CSIRO launches $200 million Innovation Fund to commercialise research

- December 5, 2016 3 MIN READ

The government has launched the CSIRO Innovation Fund, a $200 million fund that will look to commercialise research generated at the organisation and other publicly-funded bodies. Bill Bartee, cofounder of Blackbird Ventures, will act as managing director of the Fund.

First announced as part of the National Innovation and Science Agenda last year, the fund will incorporate $70 million in government funding, $30 million in revenue from CSIRO’s WLAN program, and additional private sector investment.

Dr Larry Marshall, chief executive of CSIRO, said the Innovation Fund is the final piece of the puzzle in the organisation’s Strategy 2020 plan.

“We have aligned all the pieces: from market roadmaps that guide our science to address the most critical needs; to the ON sci-tech accelerator to help Australia’s scientists apply their science for national benefit; and now we have the Innovation Fund to invest in those ideas and reap the rewards of their success,” Marshall said.

“It’s a virtuous cycle of investment in taking our best ideas from bench-top to beta to buyer. This clears the pathway for science and technology to navigate Australia’s future.”

Bartee, who will join the Innovation Fund in the first quarter of 2017, said it will provide a “fantastic opportunity” to help ideas coming from accelerators and elsewhere realise their potential in the commercial market.

“To ensure the best ideas have the greatest impact, we will back the most ambitious entrepreneurs who want to build important, enduring companies,” he said.

The fund is expected to be open to investment proposals from CSIRO, universities, other publicly funded research agencies and their partners, including SMEs.

It is to focus on proposals that bring forward the commercialisation of ‘deep technology’ across government-aligned national industry priorities, those determined through the Industry Growth Centres, and invest for both commercial return and national benefit.

The Fund is also expected to focus its investment toward companies establishing themselves and with most assets in Australia during their formative years.

According to the CSIRO, the funding will be provided without co-investment where necessary to kickstart very early stage proposals, and to address the initial ‘death valley curve’ in pre-seed and seed funding, however co-investment will be encouraged.

In announcing the launch of the Fund, Minister for Innovation Greg Hunt said, “This fund will bridge the gap between science and industry. It will allow our innovators to meet industry half way by developing investable propositions, enabling our scientists to get their product to market more rapidly.

“It’s about maximising value from taxpayer funded research and ensuring important discoveries make it beyond the laboratory.”

The launch of the Fund comes after the government in September outlined a plan to revise the CSIRO’s Statement of Expectations, which will form the basis of its operations over the next two decades.

With the Statement of Expectations aiming to make the CSIRO the world’s premier research organisation, Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science Greg Hunt said the new vision for the CSIRO is about “pursuing pure public good research” as the foundation for Australia’s knowledge and capabilities in science and research.

“Australia bats above its weight when it comes to great research breakthroughs but we have stumbled in connecting that research to the customers, investors and industries that can commercialise it and convert it to real-world solutions,” he said.

Commercialising Australia’s research has been a particular focus through NISA. As well as the CSIRO Innovation Fund, the government has also launched the $500 million Biomedical Transformation Fund to invest in new biomedical innovations, with $250 million in government funding to be matched by private sector funding.

Collaboration between Australian and international businesses and researchers in the hopes of inspiring commercialisation has also been pushed through funding initiatives such as the Regional Collaborations Programme and the Global Connections Fund.

However, this focus on research is not shared by all in the sector, with the 2016 Crossroads report released by StartupAUS last week making note to “caution against succumbing to the view that science and research are a necessary precursor to all innovation. NISA has a clear emphasis on the research sector, and in terms of dollars committed is much more heavily weighted towards science rather than entrepreneurship”.

The report encouraged policymakers to “decouple the concepts of ‘research’, ‘innovation’, and ‘entrepreneurship’ in developing policy and ensure that funding remains balanced across the three areas”, highlighting the fact that many successful companies today are based on business model innovation rather than scientific or technological breakthroughs.

Image: Bill Bartee. Source: Supplied.