Every year, Science Meets Business brings together leaders in STEM and private industry to increase understanding and cooperation between these two complex sectors. In 2018, Science Meets Business focused on the theme ‘High Tech and Big Data’.

The opening video message from Karen Andrews MP set the tone for the day with a great statement: ‘Put simply, science needs business, business needs science, and Australia needs both.’

Here are my highlights from the day:

1. Big Data

The first panel delved into ‘Big Missions and Futures Ahead’ with industry leaders from Microsoft, Westpac, MSD (one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies) and Clarivate Analytics. They discussed: using bio-mimicry of the human immune system to inform data analysis; the challenges in processing the increasing volume of data; and the role of AI and big data in new technologies for better access, diversity and inclusion. We were inspired by Rita Arrigo’s elevator pitch on harnessing the power of ‘diversity of thought’. Rita, the chief digital advisor for Microsoft also reminded us to preserve the human element in our research. On managing big data, Jeroen Prinsen from Clarivate shared this wisdom: ‘Quality and trust go hand in hand with big data. It used to be said that knowledge is power. Now the power is knowing what to ignore’.

2. Case study: Sleeptite

Cameron van den Dungen of the Forty Winks family wants to know ‘what’s next in sleep?’ He’s the founder and CEO of Sleeptite, working on biometric beds in a productive collaboration with scientists from the MicroNano Research Facility at RMIT. With funding from CRC-Project, the team have developed novel sensors integrated in bedding to safeguard residents in aged care facilities. The non-invasive sensors provide real-time biometric analysis of the vital signs of patients while they sleep. Both Cameron and Sumeet Walia from RMIT shared their experiences on the collaboration.

Perspective from Industry (Cameron): This was a 10-year journey. We knocked on the doors of many universities and were surprised by how welcoming they were. We chose RMIT because they were more flexible in their approach to IP, plus the Micro Nano Research team were a good fit. Trust is critical; you really have to like working together and good team relations – including with the manufacturers – are paramount. Building our own team allowed us to create the culture we wanted.

Perspective from Research (Sumeet): In designing a new technology, it’s important to think about the user experience (UX) early in research and develop technologies that people want to use, not have to use.  Keep the end-user at the centre of the R&D process.

3. Case study: MEQ Probe

The $65b meat industry in Australia faces the challenge of delivering the consistent high quality of meat that consumers demand. Can science and technology measure meat quality more objectively than your teeth and tastebuds? Prof Mark Hutchinson from the Centre for Nanoscale BioPhotonics, Susan McDonald from Super Butcher, Jordy Kitschke from MEQ Probe and farmers say ‘Yes!’

Prof Hutchinson was using laser probes to detect the change in pH (acidity) that marks the edge of cancerous growths. Since meat condition also depends on pH, the same technology can provide an objective measure of quality. The team has demonstrated that laser probes can assess meat quality in real time. This cross-disciplinary collaboration between research, industry and business is a great example of science meeting business.

As a researcher actively engaged with industry, Prof Hutchinson offered some great insights. Lacking training in agriculture, he was willing to ask ‘stupid’ questions to translate his medical science to a new application outside his field. He said that ‘researchers asking dumb questions of industry and industry asking dumb questions of scientists leads to innovative solutions in new spaces’. He also stressed that the earlier researchers engage with commercial users/potential customers, the better. He believes that training researchers to succeed both at the lab bench and in the boardroom (‘Bench to Boardroom’) will bring a brighter future.

Important takeaway points for researchers:

  • Think of the end-user early and keep the customer’s needs at the centre of your R&D.
  • Remember that industry is outcome focused and unafraid to kill research projects that aren’t delivering the expected outcomes in the expected timeframe.
  • Therefore, manage industry expectations carefully. This is one of the biggest challenges for academics working with pharma companies.
  • Prepare and practise your pitch to industry for funding or collaboration, don’t wing it.
  • Explain the desirability, feasibility and viability of your project.
  • Always have your pitch ready – you never know when you’ll get in a lift with Richard Branson!

Favourite tweet of the day from @YanniKYChin:

If you’re a researcher who needs assistance to develop your pitch, or any other advice, training or support in industry engagement or research commercialisation, help is at hand. Learn more at https://www.gemaker.com.au/research/

Written by Julie Wheway