CSIRO hits the accelerator with in-house start-ups

By Stephen Easton

November 2, 2015

Nine small teams of CSIRO staff could become some of Australia’s next tech start-ups after they emerge from the research agency’s new start-up accelerator this December.

Staff submitted 240 new ideas when the first round of the new ON program began in July as a way to encourage quicker commercialisation of the organisation’s research. Liza Noonan, who has experience running similar accelerator outfits in Australia, has been brought on board as executive manager of innovation to lead the program. It starts all over again early next year.

Noonan says she’s “thrilled” to join CSIRO and help with its new strategy to not only become more lean and agile itself and commercialise its own research more rapidly, but also become the nation’s “innovation catalyst” and improve economic returns on science investment by stimulating a valuable “ecosystem” of innovative start-ups.

A recent CSIRO statement reports: “Australia is found wanting with an ecosystem value 80 times less than Silicon Valley.”

The submissions to the ON program from CSIRO boffins are “deep tech projects that cross a wide range of industries, from manufacturing to agriculture” that can hopefully help address major national challenges, she added.

The nine start-ups in the first round of the ON program are:

  • Anonalytix: privacy preserving analytics for unit-level data.
  • Sensei:  solid state sensor solutions for real-time continuous monitoring in extreme environments.
  • Cardiac Rehab: cardiac rehabilitation on the smartphone.
  • Graphene: single step ambient air synthesis from renewable biomass.
  • Sprayable Biodegradable Polymer Membrane Systems: revolutionising production agriculture.
  • Biora: terpene modifiers.
  • Ultra-Low Gluten Barley: all the health components of wholegrains while meeting WHO definitions for gluten free.
  • Vaximiser: protecting the world from the next pandemic.
  • Third Eye: network based location detection of Wi-Fi devices for improved safety in dangerous environments.

Chief executive Larry Marshall says he’s leading CSIRO into a “new era” in which it will focus on helping Australia to become a “high-performing innovation economy”.

When he launched the new strategy in July, Marshall spoke of the need to improve collaboration:

“We must form new bonds and collaborate across disciplines, sectors, science and business. That is where profound innovation happens — at the intersection of these areas.”

“We must also be asking who our customers are and if we’re creating the value that they need. We work with businesses, industry, governments and communities and we need to find ways to benefit every Australian.”

Chief scientist Ian Chubb agrees. “Australians aren’t short of talent but we need to get better at turning our creativity into successful products and services,” he said this month, launching a new report Boosting High-Impact Entrepreneurship in Australia.

“To be a more innovative country we need to encourage an entrepreneurial mindset at every level of education — starting in schools, continuing in higher study and enduring throughout working lives.”

In a short missive included in that report, Marshall comments:

“As an Australian who spent 25 years in Silicon Valley, I passionately believe Australia’s sub-par innovation performance is a critical national issue. There is no more potent fuel for creating enduring value than technology-enabled innovation.”

The major shift in CSIRO’s mission has occurred against the backdrop of major reductions in funding for itself and NICTA, the formerly independent research institute which was forced to merge with CSIRO after its own federal funding was cut. A new “data innovation” team has come out of the merger.

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