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COPHE Welcomes Moves to Promote Innovation

A message from COPHE CEO Adrian McComb

It has been a big week for innovation policy with the Turnbull Government releasing the National Innovation and Science Agenda. I have been to two launch events where the PM, Mr Pyne and a large group of senior public servants have outlined a wide range of innovation measures.

Prior to the announcement, frankly, I was sceptical. After catching a glimpse of how the measures can work together I consider the portfolio of policies is brilliant.

The policies announced would certainly have made a huge difference to me in the past. In the early 1990s, I started a business that developed digital maps for a range of applications but built around a standard that supported car navigation and interaction with GPS.  It was a very tough time in the economy and we struggled.  I remember the loneliness of  Silicon Valley motels and attending trade fairs trying to meet relevant people, the impossibility of finding venture capital here or in Europe, the challenge of dealing with big corporations and how difficult it was to engage with universities. After selling to Telstra in 1995, we realised our little company had achieved more R&D tax credit that year than Telstra Research Labs. However, with Telstra behind it, Where Is became the fastest growing website in the country for a couple of years and car navigation is now ubiquitous.

 The range of measures announced by the Government to promote innovation will create a totally different environment for such businesses and encourage more.

 What it means for start-ups/entrepreneurs for engaging with universities is a shift in the power balance whereby universities will need to engage with business and deliver outcomes that meet the needs of the enterprise. I clearly remember seeking help from university experts but found no interest from them as involvement would not enable them to boost their research and publication objectives. There were always a few encouraging visionary professors but universities did not engage with start-ups.

 So what does this Innovation Agenda mean for COPHE members? At this stage there is no provision for support of research in the private sector beyond universities, but this is an area where COPHE needs to get its best minds together to see how we can identify and support students and alumni who think outside the square and are restless with the status quo. We need to put this on our agenda for consideration because if we can, there will surely be opportunities arising from the National Innovation Agenda. Innovation does not arise only from the STEM, a fact I have often heard even Chief Scientist Ian Chubb recognise.

 As for the Watt Review of University Research and the ACOLA Report on research training, the private non-university sector does not get a mention. As far as I can see COPHE was the only organisation to make submissions proposing support beyond universities.


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