Technology | Innovation

Turning invention into impact – the essence of innovation

In a CEDA livestream discussion on the topic “Does disruption drive innovation?” CSIRO Chief Scientist, Dr Cathy Foley AO, spoke about the importance of driving change through innovation and the need to “get the different parts of the innovation ecosystem working together.”

“There is a renewed focus on innovation during this pandemic crisis but innovation, if you take a narrow definition, is not necessarily going to take us where we need to go. Because innovation isn’t just invention it involves much more,” she said.

“Research doesn’t end at the publishing of the paper. Research ends when we have created the change to the world. We take that seriously at the CSIRO because that is our purpose.”

Dr Foley was joined by University of Queensland President and Vice Chancellor, Professor Peter Hoj AC, who spoke about his experience driving innovation during the crisis.

“The disruption has been an accelerant of what we have already been doing for some time,” he said.  

Professor Hoj described the urgent pivot that his institution had to make when borders were closed to international students, a group that contributes $700 million per year of the University’s annual revenue.

“We managed to pivot 92 per cent of our 1500 courses that we teach to an online format in a period of less than two weeks. Now if I had asked my staff to do that under normal circumstances that would have taken perhaps three years,” he said.

Professor Hoj credited the earlier work that the University had done establishing online courses with the success they have had in their transition.

“The reason that we could disrupt ourselves so quickly was that we had enough knowledge in our base DNA to be able to do so,” he said.

"I think we will never shrink back to where we were before. We will know use those new skills that we now have in quantity to develop some new business models for teaching overseas students because we actually think that not only for pandemic reasons but perhaps also for geopolitical reasons, the way that we source students and the way they seek us out will have changed a lot.” 

Professor Hoj discussed the work that the University of Queensland has been doing towards creating a COVID-19 vaccine with funding from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).

“The disruption that we are now seeing means that we have in record time been able to go into clinical trials in humans in a period of less than half a year,” he said. 

“However the disruptive nature of this vaccine means we cannot do the traditional phase 1, 2 and 3 trials and regulatory approvals before finding a manufacturer that can produce at scale. Instead we have had to convince people to invest and partner with us to disrupt this linear pathline.

“What we have now is a partnership with CEPI and CSL where we are starting to produce in parallel with the clinical trials, cutting at least six months off the delivery time for the vaccine, should it be successful.

“In a world that is in absolute lockdown waiting for a vaccine, six months of accelerated development is incredibly powerful socially and economically.”

Dr Cathy Foley spoke further about giving innovation meaningful impact.

“To create impact you need to commercialise. To commercialise you need to have strong networks of collaborators from industry and research,” she said.

“As well as that, you need to have the wrap around of business models, a social license to do the work, a user interface so we have things that people want, the ability to undertake pre-commercial scale-up, as well as engineered outcomes and strong partnerships and a supply chain that is created to let this all come together.

“Unfortunately Australia doesn’t have a strong track record in achieving all of this. We have brilliant research but, as you are probably sick of hearing, we rank poorly in the OECD rankings for industry research collaboration, in fact we are still ranked at the bottom. As you probably saw last year, a Harvard report said that Australia’s export complexity ranked lower than Uganda, which is not where you want to be.

“I think where we get it wrong is that we are not succeeding in the universal use of collaboration to augment our invention from our universities and researchers with the different parts of the sector and applying their role to progress an invention through to commercial success.”

She pointed to the work of V2 food, which partnered with the CSIRO to make a commercially viable meat substitute, as a good example of integrating the innovation ecosystem.