CEDA member profile: CSIRO



Laurence Street, Director of Business Development and Commercial, CSIRO 

Can you tell us something about CSIRO and the scope of its work? 

CSIRO is Australia’s national science agency. We focus on delivering positive impact from science and technology. There are three pillars to what we do: solving the biggest challenges facing our nation and the world; managing state-of the-art research facilities on behalf of Australia; and delivering innovation-enabling services for existing and new business.

The thousands of talented people at CSIRO work across multiple locations, and along with our research and industry partners we transform a billion dollar budget into multi-billion dollar returns for Australia. As an example, through six of our technologies alone we contribute over $5 billion to the economy in areas as diverse as biosecurity, water management, building energy, automated mining, advanced materials and aquaculture. 

We are also Australia’s largest patent holder, with more than 1800 patents. We license one-third of all our IP assets to about 290 different entities, both nationally and globally, resulting in over 300 unique licenses and 150 spin-out companies. One of our most recent spin-outs is Coviu, a cloud-based video consultation platform focused on the healthcare sector. Regional and remote patients, as well as the elderly and working parents are already benefiting from this technology, and we expect over 20,000 Australian’s will have used Coviu by the end of this year. 

What are some of CSIRO’s major priorities and challenges? 

Numerous international comparisons show that collaboration between industry and research institutions in Australia is poor, resulting in a research knowledge base that is not effectively utilised for impact. Each year Australia's publicly funded research sector spends over $10 billion on research and development. This spend creates an incredible national capacity for innovation. Our innovation programs seek to address the gap between research and industry. A key focus is increasing collaboration with industry, universities and other publicly funded research agencies to understand and address national and global challenges. 

Our national science and technology accelerator, ON is one example of how we are addressing this gap and creating opportunities for commercialisation. ON provides the permission, support and connections for Australia's best researchers to step out of the lab, learn more about the challenge they aim to address, and determine the best pathway to impact. In the past 18 months ON has graduated over 200 teams whose sci-tech innovations will help address some of the global community's greatest economic, environmental and social challenges. In fact, Coviu's growth has also been aided by CSIRO's ON Accelerator program. 

What is your current role at CSIRO? 

I lead the functions that enable CSIRO to achieve impact from science. We have a dedicated team of experts who help support the transition from laboratory to industry through specialist legal, intellectual property, contracts, business development and commercialisation advice.

A key focus for my team is to continue to strengthen our relationships with our customers. CSIRO was recently named Boeing’s technology supplier for the second consecutive year, which not only speaks to the outstanding researchers that work with Boeing but also to our strategic relationship management. Over the course of our 29-year partnership, we have delivered a range of technological breakthroughs, creating jobs and growth in Australia and the US. Our "Paintbond" technology for example, has been applied to more than a thousand Boeing airplanes, saving millions of dollars in maintenance costs. You can see this invention in action on your next flight on a Boeing aircraft.

During your time with CSIRO, has there been a particular project you’ve overseen that you’re especially proud of?

I have worked at CSIRO for over a decade and have so much to be proud of, but I have learnt that you can never achieve anything on your own and I’m very proud to work with people who are passionate experts in their field. One of the most exciting things about working at CSIRO is its diversity and multidisciplinary capabilities. There are two particular projects that seem light years apart, but are interconnected through our desire to understand our environment and improve lives.

The first is my contribution in securing the unique site in the Murchison shire in Western Australia which is now home to the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). It’s a global science and engineering project building the world's largest radio telescope, pushing the boundaries of astronomy. Closer to home, the components for this project are being manufactured in regional Australia creating jobs and new skills.  

The second is facilitating the collaborative framework into research for Alzheimer’s disease; which accounts for more than half of all cases of dementia - the second leading cause of death in Australia. Teaming up with a range of partners, the Australian Imaging Biomarkers and Lifestyle (AIBL) study created a national multidisciplinary team of researchers working on developing early detection for Alzheimer's and effective interventions. The possibility that this condition could be cured in our lifetime is incredibly exciting.

Why does CSIRO choose to be a member of CEDA? 

CSIRO has been a long standing member of CEDA. We have an affinity with CEDA’s purpose and seek to participate in inclusive debate and discussion, based on evidence and economic modelling to improve outcomes from Australia. The speakers, events and breadth of membership are fantastic.

Is there a particular CEDA event that has resonated with you and why?

In November 2017, I attended the CEDA annual dinner with the keynote speech “The three great transformations” provided by the Honourable Paul Keating, former Prime Minister of Australia. Mr Keating’s energetic and optimistic speech challenged us all as leaders to have the imagination and boldness to secure future growth opportunities for Australia by leveraging transformative technology and doing so in an inclusive manner.