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Connecting the dots: CSIRO deep tech support programs drive research to market

Cohort from ON Accelerate 1 at bootcamp in September 2015 at the Australian Technology Park, Sydney. Words by Megan Woodward

Dr Alisa Becker is the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) Manager for Innovation and Engagement Services and has overseen the development and delivery of the ON Prime and ON Accelerate programs that, to date, have supported nearly 600 different projects.

“There are just so many different problems that we’re seeing solutions being provided for and I think that's the most exciting part of working with deep tech – the problems are highly variable and deep tech works to solve really wicked, complex problems,” said Alisa.

“The sorts of things that come through can be highly variable from conservation activities to new energy materials to robotic developments – these aren’t simple digital solutions to a consumer issue – they go well beyond that.”

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Related organisations

Applications are open for CSIRO's various programs and commercial opportunities, via the growAG. platform here, that's working collaboratively to help find partners and investors.

CSIRO’s upcoming AgCatalyst 2022 event, ‘Facing the Future’ at Luna Park, Sydney held on the 22-23 November, will also provide eventgoers with a unique networking opportunity to connect with the growAG. team and learn more about CSIRO’s cutting-edge work. Register here

ON Prime: culture change program for research teams

Cohort from ON Accelerate 1 at bootcamp in September 2015 at the Australian Technology Park, Sydney.

ON Prime is best described as a ‘culture change program’, aimed at helping to support researchers to understand how better to apply the technologies they’re working on, out in the market.

“ON Prime is set up as a structured customer discovery process, where research teams try to identify a first best customer or end user to consider all the different ways that things can be implemented in the market,” said Alisa.

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“It’s critical that they think about how what they're working on, is going to be used in the hands of real people, so we talk about it as identifying the problem solution fit for those research projects.”

ON Accelerate runs just once a year with an intake of 10 teams, offering a targeted and purpose-built focus.

“We have just closed applications for this round and are deep in the review process now ahead of boot camps that are due to start at the end of November for the 10 chosen teams,” said Alisa.

Essentially, we are working with private sector companies and finding them publicly funded researchers to help them on their journey. 

CSIRO SME Connect Deputy Director, Dr George Feast
Main Sequence Ventures Partner, Phil Morle.

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“We identify teams based on quality rather than hitting targets of numbers to go forward into the program, which will start next year. It’s run as a stage gated process where teams may not complete the entire program if they're not at the right stage. This is about refining the process and making sure everyone succeeds but at the right time.”

Australian agritech startup RapidAIM is just one of many success stories to spin out of the ON Accelerate program. A monitoring system for crop pests, such as fruit fly, the offering is underpinned by research carried out by three scientists who worked at CSIRO.

“The team went on to be funded by Main Sequence Ventures, which is CSIRO’s investment arm and have continued to work closely with researchers in CSIRO as well,” Alisa explained.

“RapidAIM is a really good example of where a spinout can happen very successfully and still maintain a close connection with the research organisation.”

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Research & development (R&D) for small and medium-sized enterprises (SME)

CSIRO is also committed to helping out on the other side of the R&D coin.

The CSIRO SME Connect team runs four different programs that help startups and SMEs work with the research sector.

The main federal government run program, Innovation Connections helps SMEs to establish research priorities, locate researchers and provide access to funding to fast track R&D projects.

SME Connect Deputy Director, Dr George Feast said the program assists around 300 projects every year.

“Our job is all about facilitation,” he said.

“We’re finding researchers for businesses and giving them access to grant funding that we have available to them, and helping to develop those relationships. Essentially, we are working with private sector companies and finding them publicly funded researchers to help them on their journey.”

“Our CSIRO-Kickstart program works in a similar way but is focused on startups and again it’s around that facilitation matchmaking and giving access to dollar match funding. We also have a program that is for startups and SMEs who don't naturally think about doing R&D, called Innovate to Grow.

“Innovate to Grow was first launched in 2020 with support from AgriFutures Australia with an ag focus and since then we've expanded out into eight different sectors. We have plans to launch an agrifood focused program in early 2023.”

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growAG. helps drive connections and collaboration

Team from Agscent, a Canberra based startup was able to access a local researcher to collaborate on an Agricultural project thanks to their Innovation Connections CSIRO facilitator.

For both Alisa Becker and George Feast, the connectiveness between ON Accelerate and SME Connect is a way to work at multiple points along the innovation pipeline to increase creation, validation and adoption of R&D and innovation. It’s anticipated that groups involved in all streams of the CSIRO programs will continue to use AgriFutures growAG. as a platform to find partners and investors.

“These platforms working side by side boost the capability of the sector significantly and there’s so much value in bringing together people who are interested in the tech and solutions but from all different fields of expertise,” Alisa said.

“Aligning to similarly focused programs and platforms across the ecosystem improves connectiveness in a way that can’t be overstated,” she said.

“In the end, it comes down to people and individuals to think of markets or impact as sort of an abstract concept; but you need to have an individual who's willing to sign on the dotted line or to implement something.

“That's where connection is hugely important.” 

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“In the end, it comes down to people and individuals to think of markets or impact as sort of an abstract concept; but you need to have an individual who's willing to sign on the dotted line or to implement something.

“That's where connection is hugely important.”

George Feast agrees.

“We want to create all these great jobs and startups and SMEs, but we need the researchers to be able to take those jobs on too,” he said.

“Programs like ON create those industry ready researchers, even if the technology they're working on might not come of anything. They're more commercially minded, and that means they're going to be better researchers for industry in the future.”

Learn more about CSIRO’s various commercial opportunities and innovation programs, via the growAG. platform here. And register for CSIRO’s AgCatalyst 2022 event, ‘Facing the Future’ here.