SCOPR survey only tells part of the research commercialisation story

This week, Knowledge Commercialisation Australasia released its first Survey of Commercial Outcomes from Public Research (SCOPR).

Based on data collected and analysed by gemaker from 34 Australian and 15 New Zealand universities and research organisations, SCOPR benchmarks how the research sector is currently engaging with industry to ensure research makes it out of the lab and into everyday use.

Some of the key findings include:

  • 42 new spin-outs and start-ups, 231 active companies and 609 new licences were launched by Australian research organisations in 2019.
  • In 2019, Australian research organisations held $261.8 million in equity in start ups and spin outs, and generated $175.9 million in commercialisation revenue.

But it’s important to note that SCOPR is only able to provide a snapshot of some of the outputs of commercialisation.

Looking beyond financial returns

Looking only at the financials reported in SCOPR, you may initially draw the conclusion that a large amount of money is invested in research (including capital intensive facilities) and not a lot is generated.

But this doesn’t take into account the crucial role that research organisations and universities play in fostering early-stage research. Early-stage research may be cost intensive, but the potential benefits this research provides to society, our economy and our environment go beyond a dollar amount, and are often hard to measure.

As the case studies in SCOPR demonstrate, it is investment in early stage research that is driving Australia’s development of a COVID-19 vaccine. Investment in early-stage research enabled Australia to invent WiFi and become the first country to 3D print a jet engine. And it was investment in early stage research that led to the commercialisation of Gardasil, which is putting Australia on track to eradicate cervical cancer.

Early stage research doesn’t just lead to important real-world products and services. It also informs the teaching practices of the university, fostering the next generation of scientists and innovators.

Early stage research is rarely led by industry because it is too risky and costly for the industry partner. But through contract research, partnerships, licencing and the creation of new companies industry can help universities bring this research into the world by doing what they do best – developing products and services that improve our lives.

In an ideal research commercialisation scenario, when new knowledge is created and   translated to industry, an ongoing R&D relationship is established. This enables the university to continuously improve upon the invention and for industry to benefit from that knowledge by making improvements to their products and services.

A great example of this is Curtin University’s spin off, HiSeis Pty Ltd. Curtin formed the company in 2009 to commercialise new technology that applies seismic techniques to minerals exploration for better definition of ore resources. Curtin’s commercialisation team supported HiSeis through its establishment and growth in minerals exploration. Curtin also facilitated the company’s sale to bring in new owners and take it to a position of greater strength. HiSeis continues a research relationship with Curtin, employs Curtin graduates, has significant alumni as shareholders and Curtin retains a shareholding to participate in future upside.

Improving commercialisation metrics and stories

SCOPR enables universities and research organisations to benchmark themselves nationally and internationally and make more strategic decisions about how to improve their research commercialisation metrics.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, SCOPR shows that the most well funded universities and research organisations tend to also have the best commercialisation metrics. It adds further weight to the argument that we need more investment in research and more investment in commercialisation.

In a post-COVID world, we should be looking at how we can improve research commercialisation to get greater impact, whether that’s investing in commercialisation teams within universities or in external commercialisation expertise.

Translation of university research is crucial to our economy, the growth of the country, and the growth of the knowledge-based industries that we need in Australia. Key to this is ensuring that annual surveys such as SCOPR help us to make better decisions to support research commercialisation and to showcase commercialisation success stories.

Read the Survey of Commercial Outcomes from Public Research (SCOPR).