Innovation in the Hunter: A guide for start-ups


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Despite Australia’s overall poor results in collaborative research between higher education or research institutions and the business sector, the Hunter Region remains well positioned to leverage an “Ideas Boom” and become a leading “smart” region. James Stevenson of our Corporate and Commercial team often provides advice to local companies seeking to leverage collaborative research in order to commercialise innovative ideas. In this article, James examines Australia’s overall poor results in collaborative research and discusses how the Hunter region is primed to capitalise on Federal and State Government initiatives to build a culture of innovation.

At a national level, the OECD’s ‘Economic Survey of Australia 2017’ released in March 2017 presents an underwhelming picture of innovation in Australian.  Of the key findings, it was interesting to note that Australia ranks last of all OECD countries when it comes to collaborative research between higher education or research institutions and businesses.  Collaborative research is an important channel for the commercialisation of publicly funded research as well as to ensure the ideas generated by our academics are commercialised into useful products and services.  The report suggests this reflects a low priority on collaboration, weak mobility between research and business sectors (including industry placement programs) and issues in university management of intellectual property.

The ‘stagnation’ presented in the OECD report is not necessarily reflected in the performance of start-up businesses that we have recently been working with in the Hunter and other parts of Australia.  The Hunter Region is Australia’s largest regional economy with an economic output of over $40 billion per annum, a regional population greater than 720,000 and a global top 250 University.[1] With the Federal Government announcing initiatives designed to promote innovation, we think the Hunter should be well positioned to capitalise on its aspirations to be a leading innovation and “smart” region.

In the last 12 months, we have worked with a number of clients who have successfully collaborated with universities and research institutions to develop and commercialise good ideas into successful business ventures.  Other clients have partnered with IP owners and manufacturers to jointly deliver new products to market. Examples include:

  • assisting local entrepreneurs investigating commercialisation of new products including using intellectual property developed by University of Newcastle;
  • advising a client taking advantage of an Australian Research Council Linkage Grant to commercialise new products in the transfusion medicine and blood group serology market; and
  • assisting a local mining services business to manufacture, develop and sell innovative mining products in collaboration with companies based in the US and China.

The OECD report suggests that if Australia is to create an ‘Ideas Boom’, it needs to create a culture of innovation that encourages and supports entrepreneurs.  While more needs to be done to assist our start-ups and innovators (including at a political level), we are seeing a much improved culture of innovation in the Hunter.  It seems the Federal Government is alert to this, recently launching RDA Hunter’s “smart specialisation strategy”.

It remains to be seen whether the political talk can be converted into meaningful policies to provide support for our regions innovators.

Our Expertise

SWS Lawyers has significant experience supporting regionally-based innovators and entrepreneurs to develop great ideas through the commercialisation process to market launch.

[1] 2017 Hunter Investment Prospectus published by Hunter Business Publications in conjunction with RDA Hunter.

This article is not legal advice.  It is intended to provide commentary and general information only.  Access to this article does not entitle you to rely on it as legal advice.  You should obtain formal legal advice specific to your own situation. Please contact us if you require advice on matters covered by this article.