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Go8-BHERT Summit: Designing a Powerful New Industry-University Partnership for Australia

Date: Monday 29 October 2018
Location: Parliament House, Canberra

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The Go8-BHERT Summit was an initiative of the Go8, supported by BHERT, to begin a new conversation on how best to improve SME-university collaboration in Research and Development.

As an outcome of the Summit and armed with the powerful points set out below, the Go8 and BHERT will work both together and with their own sectors to ensure improvement of communication and collaboration, and importantly to identify priority areas for joint advocacy to Government

At all times the Go8 welcomes the continuing input of Summit participants to the process, and their comments on the priority perspectives set out in this document.

Summary of the Main Themes

1. Relationships are key, both to collaboration occurring, and to its success

  • Trust and mutual understanding of needs are fundamental to success.
  • Basic motivations of business and researchers are different and need to be acknowledged and accommodated in the context of each partnership

2. Benefits of collaboration

For businesses:

  • To stay competitive in innovation-driven industries
  • Access to expertise, facilities and equipment not otherwise available
  • Credibility provided by working with highly reputable institutions
  • Access to IP and global networks
  • Enhanced ability to start and drive industry debates
  • Relationships can help to identify yet to be defined issues
  • Ensuring innovations are not duplicating existing technology
  • Potential to bring new talent into the business (PhDs, post-docs)

For universities:

  • Opportunities to apply research knowledge to solving real-world problems
  • Enhancing the institution’s impact and engagement capabilities
  • Providing learning and employment opportunities for PhD students/ graduates
  • Accessing streams of research income only available from/for collaboration with business

3. Key challenges

  • Finding the right university and the right researchers to work with, who understand both the research problem, and the business;

    “Finding researchers to work with can be a bit like blind dating.”

  • Bridging the cultural and language divides between businesses and universities, which in turn reflect different motivations and incentives
  • Different approaches to handling IP issues, which again link to different motivations and incentives
  • Mismatched expectations of research timelines, both in time to commence, and time to complete, also connected to the length of most research grant timelines

    “Windows of opportunity are perishable.”

  • Different ideas about research solutions needed – businesses often don’t need the ‘perfect’ solution, but the ‘80 per cent’ solution to be developed and applied more quickly
  • Delays in forming agreements and commencing research due to the length, complexity and lack of transparency in university bureaucratic processes
  • Adversarial legal approaches to creating collaboration agreements
  • Researchers seeking to push the research into areas of interest to them, rather than what business needs

    “Universities tend to be research-focused; businesses are research and development focused.”

  • Costs – SMEs don’t have unlimited resources and are looking to minimise costs. The indirect costs of doing research incurred by universities are not covered by grants
  • Funding – many businesses are unaware of funding government programs (149 programs across 19 departments) that could support their research collaboration. However, many of the programs, despite not being widely known are already over-subscribed (because of small funding allocation)
  • A need to have “fewer, larger programs that don’t change”; a bias to programs with scale, like SBIR (USA)

4. New approaches

“Ways to improve collaboration as a means to an end, not an end in itself”

Identifying partners and bridging the culture gap

  • Universities could do more to promote their research capabilities to businesses on a sector basis, for example, through roadshows
  • Portals such as ‘ExpertConnect’ developed by Data61/CSIRO can help businesses to identify and connect directly with researchers with relevant knowledge
  • Universities could develop ‘quick look’ projects, to allow researchers and businesses to get to know each other, and build trust with minimal risk and investment
    • Peak bodies, which represent many SMEs, could play a role by:
      • instigating collaboration
      • facilitating communication between businesses and universities
      • educating their members about the potential value of university research and pathways to collaboration
    • Clusters of businesses working in a similar area could introduce themselves to universities through open days and creating collaboration ‘hubs’
    • Researchers could focus more on solving industry problems, not just translating their own research
    • Continued and increased investment in initiatives to expose university researchers and PhD students to industry, to strengthen both mutual understanding and connectivity between business and universities

      “PhD graduates provide intellectual grunt to my business.”

      “Collaborating with a university has given me access to six post-docs that I couldn’t justify employing myself.”

Leadership and rewards

  • University leaders can promote and encourage collaboration by making it clear this is important to the university;

    “It’s prioritised from the Vice-Chancellor down”

  • Universities could create more ways of recognising and further encouraging researcherindustry collaboration
  • Universities, business and government must develop a national strategy or platform to makes successful case studies visible; illustrating the value of business-university collaboration and encouraging a cultural shift to ‘normalising’ this

5. Streamlining user-friendly processes

  • Universities could appoint ‘account managers’ or ‘research coordinators’ who speak ‘the language of business’ to directly engage with SMEs and expedite university administrative processes for them
  • Universities should establish specialised teams/ units to manage Research and Development contracting with SMEs, instead of using university legal offices
  • Universities and businesses should jointly explore less adversarial approaches to legal agreements, such as the use of a single, neutral notary, to draw up agreements and arbitrate disputes
  • Universities could develop/ make use of ‘quick look’ contracts for agreements for small, lowrisk projects, to avoid ‘re-inventing the wheel’ each time (as CSIRO is doing)
  • Australian universities could potentially learn from how overseas institutions approach IP, such as offering different rates for contract research for different levels of control over IP.
  • Government should produce a ‘fact sheet’/ guide to assist SMEs engage with universities

6. Optimising Government support

  • Would funding-consolidation into fewer, but larger programs supporting business-university collaboration mean greater impact?
  • Stability of policy and longer-term continuity of funding programs needed
  • Could funding periods of Linkage and other grant schemes be shortened/ made more flexible to meet business needs?
  • Government, universities and business must work together to generate a clearer picture of the impact of existing programs to inform any changes

    “My business wouldn’t exist without the Research and Development Tax Incentive.”

    “The Research and Development Tax Incentive was a lifesaver for my business. It allowed us to obtain finance. A collaboration premium would have made it even better.”

  • Governments could try to simplify processes for accessing government grants; provide more support to SMEs to understand how to gain access to funding and to prepare grant applications – for example resourcing university-based facilitators to help businesses with grant applications

    “need to make things simpler before we put more money in”

  • A translation and commercialisation fund for non-medical research should be seen as an investment, not a grant scheme, and could be set up as an industry pool
  • More information could be made available from government data collection from its grant programs to assist researchers and businesses in understanding better how researcher and business interests align

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