Innovation Delegation Report

I was very fortunate to join the Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel, on an Australian innovation delegation to German, Switzerland and France last week. Delegates met with research organisations, government officials and industry in a busy week that included a trip to the world’s largest manufacturing fair, the Hanover Messe.

The dedication to the science and its application to industry was evident in all three countries. It’s too much of a generalisation, but it felt like the approach in Germany was highly strategic and ‘top-down’, in Switzerland more ‘bottom-up’ building on their strengths and in France the focus was on connecting their traditionally strong academia with industry.

The strength of these European powerhouses can seem overwhelming from some points of view. The Fraunhofer institutes with more than 25000 staff. Switzerland’s nano industry builds on hundreds of years of expertise. The connectiveness of France’s small biotech companies with the major pharmaceuticals companies is impressive.

But at no point did any of the Australian delegation feel that our country could not compete. As Alan Finkel pointed out in numerous speeches, Australia currently holds the world’s record for 105 quarters of continuous economic growth. The Germans, Swill and French viewed Australia as an attractive partner for scientific and industrial collaboration. Representatives from CSIRO, the CRCs and Growth Centres were extremely well received and dozens of new connections were made.

For existing CRCs, as well as developing bids, I was making email introductions for our first meeting. For intending CRC and CRC-P bidders, it is important to see whether there are potential collaborators in the many French Carnot Institutes or German Fraunhofer and to make contact early to explain opportunities for collaboration. The CRCA has excellent contacts within our sister associations to assist members where possible.

New features of the Australian innovation system look to be working. Delegates met with the first two companies in the Australian ‘Landing Pad’ in Berlin. This exciting program enables young companies to have 90 days of coaching and introductions from Austrade in the market of interest to them. Australia’s other Landing Pads are in San Francisco, Shanghai, Singapore and Tel Aviv.

For James Watkins, trying to develop his music licencing company, Gnarles, the Berlin Landing Pad means access to more developers at lower cost and proximity to the music scene that is so important to his product. Shannon Notley, with Flexegraph, whose liquid graphene products spun out from ANU, gained meetings with all the significant auto and aerospace manufacturers in his time in the Landing Pad.  He told me, “If I call them I get the switch board. If Austrade calls, I get a meeting”. To have this access as well as being within a 3-hour train trip of your most significant potential clients, is a major boost for a young company.

The Industry Growth Centres were another new feature of Australia’s innovation system that highlighted strongly on the delegation. There is a big advantage for the Europeans to have an entrée to the whole of the sector in Australia. Out of the areas in which the Europeans are doing well, is understanding the specific role of the various players in their innovation systems. They can spell out the role of basic research institutes through to start-up company very clearly. Our ‘system’ feels less detained and with too many players extended to do too many things. The Industry Growth Centres are playing a link role that is set to become more important as they develop and become better know. This role resonated in Europe.

CRCs have been around for much longer and have a good reputation in Europe. It was gratifying to have technology scouts for major companies asking about developing CRCs and how they might participate. The Association of Carnot Institutes in France hosted our final event and are keen to set up closer and more regular meetings in the future.