A new $90,000 fellowship is giving 3 scientists the chance to commercialise their ideas

- July 24, 2019 3 MIN READ

The CSIRO’s ON accelerator program, in partnership with the Menzies Foundation, has launched a $90,000 12-month fellowship to help scientific entrepreneurs commercialise their ideas.

Three Menzies Science Entrepreneur Fellowships will be offered this year. 

David Burt, executive manager of CSIRO’s ON program, said the no-strings-attached fellowship is about supporting the nation’s talented science entrepreneurs in the early stages of commercialisation to turn their ideas into the industries of the future. 

“We’ve seen some exceptional science entrepreneurs coming out of the ON Program, and we’re excited to join with the Menzies Foundation to further support these outstanding entrepreneurs,” he said.

“This fellowship is a one-of-kind opportunity for early-stage entrepreneurs, and we can’t wait to watch the awarded fellows flourish.” 

Potential recipients will be interviewed by a committee that includes entrepreneur Tony Surtees and Main Sequence Ventures partner Bill Bartee. The fellowship winners will be announced at CSIRO’s ON Tribe event in Melbourne on September 11. 

Fellowship recipients will gain access to the Menzies Foundation and ON’s expansive networks, including 250-plus Menzies Scholarship alumni, 1200-plus ON graduates and more than 100 ON mentors.

The funds can be used to support activities such as the founder’s wage, prototyping equipment costs, business travel, corporate overheads.  The program is also open to invited CSIRO ON Program alumni. Whether the fellowships will become annual has not yet been decided. 

Speaking to Startup Daily about the challenges faced by entrepreneurs in bringing their research to commercial reality, Burt said it wasn’t unique to Australia but the sector in general.

“The commercialisation of research is so challenging because incentives and timelines differ for research and industry,” he said.

“Scientists are typically incentivised to test theories which are viable enough to be grant-funded, but most Australian companies do not want to adopt the technology until it has had all of the risk taken out of it and the idea is ready to take to market. Accelerator programs like CSIRO’s ON are a critical step in bridging the divide between the preliminary and latter stages of R&D.”

Nonetheless, Australia’s track record is improving, Burt said, with ON leading the way in its four years since inception.

“Since its inception in 2015, ON has helped form over 35 new companies, 12 of which have successfully raised a total of over $40 million to commercialise their research,” he said.

“Our program is designed to help the research sector how to think commercially and get their ideas out of the laboratory and into the world.”

David Burt said there are scientific areas where Australia is a world leader such as med-tech. ON graduate PainChek created the world’s validated first digital pain assessment technology.

“The greatest potential for Australian science lies in creating a self-sustaining system that fosters science entrepreneurship. One of the biggest challenges ON seeks to address is supporting scientists over the long term – years not months,” he said.

“There is a huge opportunity to unleash innovation in the country if we tap into those scientists that have the skills and initiative to think commercially. ”

Burt said many of the ON alumi have successfully transitioned from scientist to entrepreneur but it’s vital that people have the right support networks to do it.

“Take RapidAIM’s co-founder and CEO, Nancy Schellhorn, for example. Prior to RapidAIM, Nancy was a Principal Research Scientist with CSIRO where she developed and led world-first research in how to suppress pests in agriculture,” he said.

“With ON’s support she’s formed a new company and with her co-founders has raised $1.25 million from Main Sequence Ventures and continues to see great success. ”

The ON boss points to data from Illion that revealed the number of startups entering the economy went backwards as the failure rate of Australian businesses increased in recent years.

“There are a number of programs supporting startups, but what’s not talked about is the support that exists after those programs,” he said.

“This effective post-program support is one of the key element to the success of the ON alumni entrepreneurs.”

Applications for the Menzies Science Entrepreneur Fellowships will open shortly. More details can be found here.