95% of Australian businesses are SMEs, and a large number of them are missing out on a goldmine of opportunity by not tapping into the research and innovation pools at our universities.
Australia is awash with innovation - after all, this is the country that invented lawnmowers, blackbox flight recorders, the cochlear implant and Wifi (yes, WiFi!) Yet several easily remedied factors stand in the way of commercialising or applying innovative thinking. Firstly, innovation, sometimes thought of as Research & Development, is often viewed as the realm of medium to large businesses - which comprise just 5% of the total number of Australian businesses. SMEs (with less than 20 employees) can feel that they just can’t access this sort of thinking, that it’s “beyond their station” in life.
Secondly, many businesses don’t know how to access some of the country’s brightest minds, who are researching or studying at institutions such as universities or TAFEs, for collaboration. Despite the best efforts of these institutions, it can be very difficult for a business to access the right person with the right thinking.
Equally so, many academic staff would like to share their thought-leading work with industry and government, but are unsure how. In the case of universities, it’s becoming increasingly critical that they engage with business, as their traditional research funding source is drying up.
Thankfully, universities and TAFEs are very receptive to industry engagement, and in fact invest in developing these relationships, however this is usually at the large corporate level, where the larger scale projects originate.
There still remains a significant opportunity for the other 95% of Australian businesses to engage with universities to solve their issues, co-develop innovation, analyse present or future market scenarios, or even find the next high performing employee. In universities, it’s called Contract Research. And it costs much less than you think. Here’s why.
Staff are already paid for by the university
Overheads and technologies are already available to the staff
Many senior university staff have PhD or Masters students willing to assist (for a very modest fee)
In a number of cases, much of the background research has already been done.
The most exciting part of this is that the Government, through AusIndustry, as well as universities themselves, offer grants to help fund this research.
A true story to demonstrate the ease and value of this sort of engagement: my late father ran a small business in contract packing and manufacturing paper bags and products in small batches for SMEs. One of his products was the high quality brown paper bags that boutiques often put your purchase in, with the twisted paper handle. The bags were easy (and cheap) enough to get, but twisted paper not so. My father found a lecturer in Mechatronics at a local higher education facility, and with him developed a fully functioning, easily maintained machine which made twisted paper 24 hours a day. It cost him one tenth of the quote he received from the company who made such a machine in Germany.
Find a consultant to bridge the gap between your business and the research and innovation that universities can offer.