​Science to support Accelerator program: CSIRO

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) believes while it's focused on driving innovation through its On Accelerator program, science will remain part of the organisation's core function.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

Science will always be at the forefront of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation's (CSIRO) core function, according to Liza Noonan, CSIRO Innovation executive manager.

"We at CSIRO believe there is a fundamental difference between invention and innovation. Invention is about the idea, the IP, the know-how; and innovation is translating those ideas into something or someone. Innovation is about having an impact," she said speaking at an event about CSIRO's On Accelerator program earlier this week.

Noonan said the organisation's plan under its Accelerator program will see CSIRO connect its scientists and researchers to the entrepreneurial community that will be able to help commercialise their ideas.

The Accelerator program will be launched nationally in July this year, thanks to the AU$20 million CSIRO will receive over the next four years from the federal government under the National Innovation and Science Agenda.

"The federal government support is going to be so helpful. The fact that they came out so strongly with the National Innovation Science Agenda and put CSIRO in a pivotal role really points to the faith they have in us to be that catalyst of innovation," she said.

Currently, the organisation is undergoing a two-day bootcamp to select its next cohort of teams. This year, in addition to 16 CSIRO teams, eight universities have also signed up to participate for the wild card entry including the University of New South Wales, Swinburne University of Technology, University of Southern Queensland, Macquarie University, University of Newcastle, University of Wollongong, and University of Technology Sydney.

Last year, six of the nine teams that were selected as part of the first On cohort went on to receive external funding and additional investment.

Blackbird Ventures co-founder Bill Bartee highlighted there's no real difference between scientists and entrepreneurs; it's just that ideas for entrepreneurs are applied in way that's more customer focused.

"Most great entrepreneurs, like great scientists, they start off with this observation of 'there's something really wrong with this world and we need to fix it'...and then they have this hypothesis of how they can do that and they go through a series of steps testing how they might be able to change the world, and that's exactly what scientists do," he said.

In a blog post earlier this week by the CSIRO Staff Association revealed jobs cuts at CSIRO will rise to 450, compared to the initial 350 that was announced in February.

This will add to the slew of job cut announcements made by CSIRO over the last few years. In May 2014, CSIRO announced it would axe more than 500 jobs after the government's 2014-15 Budget cut AU$111.4 million in funding to the research organisation.

The CSIRO had prior to this announced that it would cut 300 full-time jobs after receiving AU$32.3 in funding in the 2013-14 Budget purely to make redundancies.

"These funding cuts to CSIRO are short-sighted and destructive," CSIRO's staff association president Dr Michael Borgas said at the time. "They will do lasting harm to CSIRO and the capacity to deliver new inventions and crucial research for the next generation of Australians.

"These cuts to public funding of CSIRO could not come at a worse time. These budget cuts will mean more science workers will lose their jobs and more important research will not be done. CSIRO management might be faced with the terrible prospect of getting out of some areas of research altogether."

But it's not just the CSIRO looking to increase their partnership efforts. GE Australia CEO Geoff admitted the company was once reluctant to seek outside help, but now acknowledges working in partnership with startups and other companies is important, announcing plans to shortly open an incubator in Sydney.

Culbert revealed the company invested $2 billion over the last five years in a push to become one of the world's top 10 software manufacturers by 2020.

"We're moving from hardcore heavy metal and matching that part of the business with software applications," he said, noting GE currently hires 15,000 engineers globally.

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