What makes a successful innovation ecosystem?

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Nick McNaughton
ANU Connect Ventures

LinkedIn profile

Executive Summary

The Canberra region is actively building partnerships for innovation. With an outstanding concentration of government, business, education and research institutions per capita, the opportunities available to position Canberra as an innovation hub and leading Australian entrepreneurial ecosystem are many, and there is a collaborative momentum building to leverage this.

The Australian National University likewise through its strategic plan, ANU by 2020, recognises that its unique role as a national institution is interdependent on its connections across government, the public, business, other research institutions and universities.

The ANU’s key strategic driver for innovation has been to grow the innovation ecosystem. The University has provided leadership in this area through the establishment of the appropriate programs and funding sources needed for an effective early-stage ecosystem to thrive.

Background: The ACT Fundamentals

Research Institutions

The ACT is the home of leading research institutions of global standing:
+ ANU: The Australian National University, ranked at 27 on the QS World University Rankings;
+ CSIRO: the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation is the national government body for scientific research in Australia;
+ ADFA: Australian Defence Force Academy (University of NSW Canberra campus);
+ UC: The University of Canberra offers undergraduate and postgraduate courses covering six main learning areas: Applied Science; Health; Art and Design; Business, Government and law; Education and Information Sciences; and Engineering;
+ Data 61: Australia's Information and Communications Technology (‘ICT’) Research Centre of Excellence Information and Communications Technology (‘NICTA’). NICTA's role is to pursue potentially economically significant ICT related research for the Australian economy;
+ Geoscience Australia: an agency of the Australian federal government producing geospatial
products such as topographic maps and satellite imagery;
+ Bureau of Meteorology: Australia's national weather, climate and water agency; and
+ DSTO: The Defence Science and Technology Organisation (‘DSTO’) is the Australian government's lead agency charged with applying science and technology to protect and defend Australia and its national interests. DSTO delivers expert, impartial advice and innovative solutions for Defence and other elements of national security.

Funding Bodies
It is also the location of many federal government funding bodies:
+ ARC: The Australian Research Council (‘ARC’) is a statutory agency under the Commonwealth Department of Industry. Its mission is to deliver policy and programs that advance Australian research and innovation globally and benefit the community;
+ NHMRC: The National Health and Medical Research Council (‘NHMRC’) is Australia’s peak body for supporting health and medical research;
+ RDCs: Canberra is home to a number of Rural Research and Development Corporations, including the Grains Research and Development Corporation (‘GRDC’) and Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (‘RIRDC’), which bring together industry and research to fund projects that provide internationally competitive innovations;
+ ACIAR: The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (‘ACIAR’) is a statutory authority that operates as part of the Australian Government's development cooperation programs. The centre encourages Australia's agricultural scientists to use their skills for the benefit of developing countries and Australia;
+ Accelerating Commercialisation: A merit based, competitive assistance program delivered by the Australian Government that provides an integrated, hands-on approach to help take products, processes and services to market;
+ ARENA: The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (‘ARENA’) is an independent Commonwealth authority, supporting innovations that improve the competitiveness of renewable energy technologies and increase the supply of renewable energy in Australia;
+ AusAid: The Australian Agency for International Development (‘AusAID’) is the Australian Government agency responsible for managing Australia's overseas aid program.

Innovative Business
As home to the head offices of the Commonwealth Public Service, as well as the ACT Public Service, the Canberra region has always been a centre of innovative business in government. However, over the last twenty years, the ACT has expanded across other sectors in a hub of innovative activity.
Utilising the research, technology and knowledge produced by the region’s research institutions, the high calibre graduates of its higher education institutions which attract students from around the globe, and applying the support of Commonwealth funding agencies, the ACT has an innovation ecosystem poised to grow dramatically.

In addition to its research and educational centres of excellence, Canberra has:
+ Highest educated workforce in Australia;
+ Highest patent filing rate per capita in Australia;
+ Active Angel Investment group;
+ Advanced support for innovation through the ACT Government Economic Development Directorate including the Innovation Connect grant program and Lighthouse Business Innovation Centre mentoring programs.
These elements have combined to produce many globally successful start-up companies from a range of sectors.

Over the last few years the ANU has helped to start and develop the following programs:

+ InnovationACT business planning competition and skills development program;
+ Entry29 co-working space;
+ GRIFFIN Accelerator Program;
+ Kiln Incubator
+ Canberra Innovation Network (CBRIN)
+ Discovery Translation Fund proof-of-concept grant scheme;
+ ANU-MTAA Super Venture Capital Partnership Equity Seed Fund managed by ANU Connect Ventures Pty Ltd;

ANU Connect Ventures was founded in 2005 to manage a $30M early-stage investment fund. The fund focuses on inventions and discoveries coming out of the Australian National University and the ACT region. The fund is a Venture Capital Limited Partnership (VCLP) with funding from MTAA Super.

ANU Connect Ventures currently manages two funds: The Discovery Translation Fund 2.0, which aims to support research with commercial potential from The Australian National University and University of Canberra in undertaking crucial proof-of-concept work; and the $27 million Seed Investment fund for the ANU-MTAA Super Venture Capital Partnership.

The Seed Investment Fund was established with the support of the ACT Government to invest in promising commercial opportunities arising out of the ANU research, other ACT-based research institutions and local R&D companies.

In summary this presentation will focus on:

1. The lessons learnt from establishing a successful early-stage innovation ecosystem
2. The lessons learnt from a decade of running a University focused venture fund
3. Some observations on the global landscape for University commercialisation today
4. What models work in this sector & why; What models do not work