The next collaborative challenge
By Dr Tony Peacock
Cooperative Research Centres have lots of experience at collaboration across organisations and disciplines. The importance of collaboration has been well recognised over the past few years and more programmes have become available to support it. One of these is the CRC-Projects, which provide support directly to companies for collaboration with other companies and research organisations. They are much smaller than a traditional CRC. In the latest round, the average number of participants was four, and six of the 13 successful bids had the minimum participation of only three organisations (two companies and a research organisation).
The lower number of participants probably simplifies the collaboration process but my guess is that the type, nature and culture of the participants will mean that the quality of the collaboration will need to be a real focus. We are going to see more small businesses, micro-businesses and start-ups participating in the CRC-Ps than we ever have had in the big CRCs and we are going to have be on the ball.
This is not a complaint. My job involves meeting dozens of potential participants in CRCs and CRC-Ps and I’ve noted to many people, that the introduction of the CRC-Ps has been one of the most exciting developments in close to eight years in this role. The government introduced the CRC-Ps to cater to different needs than the larger CRCs and it is definitely addressing that need. The opportunity to gain government financial support for collaborating with Australia’s strong research community is becoming better known among people and companies that previously thought such opportunities were simply beyond their means.
Similarly, the smart research organisations are taking advantage of this new way to engage business. Last week in Brisbane, the University of Queensland hosted me to give a talk on the CRC-Ps. Even though the Director of Partnerships, Ian Harris, had the campus app in hand we took a few wrong turns in finding the lecture theatre deep in the Physics department. But probably a quarter of the audience was from businesses seeking out the collaboration and the support they need. And not just any businesses: big energy; artificial intelligence; integrated health care among them. All looking at novel new ways of doing things. For companies to find their way on to a campus at short notice means they are really interested in collaboration and government support for it.
It was a similar story at the Unearthed Brisbane Accelerator over at River City Labs. Six companies are vying to move from prototype to product in six months. During their acceleration period, these mining industry-related companies are getting intense mentoring and help. Imagine the benefit a young company gets in an environment where the industry growth centre, in this case METS Ignited, is able to provide introductions and advice. They may be years away from applying for a CRC-P or an Accelerating Commercialisation project, but knowing that government support is available to you can be a major boost.
The explosion of entrepreneurial spirit is going to mean research organisations, public researchers and governments adapt their modus operandi to cater to the changing collaborative environment. These companies are operating on a trajectory and pace that many government programmes and university systems struggle to keep up with. They run extremely lean and they have an urgency to get to market. Governments can and should help these companies because the potential wealth creation and solutions to social and environmental issues are just so great. The CRC-Ps is a good addition, as are many of the other NISA changes and those at State and industry level. More will be needed – we need to become as innovative as the entrepreneurs we seek to assist.