By Dr Tony Peacock
The fourth round of Cooperative Research Centres – Projects have been announced and Australian industry has embraced the program from sewer linings, hydrogen energy, disease resistant bananas to portable brain scanners and cancer treatment. Generally, successful bids have only a few companies and one research organisation involved, although the stats are skewed by the record 31-member “Smart linings for pipe and infrastructure” project led by the Water Services Association of Australia (I was briefed on this one in development and the infrastructure costs and potential for savings were staggering).
Eight of the fifteen successful projects have been funded from the special $20 million allocation for Advanced Manufacturing in this year’s Federal Budget, exhausting all but half a million of that fund. It’s just as well because the success rate of applications in the round was low; with 70 applications considered by the committee, the one in 4.5 funded would have been even lower but for the special allocation. The CRC-P program is addressing a significant gap in the Australian innovation system and the high number of applicants putting up very significant resources of their own is fantastic. The CRC Association has expressed concern to the government in the past that enthusiastic business participation will wane if success rates drop too low.
Assistant Minister Craig Laundy and the CRC Advisory Committee deserve praise for resisting the temptation to vegemite-fund the bids by spreading the money to allow more applications to be funded. CRCA believes it is important to fund the proposals at the level of their requests to ensure they can fulfil their promises. In an outcome-focused program that is this competitive, bidders don’t make ambit claims and they need the government resources to get the results. The average allocation to each CRC-P is about $2.2 million from government, in line with previous rounds. The government’s contribution has been matched by more than $3 of industry and research organisation funds for every government dollar. But there is wider variety, with projects ranging from less than $300,000 in total to over $24 million in size and from almost dollar for dollar matching to more about eight to one matching (CRC-P requests must be at least matched by the applicants).
One of the most exciting aspects of the round is the involvement of emerging companies that we haven’t generally seen bidding for CRC or other program involvement. In some cases, these emerging companies like Emvision Medical Devices and teaming up with giants like GE Healthcare, so that Australian smart technology will become part of global supply chains. In other cases, we can see the development of the centres of expertise around regional universities like Deakin and James Cook.
CRCA congratulates this round’s successful bidders. We are particularly pleased to have had involvement of some sort with so many of them during the development period. Future bidders should not hesitate to attend CRCA workshops and seminars or to contact us in regard to bids. Under the “bidding” tab on our website, you are welcome to seek partners for future projects. CRCA also has interest from several venture capital firms seeking to partner with bidders in the future.