Panel: Early days for Aussie tech commercialisation

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Panel: Early days for Aussie tech commercialisation

Do profits define research success?

The Australian research ecosystem lacked "vital ingredients" needed to turn research into successful businesses ventures, an entrepreneurial Pearcey Panel heard this week.

Speaking at the NSW Parliament House on Tuesday, research commercialisation expert David Jonas said the absence of technology billionaires in Australia meant "we aren't doing a terribly good job".

Jonas was the commercialisation director of Capital Markets CRC (CMCRC), which aimed to foster "leading edge" research that was also "industry relevant".

In July, it celebrated the sale of its partner SMARTS Group to stock exchange operator Nasdaq OMX.

But according to UNSW professor and Open Kernel Labs founder Gernot Heiser, CMCRC's demand for industry relevance meant it was "never going to produce a Google".

"They [Google] had really brilliant technology and just wanted it to get used, and work out later how to get money from it," Heiser argued, highlighting passion as a driver of success.

Compared to Silicon Valley, the Australian 'Silicon Beach' came with several disadvantages to would-be entrepreneurs, he said.

These were: the lack of a large, local market; a small venture capital sector that lacked technology expertise and connections; a conservative Government; and tax disincentives for stock options.

Sydney University lecturer and entrepreneur Matt Barrie of and Sensory Networks painted a grey picture of Australian academia, highlighting a need to "attract very good people to universities".

"Most of them [lecturers] have never had a job before, so they know very little about the industry," the Stanford University alumnus told an amused audience.

Citing anecdotal evidence that both quantity and quality of tertiary-level technology students was falling, Barrie said the local industry needed "success stories".

"We need people like Mike Cannon-Brookes to list it [Atlassian] on the Australian stock market, rather than take it to the US," he said, referring to Atlassian's $US60 million venture capital injection in July.

Meanwhile, venture capitalist Roger Price, a partner at Innovation Capital, noted that Australia's technology commercialisation ecosystem was still in its early days.

"It takes a long time to develop a commercial ecosystem in a country, and Australia has been at it for 12 to 13 years," he said.

"Commercialisation success is not just technology driven," he added. "Start-ups are less about the technology and more about ... innovative business models."

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