An “economic accelerator” to fill the valley of death in Australia


Morrison government plans to spend A$2.2 billion on research commercialization

An ‘economic accelerator’ worth AU$1.6 billion has been announced to support the development of Australian research into commercial products and services.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison told the National Press Club on February 1 that the nation must “change the [research] focus quotes to business success”.

He said: “85% of Australian research is officially ranked at or above the global standard. Yet we continue to frustratingly underperform in achieving go-to-market results. »

Accelerator funding will go to priority areas of domestic manufacturing: critical resources and minerals, food and beverages, medical products, defense, space, recycling and clean energy.

Morrison has also pledged an additional A$150 million for the Main Sequence venture capital fund – an investment arm of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization – and funding for PhDs from industry.

The total amount defined in an action plan was 2.2 billion Australian dollars.

“It’s about funding projects that aim to fill the ‘valley of death,’ where early-stage research is often not advanced due to higher levels of risk and uncertainty,” Morrison said. . “Stronger commercialization of research and ideas will mean a stronger economy and a stronger future for Australia.”

Research response

The announcement was generally well received. Cooperative Research Australia’s chief executive, Jane O’Dwyer, said in a statement that the umbrella organization for the Cooperative Research Centers was “delighted to see substantial investment in Australia’s research capacity and investment in industry-research collaboration”.

Hugh Bradlow, president of the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering, said the academy was “looking forward to ensuring the fund helps to increase industry’s appetite for developing new ideas”.

“However, it’s also important not to overlook curiosity-driven research, which creates ideas for new business opportunities,” he cautioned.

Universities Australia said in a statement that the announcement recognized the “central role universities and academic research play in Australia’s prosperity and recovery”.

John Dewar, President of Universities Australia, stressed the importance of research work in finding ideas to commercialize. ‘Ensuring predictable and adequate support for Australia’s basic research capacity, as well as commercialization, will be vital going forward,’ he said. “Funding for industry-focused PhDs is a welcome contribution to this capability.”

The Innovative Research Universities Group said the six priority areas represented “huge opportunities”. President Carolyn Evans said the Prime Minister’s “significant announcement today puts Australia’s research universities at the heart of the post-Covid recovery and strategy for the country’s economic future”.

Connect to industry

The accelerator will select winners by funding an initial round of approximately 100 projects per year with up to AU$500,000. In the next round, 36 projects will receive up to A$5 million, with a 50% industry co-investment requirement. In stage three, Main Sequence will take over, with up to two rounds of funding totaling A$150 million.

Main Sequence has already organized two rounds of seed funding, supporting 39 companies.

Stuart Robert, acting education minister, said the scheme would fund 1,800 industry PhD positions and 800 “industry fellows”, removing “much of the risk and uncertainty for universities”. Some A$296 million has been earmarked for this part of the program.

O’Dwyer said the Cooperative Research Centers were “especially excited to see significant investment in PhDs and fellowships from industry. We have always advocated for increased investment in the innovation workforce through industry doctorates. »

Robert said in a radio interview that “unfortunately… we’re seventh in the world for blue skies, really exciting research, but only 26th for commercialization. So we have this great research, but we have to connect it to our great industries. And it’s about making that connection so that we can commercialize and get real value from the money we invest in such wonderful research.

The government followed the advice of a task force on the commercialization of research. Task force chair Jeff Connolly, chief executive of Siemens Australia, said the group believed the best results for the Australian economy and people would come from new approaches from government, academia, business and industry. industry.

“This action plan provides a solid foundation to build on the excellent foundation that exists in our university sector and will ensure that systemic opportunities are there for every researcher who wants to pursue a business opportunity, and every company that wants to work with our universities. ,” Connolly said.


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