prepared to put the work in. I think you get out of it what you put in,” Dr Kirkham said.

To find out more, visit https://www.csiro.au/ON.

This article was produced by InnovationAus.com in partnership with CSIRO

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

Leave a Comment

Related stories