Dr Sharon Winocur, Business/Higher Education Round Table: The compatibility of research skills and entrepreneurship


Published on

Dr Sharon Winocur, Executive Director, Business/Higher Education Round Table delivered this presentation at the 2013 Towards Research Excellence conference. In its 3rd year event attendees met under the theme “From Impact to Excellence – An analysis of the challenges confronting the research sector.” From the challenges of refining regulatory frameworks toward research standards to the concepts of measuring real world impact and funding/investment returns, bridging the gap between current research output and productivity whilst securing the long term sustainability of the research workforce, remains a critical priority for securing Australia’s future prosperity. For more information about the annual event, please visit the conference website: http://www.informa.com.au/researchexcellence

Published in: Education, Business
  • Be the first to comment

  • Be the first to like this

No Downloads
Total views
On SlideShare
From Embeds
Number of Embeds
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

Dr Sharon Winocur, Business/Higher Education Round Table: The compatibility of research skills and entrepreneurship

  1. 1. 3rd Annual Summit Towards Research Excellence in Australia Summit Rydges Melbourne, December 9 2013 The Compatibility of Research Skills and Entrepreneurship Paper presented by Dr Sharon Winocur Executive Director, B/HERT 1
  2. 2. At the outset I would like to say how pleased I am to be presenting a paper on this topic of research skills and entrepreneurship for two reasons. Firstly, because this is a connection that attracts too little attention in this country and secondly, because this relationship illustrates so well B/HERT’s prime objective: to develop better engagement between business and industry and higher education. Today, I would like to spend some time drawing on the skill sets common to successful researchers and entrepreneurs alike; the importance of their collaborative contributions to the national economy; and put forward some ideas as to where we should be heading. In a report on entrepreneurship and higher education, the OECD position is clearly set out fostering entrepreneurship is important in the context of social and economic change and a growing recognition of the value of entrepreneurship in influencing and absorbing the outcomes of such change. Entrepreneurship is about meeting new innovative and creative mindsets. 1 The essence of entrepreneurship lies in creating and exploiting opportunities and pursuing innovation in practice. This audience is well aware that key concepts associated with entrepreneurship such as venture creation, knowledge transfer and the pursuit of innovation share fundamental characteristics with quality research. While the intellectual pursuits and methodologies for the entrepreneur differ significantly from that of the researcher, both of these professionals rely heavily on skill sets that utilise analytical and critical thinking and an ability to contemplate long term horizons. The researcher’s role is to apply these skills within a structured framework in order to obtain empirical evidence that informs research questions; the entrepreneur, on the other hand, uses these skills to create and exploit opportunities and pursue innovation in practice. Occasionally, but infrequently, the researcher is also the entrepreneur. Despite many public policy and program initiatives throughout the past twenty years to encourage more integrated activity between research and enterprise, the professional expertise in each area generally emerges from different offices and often from different sectors. In very simple terms, research is a cycle involving experimentation, data analysis and interpretation of evidence that usually kicks off the cycle for further experimentation. My reasoning is that innovation operates in parallel form ie market experimentation by business, tolerance of risk failure and learning from mistakes leading to further testing. Innovation activities rely heavily on R &D and on implementation and outcomes that impact on the economy, society and/or the environment. One of the outcomes arising from Powering Ideas 2 was the establishment of a national innovation system, which basically is about creating networks of people to encourage connections. It is about organisations, 1 2 Entrepreneurship and Higher Education (2008), OECD Publishing, doi10.1787/9789264014104-en. st DIISR (2009), Powering Ideas, An Innovation Agenda for the 21 Century, Australian Government, Canberra. 2
  3. 3. rules, cultures and interactions that these people create to generate and exploit knowledge and ideas3. The environment for business innovation and entrepreneurship In Australia is very well regarded internationally. This is because we have a highly educated population, relatively high research output and quality and over the last decade Australia has shown itself to be a well-performing economy. Yet despite this favourable setting, global comparisons show that Australia’s innovation system is not as efficient as other high-performing innovation systems. This, in turn, has been correlated to our declining productivity. Innovation is the key driver of productivity growth.4 I would like to dwell briefly on innovation in Australia because this is really the core of this discussion. Very simply, all of the available indicators report that Australia is underperforming in innovation and the signposts project no improvement. For example, only 1.6 per cent of all businesses engage in international collaborative innovation (that is any form of collaboration between businesses and others involved in innovation) which ranks us as 25/26 among OECD countries; domestic collaboration on innovation ranks 12/26, a position which suggests Australian industry is more insular than its OECD counterparts. These results reinforce the relatively low levels of international engagement on foreign investment in business R&D. The OECD average engagement in international collaboration in innovation is 18 per cent compared to 4 per cent in Australia. Australia is known to be a country primarily of adopters and modifiers of foreign innovation and even in this regard, questions are being raised about our level of absorptive capacity. No doubt this is because business to research collaboration in Australia is also ranked near the bottom of OECD countries (23/26). These data are saying bluntly that most other OECD countries are more likely than Australia to develop innovations that are new to international markets.5 Professor Robin Batterham AO, former Chief Scientist of Australia, wonders whether we have flat lined in innovation despite the growing market opportunities because the perceived risks are just too great or the incentives inadequate 6. Business expenditure has increased significantly in the last five years. Australia’s very positive and supportive environment for entrepreneurs and buoyant conditions should stimulate investment by enterprises in research. Yet innovation has only marginally increased in the past six years. Among the reasons attributed to this poor performance is the relatively low level of collaboration. 3 Department of Industry, Australian Innovation System Report 2013, Australian Government, Canberra. ibid 5 Chubb, I (2013) Challenging Tomorrow – the Role of the Engineer and Scientist in Society, paper presented to Chemeca 2013, Brisbane. 6 AIS Report (2013), op cit, p59. 4 3
  4. 4. As you know, B/HERT’s primary focus is all about collaboration and for very good reasons. We know, for example, that higher levels of education and training positively impact on innovation and employment. Innovative businesses are more skills focussed because these employers understand that skills underpin the rate and scale of innovation. An important indicator of an innovative, knowledge-driven economy is the demand for a more highly skilled workforce. Modelling from the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency shows that demand for tertiary education qualifications in Australia is projected to outstrip supply in the years to 2025 7. The Government’s research workforce projections indicate that demand for research-qualified people is set to grow at a faster rate than overall employment demand. A similar situation has been documented in the US where the Bureau of Statistics has forecast a 20 per cent increase in the number of jobs requiring a doctorate between 2010 and 2020. Innovation active businesses are extensive users of science and research skills. It is estimated that 75 per cent of the fastest growing occupations require STEM skills and Australia ranks 25/26 in the percentage of science and engineering degrees awarded 8. There is no doubt that Australia must improve its interaction between the research and industry sectors if we are to successfully drive innovation. The federal government recognises that without a world-class capacity for both basic and applied research leading to innovative solutions, Australia will be locked into a path of lower productivity and lower living standards9. Basic and applied research is the means by which new innovations will be launched. While we all understand this, what needs to be done to make it happen? Let me conclude this talk with some suggestions to better link quality research skills and quality entrepreneurship and overcome the innovation stalemate we are now facing. 1. Business and industry would be well served to be better informed about current research activities and should be more actively involved. Business and industry must be supported to appreciate the valuable skills that underpin research degrees and make use of them. While many extol the very high percentage of researchers (60 per cent) employed by Australian universities, the flip side is that we also have one of the lowest numbers of researchers in business enterprise. At a rate of 3 researchers per 1000 workers, we compare poorly with Finland at 14 or Canada at 7, two innovative countries. If we go back to the beginning of this discussion where we identified the common skills and the complementary contributions researchers and entrepreneurs make to innovation, we can see that this poor rate of research representation in business may act to impede our innovation efforts. As the Chief Scientist said earlier this year, business is misguided in thinking that the content of a degree is more important than the process of learning that 7 8 9 AWPA (2013) Future Focus: National Workforce Development Strategy, AWPA, Canberra. AIS Report (2013), op cit, p88 ibid, p114 4
  5. 5. underpins it 10. Research skills are all about developing innovative solutions to novel questions and are valuable assets to business and industry. We know that research collaboration directly links to innovation which leads to increased productivity. B/HERT is well aware of the cultural gap that exists between higher education and commercial enterprises and part of our work, through round tables, workshops, forums and the B/HERT Awards is to create the necessary conditions that allow for effective working partnerships to develop. 2. Higher degree by research students would benefit from internships in business/industry. In consultations conducted about Australia’s future research workforce 11, B/HERT found consensus among employers of the value of preparatory training for research students to enable them to work more effectively in a commercial environment. Private sector employers need researchers who understand the value proposition of commercially applying research and who can translate their findings ultimately into product development. One of the report’s recommendations was to introduce arrangements between universities and industry to facilitate work placement opportunities and exchanges for research students with the aim of narrowing the gap between the academic and business environments. 3. Business should use science and research skills as core business activities. It is worth noting that the healthcare and mining sectors are active users of science and research skills. This is in contrast to the majority of firms in manufacturing, information media and telecommunication, highly technical industries who are less likely to access valuable research skills. One very effective partnership program that offers companies competitive advantage is when industrial challenges are translated into research problems and solved by PhD interns. These opportunities have been shown to be very effective business tools and are available through programs such AMSI Intern but the uptake in business and industry is too small. If successful in our bid for ARC funding, AMSI Intern and B/HERT intend to expand this program to scale and promote innovative outcomes across industries. 4. Greater public recognition that Australia’s future lies in a knowledge economy fuelled by innovation is needed. The issues addressed here are well understood and even accepted by many in the business and academic communities. What is needed though is some form of “direct action” bubbling from the bottom up and from the top down. The urgency in addressing this very important issue should not be underestimated because as we lag behind, other countries are forging 10 Chubb, I (2013), Productivity, Industry Engagement and the PhD Workforce, paper presented to Accelerate Australia, Canberra. 11 Research Skills for an Innovative Future (2012), www.bhert.com 5
  6. 6. ahead. Government attention to the incentives associated with collaboration would be most helpful. Greater public awareness of the valuable contribution Australian research makes to our healthy economy is extremely important and something that should be promoted by government in partnership with universities and business alike. The community must understand the extent to which the economy is changing and that the future educated generation is our most valuable resource. 6