CSIRO shutters ON incubator as government funding dries up

The program will expire alongside funding from Australia's National Innovation and Science Agenda.

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) stood up a national science and technology accelerator in 2015, called the ON program, and handed AU$20 million over four years under the Australian government's AU$1.1 billion National Innovation and Science Agenda to help commercialise the country's research.

The ON program will wind up in mid-2020, with funding from the National Innovation and Science Agenda set to expire on 30 June 2020. 

CSIRO has announced that two final ON programs will take place before it is shuttered.

The ON program was aimed at giving researchers from publicly funded research organisations an opportunity to take their ideas out of the lab, with the end goal of developing viable products for commercialisation.

In addition to helping commercialise their science, CSIRO said the program coached the teams of researchers on how to develop an entrepreneurial mindset, and also provided ongoing post-program coaching and support services to alumni who demonstrated "entrepreneurial potential".

See also: Has Australia lost the startup bug? Fishburners doesn't think so

ON has trained over 1,440 researchers from 40 Australian universities and research institutes, in addition to 600 CSIRO staff.

Nearly 200 additional participants have come from outside of research, including industry, government, and the community, CSIRO said in a statement.

There have been 52 new companies created, resulting in 226 new jobs.

According to CSIRO, over AU$30.4 million in commercialisation grants had been offered  to ON participants, and 13 of the 52 new companies formed have raised over AU$36 million of investment capital.

"The ON program has made a significant and substantial difference to the culture of Australia's research community, and CSIRO will continue to support initiatives to drive returns for Australia from our world-class research," the organisation said.

The National Innovation and Science Agenda was announced by former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in December 2015. The billion dollar promise was meant to incentivise Australian innovation and entrepreneurship, reward risk taking, and promote science, maths, and computing in schools.

In the wake of previous budget cuts by the Abbott government, Turnbull had given CSIRO AU$200 million to support co-investment in new spin-offs and startups.

The ON program, an initiative within CSIRO's 2020 Strategy was aimed at connecting the organisation with the Australian entrepreneurial community, was born out of the idea that the country has more than enough talent; it just requires the right environment and support.

"The ON program will be key to delivering more breakthrough innovation from CSIRO," ON program founder Liza Noonan said in late 2015.

"This program is different from other accelerators out there.

"These are deep tech projects that cross a wide range of industries, from manufacturing to agriculture. Our end goal is to get technology out to market that will address major challenges we face as a nation."

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