About this episode
In this episode, Dr Katherine Woodthorpe AO joins us to explore the challenges of moving from start-up to scale-up. From addressing foundational tech transfer challenges such as articulating product benefits and identifying market needs, we discuss tech transfer as being the first step on a journey of technology commercialisation and business establishment. Scaling up emerged from the recent National Innovation Policy Forum as a challenge to the Australian innovation ecosystem and we explore the contrasting nature of ICT and bio-physical technology scale up challenges. Katherine reflects on observations from Fishburners and Cicada Innovation, their respective supporting ecosystems and the pathway to the first Minimum Viable Product and ongoing product and market development.
We also explore the strategy of shelving IP, and whether it’s a deliberate or emergent strategy and the factors that influence shelving, such as people, timing, market analysis and resources and touching on the ability to say ‘no’ – the ‘sunk cost’ fallacy as a countervailing force to saying ‘no’ and the ability to strategically assess patenting options. We reflect on the nuances Australian system of the need to publish in contrast to the need for secrecy around know-how to create value and the domestic settings around academic career development and the ability or inability to migrate between the university and CSIRO research communities and industry.
An episode for those working at the intersection of start-up and scale-up challenges.
CB: Hello everyone, and welcome to Tech Transfer Talk. My name is Cameron Begley, managing Director of Spiegare, and we have joining us today Dr. Katherine Woodthorpe, AO, president of ATSI, the Australian Academy of Technology Engineering, who has taken on and is currently in a range of nonexecutive director roles across the Australian innovation system, both listed and unlisted, and has been chair of a number of organizations through that journey and at one point was CEO of the Australian Private Equity and Venture Capital Association Abcar, which is arguably a very pertinent qualification when talking about tech transfer and tech transfer issues. Katherine, welcome.
KW: Thank you. Delighted to be talking with you.
CB: It’s great to have you with us. And Katherine, with that broad experience and indeed starting in chemistry, as you did, where you got your doctorate, how did you find yourself into the technology transfer and creation of industries and companies? How did you find your way into this space?
KW: So, I realized pretty quickly that I was a bit of a dilettante, and I wasn’t somebody who could focus on a big research program for any length of time. That was not going to be my met. So, I actually moved into sales and marketing of chemistry equipment, in particular, chromatography equipment.
KW: And in that role, I ended up is first of all, a national sales manager and then an international sales manager. This was based out of the UK, a Dutch multinational chromatography equipment company. And I was traveling the world as their manager and then decided I really wanted to come back to Australia and started a small industry association helping Australian technology manufacturers to improve their export performance.
KW: And the journey began.
CB: And the journey began. So, in a way, Katherine, you were straight out into industry. You didn’t spend time at the bench. You weren’t someone who, after years at the bench, decided to become a commercial person. You were immediately a commercial person who saw the challenges and opportunities of bringing science and technology out to solve industry problems.
KW: Yeah. And I had the great joy of working in a way that I’d be at a pharmaceutical company one day, a petrochemical company the next day. I’d be talking to government labs, I’d be talking to big listed companies. And so, I have this fantastic opportunity to see how companies big, small listed, unlisted government, not how they all worked. So, it was an amazing training ground, if you like, for understanding how technology gets out into the marketplace.
CB: It’s a terrific set of experiences you’ve described to those interfaces, and my immediate question that strikes me is, what were the things that you found common across the private sector? I mean, there’s a whole lot of verticals you described there. What was it that’s threaded those tech transfer observations, experiences together across the private sector?
KW: It’s quite simple, really, if you know what your customer really needs. And it doesn’t matter whether your customer was in a lab, in a petrochemical company, a pharmaceutical company, a forensic lab, whatever, what did they need? What would make their life easier? And when people started reeling off what they perceived as benefits of a thing, a piece of equipment and they were actually just features of it, you could do that. And I’d always ask, so what? And to me, it’s kind of a metaphor for life is so what? So, if you can just say all the buttons red and you go, So what? And eventually get to the point where it saves you money, it saves you time, it makes your life easier, you can’t ask, So what any longer? You come to the end of that hierarchy. And that’s true in pretty well everything I do. Is it actually delivering a benefit? And you only know it’s a benefit if you can no longer answer or ask the questions that want.
CB: And the immediate question that springs to my mind did, I certainly appreciate getting down to the benefit of a technology, of a service and the benefit to the person that’s buying it or consuming it. How does that then sit with your government experience, where in those early days, as you said, you ranged across those different verticals? Government is a whole different type of buyer. And I guess in an Australian context, maybe getting ahead of ourselves, we have government as a buyer, and we have the private sector as a buyer of innovation or investors in innovation. So going back to those early days, what was the government thesis for, or the government observations, I should call them, that you had.
KW: The problem with government, you know, and this is going back 30 odd years, but the problem with government in those days was the opposite of its best. If it’s invented here, it was quite the reverse, you know. whoa. If it’s Australian, can’t be any good. We need to we need to have the American equivalent. So, and a nice example was there was a piece of defense equipment. Hewlett Packard card was selling the overarching piece of equipment, but there was a really neat little bit of stuff within that that was provided by an Australian company. And Hewlett Packard integrated the Australian product in because it was the best in the world. And the Australian defense material, or whoever was buying it with no, we have to have the whole Hewlett Packard thing. We can’t have this Australian bid in it. We don’t trust that it’s going to be as good.
CB: Wow. Fascinating.
KW: So, there was this sort of real cringe factor of it. It could only be better if it was IBM or Hewlett Packard or whom.
CB Yeah. Better if not made here,
CB: Yes, indeed. Which perhaps is if I can leap forward to the current context and the innovation system that we now find ourselves in, one might contend that the government is desperately looking for it to be built here. Yeah, I think they understood, but it’s really important. There’s two things. One is we’ve got damn good stuff, so we should build it here. We’ve got damn good minds, so we should be encouraging them here. And then most recently, of course, there’s been this understanding, and COVID pointed it out in a very visceral way, that we need we can’t make everything here, but we need to be able to make some stuff here. And if we can’t make some stuff here, give and the great R and D, we have the great technology transfer people, we have a small number, but very successful companies out of here. What are we doing? It’s nuts.
CB: So, there’s always this contention, Katherine, that the Australia bats above its average or its station or whatever it is with the research and I’m not going to recount any of that. I suspect a lot of listeners have heard that and scratch their heads as to why we keep saying it, but I use that as a reference point for the question I’m about to ask you, and that is about the tech transfer folks. And you made a passing comment there, which I completely agree with, that we do have good tech transfer people here, and yet that seems to be the missing link in the equation between the breadth and depth of science, research, technology development we do and the creation of meaningful, purposeful, value creating industries. So, whilst I would agree with your contention that we have good tech transfer people being one of them, do you really feel we have the batting depth in that space? Perhaps what’s missing in that space that isn’t allowing us to convert as much as we could or should?
KW: Yeah, it’s a really good point. So, a couple of observations. First, the batting above our weight bit. We’re I can’t remember it’s like the 13th largest economy in the world, depending on how you measure it, whether it’s GDP or GMP or other things. But we’re of that order. yep. We’re of this, you know, not far behind Russia, but we think that with this little, you know, battling little lot, it’s rubbish. We are a substantial country in that sort of second tier of substantial countries, and we should actually just go, we’re good at this, we’re proud of it. So, first of all, let’s not pretend that and be proud of what we are, rather than making out with something we’re not. But then to the second bit, we have a lot of good tech transfer people. That’s only the first bit of the pathway that you can transfer the tech, but it’s the growing companies that we haven’t got so much experience of, so much expertise in. And if you look at in recent years, sort of post cochlear and ResMed, the companies that have gone on to be substantial have, by and large been in the broadly it space where you’re Aseans canvas hyperanas. A lot of certainly all of our most recent so-called unicorns come in that space because. The pathway to growing doesn’t require huge investment in scaling up manufacturing, in massive clinical trials. So it’s a more even growth rate that you can do compared to the kind of giant step changes you need to take in some technologies where massive investment is required just with and check your prototype and make sure and then another massive investment sketch: Can we actually manufacture this at scale?
CB: It’s a terrific observation, Katherine. There is a parallel, two parallel universes, arguably. One being that IT scale up universe, and the other being the biophysical sciences or biophysical technologies scale up universe, and they have different forms of scaling, capital intensity and what you’ve just described there. Yes. Do you then, from that feel that it’s a lack of capital that’s holding back the biophysical side of it, or is it a lack of capability to actually pull together the story that draws the capital in?
KW: I think it’s all of the above. And it’s interesting when you look at. 1s So a company like Surtex, for example, I was on the board of Surtex. We sold, you know, you’re once you’re on the stock exchange of the sale every day, and it ended up being sold for $1.9 billion. But the people that we had who were in regulatory affairs or in manufacturing, who were in scale up, who were in all of those critical departments, if you want to call them that, they had put we will all come out of cochlear and ResMed. The capacity building that we need in that industry is still lagging. So, all of those people just looking for a good regulatory affairs person, they’re just hens teeth, looking for people who know how to scale up manufacturing here in Australia instead of having to take it offshore, really rare. So those people the capacity is really difficult. So sales, marketing, technology transfer, those kind of people, we I think we have good capacity, 2s but those other critical roles in those kind of companies with
CB: That’s a really interesting follow on comment there. Some of the audience may be aware that in November of 2022, there was an event in Canberra called the National Innovation Policy Forum. I think if I have the name right, and Katherine, you and I were both there. You indeed were on the podium, and this whole idea of the scale up versus the startup really at least really came strongly to my mind as we were sitting there. And it’s it was the first time I’d heard publicly, this conversation starting to be aired around how we actually get this right. The comments that you’ve made there around the capacity building, which then underpin scaleups, how does one build capacity when looking at things like regulatory affairs or manufacturing scale up?
KW: It’s difficult. We’ve recycled a lot of people through a number of different companies. To do that, we need to encourage people to come to Australia with those skills, because those skills, we just don’t have a critical mass of them here to enable companies to grow and scale that are in those sorts of sectors. So, and we’ve all been through experiences of trying to get visas for people to come to Australia, even though on paper, you go, oh, my God, we really need this person. The company goes, we can’t find this kind of person anywhere here. They have rare skills and the few people in Australia who already have them are very comfortably employed. And so, we need to increase the capacity here and it can take forever. And I know of people overseas who’ve got disheartened and well, it’s easier and quicker to just go to Canada. And so, we lose the opportunity. People who would have come here who give up.
CB: Yeah, well, that’s really interesting. So there’s a high hurdle, high transaction cost associated with it, which, of course, is a time factor. People wanted get on with their lives.
KW: Needing to be able to get on with their lives and make decisions. They have families to move. And those are the sort of people usually in their sort of mid-career, and they’re people who will have families and commitments. And so, to woo them over here, the last thing we want to do is put hurdles up.
CB: No, indeed. And from those remarks, it’s clear that we are. The related question that occurs to me, though, which is perhaps the longer play, Katherine, is we talk a lot about STEM these days in Australia and the building of STEM capabilities within this country amongst the young folk that are in university now, be they undergrad postgrad, et cetera. Most of the time when people talk about STEM, they immediately turn their minds to it. I wonder whether where we’ve got the right emphasis in the science and engineering pieces which underpin the regulatory, manufacturing, fermentation scale up, 3D bioprinting, these sorts of areas, which are perhaps not as I don’t know whether they’re as attractive as it, but I just don’t have the sense that’s what people think when they’re thinking STEM.
KW: Probably true. The mathematicians would go and what about us? Nobody ever remembers mathematics. It is the area that a lot of young people see a career opportunity in. And so, whether it’s through their university degrees or whether it’s just their own initiative and things they’re like doing, it’s easier to draw them into It based startups. And again, when you’re talking startups, to go into an It based startup when you’re a young person is relatively inexpensive. You can hire a table at a desk at FishBurners and the barriers to you as a single sole proprietor are quite reasonable. And then you can get a mate to join you and so on. And then you get back to those other kind of startups that you’re talking about in the biotech space and so on. It’s just a whole different game. They have to be spin outs of such institutions because they have to have even the research itself has spent years and large sums money getting to the point where it turns into something commercializable. Their origins, their nascents is coming out of two entirely different environments. Even yesterday I learned about a company in North Sydney I’m based on the north shore of Sydney and a company in North Sydney itself that designs yeasts. All sorts. You want a yeast that’s going to make you better, methanol, ethanol, whatever it might be. And this company will design it for you, send you a vial of the stuff, which is heavily copyrighted, and you pay them a lot of money, so they don’t need big fermenters to do big scale up. That really smart end of doing the clever stuff. And they employ dozens of people. Yeah. And there was another one similar, and I went, wow, there’s so much that just flies under the radar. Yeah. I sit on my little pointy pinnacle, I think I know everything about innovation, and then I spend a lunch time with somebody, go, oh, my goodness, I know nothing. It’s just so cool what’s going on out there.
KW: Every now and then I get real, there’s really good stuff happening.
CB: No, Katherine. No. I think I know of the firm you speak, and what’s really fascinating about that is it really high end, higher value services that they’re delivering and to be applauded and lauded for finding those niches to occupy. When I come back to that scale up question, hey are a necessary but insufficient condition for success to scale up. So, they’ll make you the strain that makes the ethanol, but they won’t make you the ethanol at the scale you need to put into the tank of your car, which is okay, that’s not a criticism of them. They’re playing their role.
KW: But we have the other gap. We’ve got the other gap.
CB: We’ve got the other gap. Yeah. And I was interested, you mentioned FishBurners there, both when we were introducing you and also just passing then, this phenomena of the scale up, and particularly from your AVCAL experience in the venture capital space, how much of a barrier has this been in your experience around investing in and or sitting on the boards of these companies? Has this scale up issue been there for longer than we’ve noticed?
KW: We’ve talked a lot about it in the sense that we talk about the so called Valley of Death. But most people think of that gap earlier on in the life cycle. They see it as a startup getting started almost. And when I joined FishBurners as their chair, one of the first things we did was actually changed the kind of strap line from FishBurners where startups start, to FishBurners where startups grow. Because the gaps that we could have 600 desks of solo operators.
KW: And one by one they’d fall over and a new bit of cannon fodder would come and join and take their feet. What we needed to do and what we were already good at, but not explaining well and not celebrating enough, was growing those companies. So, it grew with the things we put around them, the teaching, the training we put around them, the mentoring we put around them, we grew the hyperanas, the mad paws, the Go catch, graduate connections. There were so many of them that they needed that wrap around that gave them the opportunity. So again, we’re not going back to things that take a lot of money, like biotech, but within the IT space they would have, most of them, many of them great ideas, really hardworking people, but they didn’t know how to go to the next stage. But by having a Pete Davidson had been an investor in PayPal do mentoring sessions with people about how to get finance. And people were explaining basics about how to use Square if you wanted to do your finance management side or using Stripe and using this and using that really sort of nuts and bolts type thing that they didn’t have to learn by themselves. Somebody went, oh, no, this is how you do it. Stripe.
KW: But that was easier in an It space because what did was we had 600 desks at the end of it, 1s or they do today, where we could wrap those around. Now, if you’re looking at deep tech, you look at someone like Cicada doing the kind of the bigger version of that. Less companies because it takes so much more. But putting whether it’s the physical space that are growing biotech needs, whether it’s then all those other wraparounds. So, someone like SpeedX, without hesitation, would say that their success was in part because they were at Cicada, and Cicada wrapped them up in their arms and help them get through those early days. And I know both Alison and Alyssa, they have categorically thanked for their part in that journey. Part of that is that whole concept of a minimum viable product, that sense of get something the customer will buy and buy and then just keep making it better.
CB: Yes. And not only will buy but keep making that and not only making it better, but keep looking at the markets that are adjacent to what you’re making now to expand that addressable market with new with new benefit features and benefits which create more propositions.
KW: Countries or new types of customer that you hadn’t envisaged in the beginning. You thought this would be something pharmaceutical companies would use. But actually, now I think about it, chemical companies could use this too. Actually, maybe not these days. Renewable energy companies could use this. But yeah, we can move on to fermentation company might use this thing. So, I know a customer, I know what she wants. I will build the things she wants because I know it’s a that customer’s needs. But then there’s these customers in a different geography, there’s these customers in a different sector. And the customer I had originally now wants these two or three bells and whistles attached, which makes it easier for her to actually
CB: I think it’s a great observation, Katherine, that it’s just not trying to go for that. Ideal, perfect, all conquering product to start with, but just stepping through a number of gears, segmenting the market and identifying their needs in a way that you can bite off bits of the elephant as you go, rather than trying to consume the whole animal in a single jump. But it prompts in my mind a question, 1s and I’m sure you came at the this at FishBurner. I suspect you’ve experienced this through a number of your roles. This notion of shelving IP or IP that has been shelved, one of them being the active and the other one being the past passive. Is there a role for shelving IP as a strategy, or is it an accident that we keep stumbling into? I’d be interested to explore this idea with you because mainly because of the timing component around commercialization, where timing is a real factor.
KW: Yeah. So, there’s a couple of issues there. There’s one where a researcher can’t bear to think that their baby is not pretty enough to make a commercially viable product. They spin it all day. They are so passionate about it that they persuade the tech transfer officers that they should keep putting money into it to protect IP, when really the tech transfer officer should have done their homework on the market opportunity and gone, you know, no, it was worth investing into this point. It was worth doing CTs and Provisionals. But right now, we can tell that it’s never going to pay itself back. So, we need to have the courage to say no. And I think one of the problems we have in patenting and again, harking back to my technology exporters group, we had one particular patent group that was part of our little gang. And they used to give really good lectures on the strategy of patenting, what you should protect and what you shouldn’t spend on how to think strategically about your patent families and whether, in fact, even if it was commercializable, whether actually secret source was a better way to do it than effectively published through a patent. And I don’t think university tech trans offices are really good at thinking strategically about the intellectual property that they manage. What is the best way to manage this IP? Should it be invested in. Hidden but invested in not from patent protection, but from a keep investing in the opportunity but keep it a secret source or actually it’s never going to have a market. Can we just accept that and go, no?
CB: Yeah. So, the idea of just saying no, we’re not really good at that generally. We’re not good at removing ourselves from the value of having got to this point versus the decision we have. The sun cost fallacy. One of a better expression.
KW: My favorite analogy in the whole world is sun costs. It applies to relationships too, you know. It’s a metaphor for life.
CB: It’s a metaphor for life, the sun costs fallacy. Given that we’re not very good at saying no, what you’ve just explored there is a fascinating question in of itself of patent strategy. And the immediate thought for me is do we have enough capacity in our tech transfer offices and in perhaps even capability to indeed strategize about these things? Are we too busy keeping 76 things moving to take the time to grab one, solve it, and then end up with 75 things moving?
KW: Yeah, I think that’s true, and I don’t think that that strategic relationship, like some patent’s attorneys in particular, are really good thinking strategically about this. And I don’t think trans offices utilize that strategic thinking. They just send them a deal and go, patent this, do the search, do the investigation and PCT or whatever, instead of you come into our office and spend half a day, which will be money well spent, looking at whether or not what our approach should be. Given that we think this intellectual property has length as a commercial opportunity ahead of it, can we just go around that and look, A, is that true? And then B, if so, how do we do it sensibly? So, when I was at Surtex again, it was really good strategic thinking on patents, where cochlear has done this brilliantly ResMed had about sort of nesting families to extend the opportunity further. And so how you do that patent family takes real strategic thinking. You got to pay for it, you got to do it up front. You can’t just go put this one in for PCT.
CB: Yeah, absolutely. And what you just described there, Katherine, I experienced it, CSIRO with a chap called Rob Defader at plant Industry, now renamed as Ag and Food. I think Rob was brilliant at strategizing and nesting is a beautiful word, actually, the nesting of patents and patent families and ring fencing and building out moats and putting more ring fences around it. But there’s another aspect if I might, Katherine, about this idea of the secret source. And if we keep it secret, how does the academic publish?
KW: Yes. So, the problem is more that academics are expected to publish in order to fulfill their KPIs, get all their metrics right for the way we measure their worth and their careers. Yes, indeed. And it’s just such a dichotomy that if you have a product or a process or whatever it might be, that really would be best commercialized by not publishing, and the academic goes, well, there’s my career out the window. How do we change the way we measure academics in order to be able to encourage them not only to do, for example, keeping it secret while things move ahead, but also, how do we encourage people to leave academia knowing they can come back again? Yes. At the moment, if you leave. To, for example, go with a company. It’s a really hard door to reopen, to go back, because all of your metrics have gone out the window with new company and published and so on. So, we need to think of new ways to manage academic careers such that people can careers have, for that matter, superannuation, you know, things that actually matter to people and not wrongly. How do we manage those things so that people feel brave enough to go out knowing that the opportunity to come back will be there, but equally opening the door for non-academics but who have something they can really add value at an academic institution. How we can encourage that ebb and flow of people in and out of the institution? Because the more we do that, the more everything will be better.
CB: Indeed, my read of that, Katherine, so completely agree with you that we need to free that system up. It needs to look far more like frownhoffer and far more like the US system than what we have, but I sense there is a deep cultural issue in Australia around that bridge. If indeed a bridge exists between academia and industry. It’s less of a bridge and more of a one-way valve, I think.
KW: And it’s evolved. It’s very clogged up and choked. But even moving between CSIRO and academia is not easy to massive research institutions within the Australian context. And yet moving between the two of those is not a simple pathway.
CB: No, that’s not a policy problem that maybe to some extent policy can shift around on that and remuneration of researchers and promotion cases of researchers. But even then, having spent time at CSIRO, I know the challenges that the industrial scientists really faced compared to those that even published regularly. A very good colleague, a long-standing colleague of mine, a chap called Mike O’Shea, who worked at CSIRO as a material scientist. He rarely published. Everything he did was industry, so he really had to battle for the promotion cases from time to time. His industrial impact was outrageously high. So even within the Industrial Research Organization of Australia, it had its challenges, let alone in a more academic environment, I suspect.
KW: Yeah, I’ve seen all of the above. Part of that also, for example, is the ARC, if you’re looking and of course, they’re undergoing a review at the moment, but if you’re looking to get ARC grants, your academic career, your publishing history and so on. Is part of the process that they take into account when they’re looking at whether they’re going to invest in you as the project is put forward or as some kind of like a DECRA fellow or whatever. But if you’ve not had that publishing record, you can’t get the ARC. And it all reinforces the silos that we keep pulling.
CB: Yeah, absolutely. So, with, I think, what’s been a terrific tour around the challenge of IP and tech transfer offices and patent strategies. Can shelving it be a strategy when you consider that we might be holding up someone’s publications? We’ve got to fund patents while they’re shelved is there a role for being ahead of your time, realizing it and shelving it or…?
KW: Well, yeah, I mean, if you’re in a company and you’re working on research that the company then realizes it doesn’t have a market, they shelve it, and the individual researcher who is working on it doesn’t get a say in that, the company goes, no, we’re not investing in that any further really? Sorry. It seemed like a great idea at the time, but it didn’t pan out the way we thought, so no. And maybe some of the embedded technology within it might come good in a different way later on, but right now, we’re not going to invest further in it. Whereas when you’ve got an academic in particular driving a piece of research, getting them to agree to go and I’m not going to do that anymore because I understand, although it’s really, really interesting, it’s not going to have any impact. It’s much harder and fair enough when you’re right at the early stage, I mean, at the blue-sky end of the search, then yes. You don’t expect observable impact within time frames. Who knows where that’s going? But that’s the role of blue-sky research. But if you’re up at the applied end and you thought this was going to have a commercial impact or a commercial opportunity, then you have to be brave and let go when it is clearly not going to be a big enough one to make it worth the investment. I’ve been through this not long ago in a situation where an academic just they individually thought that they saw a bigger market for the thing. But all of our market research told us that it just wasn’t going to be viable. It was never going to repay its investment if we kept putting money in.
CB: And did that end well in terms of the dynamic? No. Okay. Right. No. Okay. That’s okay. We had a great example. You referred to the private sector. shelving phenomena. Katherine, Paul Bryan took us through a fantastic example at Chevron, where a technology that was shelved was reborn because of an acquisition that they made. And they said, we’ve got this technology over here that we haven’t used, and it all gelled quite nicely together. And bingo. And Paul told recounted a terrific story about how they instead of building their own pilot plant, they just rented someone’s refinery and ran the refinery. It was a pilot scale at thousands of barrels a day. So okay, well, that’s the scale up problem solved in a slightly different way.
KW: looping all the way back to our early discussions about yeast, for example, having a pilot scale operation that is rentable, or people trying out new products in fermentation, more of that would be a great way of enabling that scale up in what’s too expensive to build it as a pilot plant yourself. Pilot plants in fermentation. You can do this one week and you can do that the next week. It’s easy enough to not easy, but it’s viable to switch across it’s from one product to another over a month or whatever it might be.
CB: It’s better to build one shared asset of 10,000 liters than ten unshared assets of 1000 liters. I think is the is where we’re heading with that. And that might be the opportunity that lays ahead with the reconstruction fund that was announced in December of 2022 in Australia. So that might be part of that opportunity set hopefully.
KW: Another way that we do that well in Australia really well is the NCS program. So, the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure scheme is so I’m on the border by platforms, for example. So instead of everybody having one of this or that or the other because they all want one, you say, well, actually you, you and you have them, but they’re open access. Yes. And because we’ve got three instead of ten, the three can be really super duper instead of ten. Also rams that are not being utilized to the full capacity, whereas we’ve got three of the latest things and they’re running at full capacity. So, all of those increased programs work on a similar sort of concept. And five platforms, we’ve just taken it to the absolute end degree. It’s just the most brilliant group.
CB: It perhaps raises the prospect of instead of the national collaborative research infrastructure, it’s the national collaborative scale up infrastructure that
KW: work on that, taking that as a as a general concept here. So, sort of national pilot plant.
CB: National pilot plant. We have to get the acronym right. Obviously, that’s an important piece of that idea. but there is something to be said. I think encrypt is a fantastic analog for the scale up question that we’ve been touching on through our discussion today around and the reconstruction fund is potentially the catalyst or the opportunity for that. And coming off the back of the conversation in Canberra with the scale up question really just in the room, strongly in the room from my table and my perspective, maybe we can connect those pieces together in the coming months and direct it. Because I do genuinely believe that if we are going to deal with some of the biophysical sciences and biophysical startup opportunities and moving them to scale up, that sort of kit and facility is going to be necessary. And you did touch on it a lot earlier with COVID and that whole issue of sovereign capability or we’ve talked about is economic nativism, which is that idea of, well, we’ve got to have enough to get by here. These things might be converging into that moment and pilot scale facilities might be enough to get us as a country, us as Australia through some of those bottlenecks at certain periods of time.
KW: Yeah, I was talking to somebody the other day who said I think they were talking more like it hardware type of thing. But you do your first design lines here and you go to Shinzin to manufacture 100 of them. And then when those hundred proved to be what the customer wanted and you did these in these tweaks, you’d go to what’s it called? Foxconn or whatever?
CB: Foxconn. That’s the one. Yeah.
KW: And they would make 100,000 of them for you. So, I don’t think we ever need to be the Foxconn making 100,000. Can we be the 100? Can we be the 100 where you can do that initial part and then you’ll okay, now, where in the world can make these at the massive global scale? But we could do that scale of it? There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to.
CB: Katherine, as much as I’m compelled to talk for another half an hour with you, I would really like to just bring things together about this whole issue of startup and scale up and drawing together the experiences and obstacles. Observations you’ve drawn from your journey and maybe even from your vantage point at. ATSI now, as we sit towards the end of 2022 leading into 2023, when we’re recording this. What is it that sits ahead for the Australian innovation system when one looks at the startup to scale up challenge or the project to product inflection point that we’re challenged by?
KW: I’m an eternal optimist.
CB: We have to be.
KW: With a new federal Minister in science and industry who’s really listening and from his days in opposition really listened. So, he hit the ground running coupled with talking at state level with, for example, the New South Wales chief scientist yesterday about the investment in New South Wales is putting into, for example, tech central but other things that they’re investing in biotech funds and medical device funds and physical sciences funds. And I know Brisbane or Queensland and Victoria, for example, on the medical research side, have been investing a lot. Always I feel the sense of buoyancy that we are at a tipping point where we can do it. By the same token, like all tipping points, either take them or you miss them. So, if we don’t grab. for example, renewable energy technology. So not just, let’s build a whole heap of solar on everyone’s roof. Sure, absolutely need that. But we’ve got some real technical smarts in solar concentrating, thermal, solar PV, improvement, pumped hydro and so on. If we don’t grab that and go, we can do this and we can export it to the world, and we will be leaders in the next wave of technologies that are going to enable our planet to install humanity upon it to even survive. So, I think it is a tipping point, but I think we’re on the right side of the peace or at the moment, and I just will do everything I can, as I’m sure you and others would say, to make sure we stay on the right side of this seesaw and that we absolutely grasp these opportunities
CB: Fantastic. Well, Katherine, I think in the innovation world, one has to be an eternal optimist. We’re always looking for the upside and the opportunity and goes with the territory, doesn’t it? It goes with the territory. With that optimistic note, Katherine, I thank you very much for sharing your thoughts and insights with us today on the podcast and look forward to seeing you at the next time we get in the same room talking innovation.
KW: I have no doubt it won’t be long until that, and thanks for the opportunity to talk, I’ve really enjoyed it.
CB: Great. Thanks, Catherine. A pleasure.