Turnbull government and CSIRO launch AU$200m innovation fund

A new joint public-private sector fund has been launched by the Australian government and CSIRO to commercialise early-stage innovations from startups, SMEs, universities, research bodies, and CSIRO.
Written by Tas Bindi, Contributor

The Turnbull government and Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) on Sunday launched a AU$200 million fund, as part of its National Innovation and Science Agenda, to commercialise early-stage innovations from CSIRO, universities, and other publicly-funded research bodies.

While Australia is above the OECD average when it comes to publishing academic papers, it lags behind in converting innovation into jobs and income. The CSIRO Innovation Fund will help address this by supporting co-investment in new spin-out and startup companies, as well as small to medium enterprises (SMEs) looking to transform publicly-funded research into commercial products.

The fund will be headed up by veteran venture capitalist and co-founder of Blackbird Ventures Bill Bartee.

The government will inject AU$70 million into the joint public-private sector fund over the next 10 years, alongside AU$30 million of royalties from the CSIRO's Wi-Fi patent portfolio, and an additional AU$100 million from the private sector, which Bartee will be in charge of obtaining.

CSIRO CEO Dr Larry Marshall said the fund was the "final piece" in the organisation's Strategy 2020.

"We have aligned all the pieces: from market roadmaps that guide our science to address the most critical needs; to the ON sci-tech accelerator to help Australia's scientists apply their science for national benefit; and now we have the innovation fund to invest in those ideas and reap the rewards of their success," Marshall said.

"It's a virtuous cycle of investment in taking our best ideas from bench-top to beta to buyer. This clears the pathway for science and technology to navigate Australia's future."

Management team members are currently being recruited and will join Bartee in the first quarter of 2017.

The ON accelerator program was launched nationally in July this year, thanks to AU$20 million CSIRO is receiving over the next four years from the federal government under the National Innovation and Science Agenda.

Early-stage innovations supported by ON include a non-invasive diagnostic test that can detect the presence of endometrial cancer; ultra-low gluten Kebari barley for the food and beverage industry; and a natural animal feed additive called FutureFeed that reduces methane emissions from cattle.

CSIRO has also been investing in machine learning technology, signing on for a pair of Nvidia DGX-1 3U boxes in October to serve as a platform for applying machine learning to its science. Angus Macoustra, acting deputy CIO and executive manager for Scientific Computing at CSIRO, at the time said the boxes would be used for medical image analysis, nano-material modelling, genome analysis, astronomy, and space science.

In November, CSIRO kicked off the hunt for a new supercomputer to replace its existing Bragg accelerator cluster, a system the organisation uses to solve big data challenges in fields such as bioscience, image analysis, fluid dynamics modelling, and environmental science.

According to Macoustra, Bragg's replacement will be capable of petaflop speeds to support the broad range of projects undertaken by the organisation's researchers.

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