Usability key to research commercialisation

anthony-francis“There is no such thing as a good idea.”

It may seem an unorthodox message coming from the head of one of Australia’s most successful technology transfer offices (TTO) but Anthony Francis (pictured) is adamant.

“I’ve never seen a born ‘good idea’. It doesn’t exist. Most ideas are bad ones that become good ideas because the researcher behind them is willing to learn,” Mr Francis, Managing Director of Flinders Partners, Flinders University’s commercialisation arm, told Flinders Indaily.

He was speaking ahead of today’s Research to Outcome Workshop, a no-charge, full-day program held in collaboration with the University’s Research Services Office that has been offered regularly over the past three years to researchers and administrators from public, private and university sectors.

“We try to encourage researchers to bring along a project to the workshop. We look at it from a use or an outcome perspective and try to enhance the project to make it viable – not necessarily in a commercial sense but in an ‘end-use’ sense,” Mr Francis said.

“Researchers, typically, are initially more concerned about the academic content of their work. But in the marketplace, now, there is a requirement in most grant applications to answer the question: how is this research going to be used in the community?” he said.

It is an approach that is reflected in government attitudes to research funding, and increasingly in universities and TTOs in many parts of the world.

“Until a few years ago, academic merit was the most important criterion for judging a research application. Today, I’d say it’s 50 per cent; the other 50 per cent being ‘what are we going to get out of this’.

“This puts researchers in a tough spot because they’ve been taught how to do the research but not to think about its outcomes.”

The workshop is designed to get researchers thinking not only about the usability of their research but about the process of partnering.

“The purpose of the workshop is not to judge ideas. If we profile all of Flinders Partners’ projects, the key success factor is whether the researcher has been able to interact with a commercial firm or partner,” Mr Francis said, citing as an example the recent success of spin-out company, Thereitis.

“Technology plays a part but it’s whether the researcher can adapt to this way of thinking and working that’s the key.

“The earlier a researcher can think about the question – ‘What can I do to enhance the usability of this research?’ – the greater the chance of success.”

Details of future workshops can be found at the Flinders Partners website.

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