Bidders looking to the future

The 19th selection round for Cooperative Research Centres is not yet at the shortlisting stage. But that is not stopping consortia from looking to the 20th selection round due in 2018 to look at some of the biggest issues facing the future of Australia. The CRC Association provides a space on our website for consortia looking towards bidding for a CRC and already three bids are signalling their intentions. The proposals are for a CRC for Smart Energy Management, a CRC for the Blue Economy and a CRC for Advanced Medical Biotechnologies. Details of each can be found on the CRC Association’s bidding page.

Cooperative Research Centre bids are complex, as are all processes for raising tens of millions of dollars. The relationships involved cannot be rushed, so it is wise to allow enough time for a bid to develop and all the necessary people involved to be consulted. Allowing time for a bid to develop can also cut the cost because meetings can be scheduled with industry events and feedback can be incorporated. In the current 19th round, the participant declaration caused considerable angst for a number of bids, made worse when a time schedule is involved.

For the 20th round, few if any changes are expected to the paperwork required by AusIndustry. Explanatory material is available that makes clear the Commonwealth’s expectations with regard to the participant’s declaration. The CRC Programme has very useful material available on the same site including a suggested term sheet that covers all the essential elements that any participant might want to know about before committing. By their very nature, CRC participants are diverse and a government regulator will naturally emphasize different things to a commercial company or a university. It is important to understand the point of view from each potential participant.

There are six selection criteria for every CRC and taking the time to develop a bid hopefully means that none are overlooked or rushed at the last minute. Those familiar with bids say that the governance and management selection criteria can be very superficial in some proposals. Apparently, some bidders virtually quote back the guidelines to the committee, saying they’ll set up a company limited by guarantee and set up a skills-based board with a majority of independent directors. But in making a decision to turn over perhaps as much as $50-70 million of taxpayers funds over a decade, the committee probably wants to know some detail. They are not deciding to “grant” funding to a series of projects, they are deciding to “invest” taxpayer’s funds in a whole enterprise. Building trust in your enterprise usually means knowing who will be calling the shots.

Another area of importance that is sometimes left to the home stretch on an application is the education program. All CRCs have PhD programs; CRCs fund around 5-6% of all PhDs in Australia. But a good education program in a CRC goes much further than just PhDs. It should address the major education issues for the industry involved. That might mean vocational training to ensure the knowledge generated in the CRC is actually applied to those that will benefit the most. For emerging industries, it might mean several cohorts of people that bridge the academic-industry divide or perhaps entrepreneurial-trained people ready to build new industries.

CRCs should be developed in close collaboration with one or more of the six Industry Growth Centres. The advantage of starting early is that it allows for a very real involvement of the Growth Centre, each of which has significant networks throughout their sector. A rushed bid might mean the engagement with the Growth Centre is superficial or just at the level of seeking endorsement towards the end of the process. Much better to engage early and engage often.

Good luck to these three CRC proposals looking towards the next selection round. Any bidders wishing to have their proposal put on the CRC Association website are welcome to do so.