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Cruxes Innovation's response to National Science and Research Priorities Review

Updated: Mar 6

Cruxes Innovation welcomes the opportunity to provide its views on Australia’s science and research priorities.

Cruxes Innovation exists to help unlock the huge impact potential of Australian research, by giving researchers and industry leaders the skills and support to become engagement leaders, by creating partnerships between research, industry, community and government. Cruxes Innovation’s co-founders Emily Chang and Jonathan Lacey have a long history of involvement in the science and research innovation ecosystem, as researcher, innovation champion, strategic investor, spin-out CEO, technology licensee, and coach; in universities and PFROs, multinationals and start-ups; in Australia and Silicon Valley. For the last five years we have designed and delivered structured coaching and mentoring programs to help Australian researchers lead impact creation, by founding spin-outs and/or in partnerships with industry. Cruxes Innovation has worked with over 850 Australian researchers, in all fields and at all career stages, at more than 30 Australian universities, since its launch in early 2020.

Cruxes Innovation’s goal is to help enable a system that, by 2025, creates thousands new Australian jobs per year, driven by translation of Australian university research, and establishes Australia as a global leader in developing a resilient, sustainable, innovation-led economy. This system will enable both industry pull and research push, by established companies as well as start-ups and spin-outs; and it will support trans-disciplinary research, because of the pivotal role of humanities, arts and social sciences (HASS) research in technology adoption and behavioural change that drives lasting positive impact in society.

Cruxes Innovation’s response to the discussion questions is as follows. This response draws on our recent responses to the Federal Government’s University Research Commercialisation, Australian Research Council review, and National Reconstruction Fund consultations. Cruxes Innovation consents to its submission being made publicly available.

Question: what are Australia’s greatest challenges that science could help to address? What opportunities should we seize? What strengths should we maintain or build?

Challenges: We believe that climate change is the greatest challenge facing the world, especially Australia. We need to urgently transition the Australian economy to survive climate change while building a sustainable economy that will maintain our current standard of living. In parallel, additional steps are needed to preserve Australia’s standard of living: the Australian economy must become more complex and more directed towards providing higher-value goods and services. Many Australian companies and communities must innovate immediately and significantly to merely survive climate change, and must innovate further to generate more value. Much of this innovation can be driven by breakthrough science and research. Australia is currently constrained from leveraging our world-leading breakthrough science and research to drive economic and social transformation by the limited collaboration between Australian scientists and researchers and Australian industry, government, and community groups. Further challenges include Australia’s small size as a product/service and capital market, our low population density, and our distance from economic epicenters and larger markets; and our small manufacturing base.

Opportunities: We share the belief that the huge, fundamental, and painful transition that climate change is forcing in Australia’s economy and society present a never-to-be-repeated opportunity for Australia. We have the opportunity to transform Australia into a nation that not only survives climate change but leads the world towards a safe and sustainable future, and through this transformation evolve into a more complex economy based upon creating and delivering higher-value goods and services.

Strengths: to seize this opportunity, we must draw upon the huge and disproportionate strength of Australia’s researchers and research system. While immediate action is needed to address the challenges discussed above, we recognise that the required transformations will take decades to complete, and significant contributions from science and research will be needed throughout this period. So it is important that Australia’s research strengths are maintained during this period, and that fundamental research as well as applied research continues. More critically, for breakthrough science and research to be commercialized, translated and adopted, humanities, arts, and social science research disciplines, with their focus on human behaviour, social structures and policy, will play a vital role. We must also build significant new capability and capacity, discussed in our response to the next question.

Question: does Australia have the capability and capacity needed to address these challenges, opportunities and strengths? If not, how could we build this?

Missing capability and capacity: Up to today, we’ve had a history of very limited collaboration between Australian scientists and researchers and Australian industry, government, and community groups [see for example the WIPO Global Innovation Index 2022]. We believe that large-scale, effective industry-research collaboration is essential to address these challenges, opportunities and strengths. We believe that Australian industry-research collaboration is far from its potential today because neither universities (where most Australian research is done today) nor industry see the other as essential partners. We observe the following Australian research-industry collaboration barriers and capability gaps, symptoms of this situation:

  • Limited industry capability to identify and validate innovation opportunities

  • Limited industry capability to articulate innovation challenges in language understood by researchers; to identify and engage researchers with the capabilities to address them; to define research translation proof-of-concept projects to address these innovation challenges; and to manage researchers’ timely execution of these projects

  • Limited industry capability to identify the role that intellectual property (IP) plays in capturing innovation opportunities, and in supporting the creation and protection of this IP.

  • Misaligned industry and university IP expectations.

  • Limited industry capability to engage early-adopter customers for innovative new products

  • Limited mobility of workers between research and industry

  • Limited sector-wide coordination in industry to identify and solve system-level innovation barriers and challenges

  • Limited rapid prototyping capability in industry

  • Limited researcher capability to drive industry engagement and entrepreneurial impact

  • Limited researcher capability for timely execution of research translation proof-of-concept projects.

Building this capability and capacity: to address these barriers and capability gaps and enable more industry-research collaboration to address these opportunities, we must build a sustainable model to catalyse and nurture the creation of industry-research collaboration success stories that demonstrate significant financial benefits for both industry and research organisations. We recommend that, to do so, government takes the following steps:

  • To increase industry innovation and research collaboration capability:

    • Attractive packages (including visas) to attract and retain global technical & entrepreneurial talent with the missing capabilities to Australia, especially expatriate Australians

    • Structured, national-scale, government-subsidised innovation and research collaboration capability development (training, coaching and mentoring) programs for industry (especially SME) leaders.

  • To increase researcher capability to drive industry engagement and entrepreneurial impact:

    • National-scale industry engagement coaching and mentoring programs for Higher Degree Research students and early-career researchers, aimed at reaching thousands or tens of thousands of researchers each year. Examples of successful international best practice include the US National Science Foundation’s I-Corps and Innovate UK’s ICURe. Based on these examples and our Australian experience, we recommend that the programs include:

  • Regularly-updated government certification of core program content and delivery personnel, to ensure and maintain uniform high quality.

  • Program delivery is primarily government-funded, e.g. by extra Research Block Grant funding to universities who offer the programs.

  • Universities provide sponsorship (in-kind or monetary) to their researchers who participate in the programs, to ensure that the university supports the participants and their projects.

  • We recommend that these programs primarily support industry engagement projects carried out by early career researchers (postdocs) rather than PhD students (e.g. through industry PhD programs). PhD programs train academically-gifted individuals to hone their research skills and knowledge creation capability, and publish their results. Postdocs, on the other hand, have developed research skills and are ready to generate significant impact, build deep industry partnerships, and drive entrepreneurship. However, they are employed on short-term contracts and often excluded from professional development. We recommend that this talent pool is nurtured and supported to drive industry engagement and entrepreneurship and create impact.

  • To reduce barriers for industry to identify and engage researchers to address innovation challenges: independent, government-subsidised industry-researcher match-making, potentially based on Scotland’s Interface program, modified to initially offer each SME R&D challenge to the single university research group best-equipped to address it. This will seed long-term university-SME partnerships, rather than creating bidding wars between universities.

  • To increase mobility of workers between research and industry: greatly expanded industry PhD programs and industry fellowships (thousands per year) for university-based researchers and industry professionals.

  • To increase sector-wide coordination to identify and solve innovation challenges: specific funding to support this.

  • To encourage industry investment in innovation and R&D: a clear and consistent articulation of the roles of all the various government funding schemes available for innovation projects at every step along the innovation journey.

To bring about the fundamental, decades-long national-scale transformations needed, a stable policy environment over this timescale is needed.

What success will look like: when these capability gaps are addressed and the innovation system is working optimally to drive these transformations, we will observe the following behaviours:

  • Mobility between research and industry: Australian businesses hiring hundreds or thousands of researchers each year

  • Sector-wide industry coordination and data sharing to identify and solve system-level innovation barriers and challenges (e.g. shared sector-level expenditure on R&D and other joint innovation initiatives)

  • Rapid prototyping and tolerance of failure

  • Research translation funding programs that celebrate failure

  • Creation and protection of strategically significant IP

  • Industry access to and engagement with early-adopter customers.

  • University promotion that incentivises industry collaboration (e.g. an expansion of the ARC’s Industry Fellowships scheme)

  • University technology transfer office (TTO) staff incentivised to enable large-scale industry-research collaboration and researcher entrepreneurship, e.g. rewards for closing more IP licenses each year.

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