With the world’s eyes looking for solutions to pandemics, climate change, advancing digital frontiers, amongst others, the need for technology transfer strategy, capabilities and capacity is as strong as it has ever been. The appetite to access, assess and ultimately capitalise upon the works of research institutions and entrepreneurs, was reflected in many and varied forms of public discourse around how to tech transfer better, faster, more effectively with new entities being established. There was talk (at least in Australia) of standardising tech transfer arrangements in the research sector and the consistent, perhaps even relentless, seeking out of talent to support industry and research communities in driving towards greater outcomes and impact.
With drivers for technology and innovation translation coming from global fora, such as COP26, and a domestic agenda that is now seeing technology as part of the equation in addressing systemic or wicked problems, the question of how to do this remains as challenging as it ever has. We have always described these activities as being akin to the role of the Babel Fish from Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. That is, the ability to translate between any number of languages in the universe to facilitate communication and discourse. In tech transfer, this is among other things the interface of technical, commercial, legal, IP, negotiation skills and relationship management. The past year has seen the need for these interfacial skills as strong as ever and, perhaps conversely, the consequences of tensions at this interface continuing to bubble as misaligned expectations on the speed, scale and ambitions in transactions inhibit and even derail success.
A few articles caught our eye through the year and how these might be impacting the tech transfer environment. One of the issues that constantly challenges Australian business and markets is innovation risk appetite. An article by Dan Lovallo et al. ‘Your Company is too Risk-Averse’ in HBR March-April 2020 resonated with us as we felt that this captured the zeitgeist of some of the challenges faced locally in tech transfer. The exploration of the psychology of loss aversion was particularly insightful, noting a ‘tentative conclusion…that corporate incentives and control processes actively discourage managers from taking risks’. While culture got a single mention, we would contend that this remains the greatest domestic challenge in this area, and with the right risk culture, incentives and processes should follow to reflect it.
While the Theranos case is front of mind in the innovation and tech transfer world, there is a quote that caught our eye in an article in The Economist in December 2021:
‘Large chunks of the trial have focused on the addition of the logos of drugmakers like Pfizer and Schering-Plough, without their knowledge, to reports that seemed to validate Theranos’s technology. A former chief financial officer of Walgreens, a pharmacy chain that teamed up with the startup, testified that he thought the reports were written by the pharmaceutical firms, when in fact they had found the technology wanting. Ms Holmes has said that she added the logos herself, claiming to have done so in good faith.’
This points to a broader phenomenon that we have observed for some time amongst research institutions and early-stage ventures – that of ‘brand leveraging’ and/or ‘brand collecting’. I suspect that this isn’t the only instance in which this sort of inference is drawn from the presence of brands on websites, presentations and the like. We certainly respect that our partners and clients own their brands, and we are quite particular around asking for the rights to use their brand on our public facing communications. It behoves both brand owners and brand collectors to be aware of the abovementioned phenomena.
As we ventured into the world of podcasts with the launch of Tech Transfer Talk, we unsurprisingly started consuming other content to build our understanding of what could work in our new series. One that caught our ear, was Lindy Elkins-Tanton’s Doing Science with Everyone at the Table. Her thoughts on the development of research laboratory culture over the past century and reflections on the behaviours of the past and those needed in innovation and research today, really struck a chord with us. The podcast raised some interesting questions around how the cultural aspects of research labs potentially impact the tech transfer experience (for scientists, tech transfer professionals and commercial partners).
Spiegare has had another strong year. We have been delighted to build a new partnership with Kirk Moir and the team Winecrush Technology Incorporated. Their technology to valorise wine waste and create an advantaged and novel food ingredient has been well received so far in Australia and is getting promising industry feedback around the world. Kiara Bechta-Metti, who joined our team mid-year, has done a terrific job in leading the market and partnership development efforts. We have also been successful in joining the CSIRO Innovation Program Delivery Panel building on our new collaboration with Elena Kelareva at GippsTech, and Stephen Angus and Leecia Angus at Snowy Advisory. This success should build on our efforts with Allan Green at AGRENEW in finding commercial partners for the CSIRO Biomass Oil Technology.
We have had John Lowenthal and Brian Duggan also join us on a part time basis to strengthen the team around specific projects that we are working on with our partners. We also had David Mitchell work with us closely for a significant period of time, bringing his range of business and technical expertise to a range of matters. Their different perspectives, experiences and insights have been of enormous value on our projects and been a great support to myself, Gina Drummond, Bill Taylor and Faisal Younus who have been members of the Spiegare team for some time now. Their ongoing support and efforts cannot be understated or over appreciated!
We are looking forward to 2022 after taking a deep breath over the Christmas & New Year period. We have a number of podcasts we look forward to sharing through the Tech Transfer Talk channels. Agtechcentric, that we started a few years back with Rohan Rainbow and Leecia Angus, is now poised for growth with promising opportunities emerging. Our connections in Europe are also continuing to strengthen through our long standing collaborations with Oleg Werbitzky and Maurice Moloney.
What has us most excited are the opportunities arising from our partnerships and relationships, that we have forged with our clients over the past seven years, to continue to collaborate with them on technology transfer opportunities and in turn, supporting them in the creation of new value derived from global innovation activities. We thank all of you that have been part of our journey and look forward to being a part of yours in the year ahead!
Keywords: techtransfer, commercialisation, innovation