As I noted last year, the New Year and the Australian summer provide an opportunity to take stock of the year that has just passed, what we’ve been observing and how the coming year might unfold.

2023 was an exciting year in many respects yet presented challenges.

The forces that were at play on our team members, partners and clients, created new opportunities for Spiegare and those that are in s, p or d orbitals (for those atomically minded) around our activities. In the midst of these new green shoots were varying personal and professional challenges that arose through circumstance, and some of the industry and social forces arising through the year. Through all these, the ever-deepening relationships that we have and the mutual support arising from working through these circumstances must be acknowledged from the outset.

Last year we touched on our observations of performative innovation or innovation theatre unfolding in various sectors and geographies. In 2023, it would appear that substance made a comeback in a number of sectors, most notably the sectoral adjustments in alternative-protein and hydrogen. Through our discussions across the innovation sector, we are finding, perhaps unsurprisingly, that sustainable success more often takes root in addressing markets for which there is a preparedness to pay for value creating solutions, coupled with staying within the broad laws of science and engineering that have been laid down and further advanced since The Renaissance!

Meanwhile, we are witnessing a tightening in capital flows into innovation. Perhaps not so much in the early stage, where combinations of private and public money are available, but very much so as ventures are looking to cross one of the ‘valleys of death’ from bench-scale ‘proof of concept’ to customer trials and scalable market validation. I deliberately made valleys plural, as while finance is generally well described in this way, we would contend other valleys in scaling arise around capital for, or access to, production assets, talent to scale businesses, and product development to cross the chasm are other notable challenges that need to be traversed. The resulting capital tightening may see good prospects fail to advance, but it should ensure some level of natural selection through limited capital moving to the stronger ventures. We also continue to observe the differences between the commercialisation of digital innovation and contrast that with biophysical products and services. We touched on this in late 2020 around why agriculture is different.

In addition to our efforts with our partners and clients, we’ve also had the opportunity to reflect on others’ thoughts. From our perspective, Janette Barnard and Shane Thomas have continued to provide food for thought (pun intended). From a chemicals and energy perspective, Michael Liebreich and Paul Martin have continued to challenge some of the contemporary, and some misguided, wisdom on trends in energy and chemicals. The insights and perspectives gained from these and others we read and listen to, have shaped our discussions and reporting with our contemporaries on a range of issues.

Traces of these influences can be found not only in our advice and discussions but also traced through our Tech Transfer Talk  podcast. We have had an extraordinary year in terms of topics covered and the guests that have joined us. The year started and ended with reflections on the Australian National Innovation Forum. We were fortunate to hear from Katherine Woodthorpe, Catherine Livingstone and David Thodey, about 11 months apart on the domestic challenges in successfully translating and scaling research. In the intervening months, I had the chance to explore some of my older stomping grounds, reconnecting with the chemical industry through discussions with Paul Martin, Cameron Hibbert and Jim Lane. I also had great discussions around innovation management and leadership. One of the more fascinating discussions was unpacking a licensing deal I did over a decade ago with my then counterpart Shona Faber and her reflections on the need for personal bravery in commercialisation. Our conversation with Alan Finkel and his focus on the relentless pursuit of quality resonated not only with our own business activities but I believe set a standard for all new ventures and technology commercialisation. What I am most grateful for is that in each discussion, I had the privilege of getting new insights and perspectives on what we do and how we carry ourselves working with those around us. There were also nice reminders on concepts, philosophies, and tools that, as Stephen Covey might contend, allow us to undertake one of the 7 habits – to sharpen the saw.

Two areas that emerged for us this year were the emergence of the Bold Goals Initiative and our increasing engagement with the National Innovation Policy Forum (NIPF).

The Bold Goals Workshop is a global effort to coordinate policy and industry responses to the need for accelerated deployment of sustainable aviation fuel, renewable diesel, and biobased chemicals and materials. Led by Jim Lane, I was privileged to work with Allan Green to facilitate the first of a series of workshops in Sydney in September 2023. This and subsequent workshops, were in the context of announcements of the G20 Global Biofuels Alliance. The discussion in Australia involves a broad group of industry bodies and industry representatives. The current Bold Goals will have public ratification at the upcoming Advanced Bioeconomy Leadership Conference (ABLC) in March 2024.

The NIPF sought to advance the policy discussion around business, research, and innovation culture, and the need to catalyse better collaboration and technology transfer outcomes from the Australian research and innovation community. As we wrapped up the 2023 Forum in our podcast, we also reported on discussions from the day around the importance of time and dealing with complexity and chaos.

We have continued to build our local partnerships, with our efforts directed towards both the research and private sectors through the course of the year. While the ‘Babel Fish’ modality that is translating across a range of technical and commercial disciplines with research, industry and, more recently, investment communities remains at the heart of what we do, we have identified this more succinctly as advising ‘where research, technology and markets meet’. Our collaborations with Science Technology Australia (centred on Science Meets Parliament) and Cooperative Research Australia (focussed on the National Innovation Policy Forum) have been rewarding in our research translation and technology transfer advisory activities.

Our ongoing links to colleagues around the world has also underpinned several programs of work. Working with Oleg Werbitzky and his new advisory practice Alpha-Lyncis, his ongoing support with our advisory work is greatly appreciated. We have also continued our partnership with AgritecKnowledge and the team lead by Maurice Moloney. Our local team welcomed Michelle Ford who joined the team in 2023. We have also reconnected with Ashley O’Reilly and her advisory efforts, now centred out of Munich. We have also reconnected with Mike O’Shea and Biora-co around the prospects of biobased materials in a range of applications.

Spiegare continued our partnership with Kirk Moir and Crush Dynamics Incorporated in their efforts to establish an Australasian beachhead for their wine waste valorisation technology for the food industry. We are looking forward to bringing their valorisation technology to Australia as their product and market development accelerates in 2024. Agtechcentric has continued to build towards its first product launch. The stewardship of Leecia Angus and deep technical expertise of Rohan Rainbow is now starting to bring new opportunities to this venture.

Spiegare has continued its advisory work built on the Biomass Oil Commercialisation project that was initiated with CSIRO. Critical in bringing this continuing work has been Allan Green from AGRENEW, with his years of scientific and industry expertise coupled with his considered insights, valuable contributions to our work. We are looking forward to sharing more on the progress of this technology towards market in the near future.

We are thrilled to have had such a terrific team working in and around Spiegare. While we have many partners that we have engaged with in delivering to our clients, I want to close by acknowledging the extraordinary efforts of our team. Bill Taylor has been integral to our team over the past few years. Faisal Younus has been with us for over seven years and has extended his efforts to connecting with our clients and leading projects. He is truly ‘lightning in a bottle’ and it’s wonderful to see the impact he has on the teams and clients that he is working with. Gina Drummond’s tireless work on the podcasts and ceaseless efforts in formatting and editing our work, allows us to focus on substance in our reporting to be supported by products with syntactic precision and visual style. I am very lucky to have had Gina supporting me through the journey with Spiegare and deeply appreciate her patience.

While we are anticipating some market headwinds in 2024, the need for technology transfer and commercialisation has never been stronger, with the ever present need to find pathways for research to address the market, social and environmental challenges being stared down by society. However, in the face of these challenges, we are very buoyant around the prospects for our partners, the markets we serve and the clients with whom we collaborate.