Quartet give a tech lesson

04/10/2005 - 22:00

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Perth's Technology Park got an unexpected result when it invited the commercialisation experts from Perth’s four public universities to speak at its 20th anniversary conference last week.

Perth's Technology Park got an unexpected result when it invited the commercialisation experts from Perth’s four public universities to speak at its 20th anniversary conference last week.

Technology Park didn’t rate a mention in their formal presentations and, when pressed, they responded that it wasn’t relevant to their work.

“For spin-out companies, Technology Park has not had anything special to offer so we have moved elsewhere,” Curtin University’s director of IP commercialisation Conrad Crisafulli said.

In a similar vein, the Murdoch Westscheme Enterprise Partner-ship’s investment manager Howard Carr said the onus was on Technology Park to put forward a commercially compelling proposal.

“Maybe there is a competitive advantage at Technology Park but I don’t see it,” Dr Carr said.

The director of the University of Western Australia’s office of industry and innovation, Andy Sierakowski, said many start-up companies needed to stay close to universities so they had ready access to laboratory support.

When start-up companies matured and established their own premises, they selected a range of premises.

Advanced Nanotechnology established its manufacturing facility at Welshpool, whereas drug development company Ozgene is one of nearly 100 companies operating at Technology Park, which has business incubators for start-up companies.

The experts highlighted the range of approaches adopted by the universities when commercialising new technology.

Dr Sierakowski said that in the past four years, UWA had helped establish five start-up companies, finalise 32 licensing deals and negotiate $24 million worth of industry research contracts.

“For the university, it’s not about getting money out of these things,” he said.

“The key thing is to actually get the research out into the commercial world, get the prestige of being associated with it and also get some money for it.”

Mr Crisafulli said Curtin formally adopted a new strategy early this year that gave commercialisation a clear mandate alongside teaching and research as core activities.

He said some of the key steps to success included good quality research, having clear ownership of the intellectual property and avoiding micro management.

“And importantly be prepared to back your own technology, put a bit of money into it to get through that early stage funding gap,” Mr Crisafulli said. “Sometimes the universities need to do it themselves. For this reason, we have taken the first step, establishing our own pre-seed fund.”

Curtin’s pre-seed fund initially has $1 million to invest, with a target of $5 million over five years.

Dr Carr said the early stage funding gap remained a big problem, and he believes MWEP – a $10 million funding partnership between Murdoch and the Westscheme superannuation fund – is a major step forward.

“There is a need to take the technology out of universities and fill this gap by adding value and decreasing risk to prepare them for latter stage investors,” Dr Carr said.

“This is really the core of the MWEP business model.”

He believes government funding should be redirected away from infrastructure.

“There is no shortage of buildings,” Dr Carr said.

“There is a shortage of skilled technologists able to find good projects and help develop them.” 

Edith Cowan’s research commercialisation manager Julie Rissman said the university adopted a niche approach to research, with its main focus on “capacity building” within the university.

She said Edith Cowan no longer favoured establishing its own spin-out companies, after some early experiences were not as successful as had been anticipated.

The preferred approach was for the private sector to establish a company and the university to negotiate a licencing deal.

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