In the last election there was considerable talk of Australia becoming an innovation nation. What was not clear… was how?
One or two initiatives have emerged but are only applicable for companies that have an annual turnover in the low $ millions. Most companies I have spoken to indicate that a technology like an artificial placenta or artificial kidney requires considerable “de-risking” before they are able to consider a partner arrangement. Whilst industry can see the clear need for new innovation for the treatment of extreme preterm infants, most advise referral to publically funded Universities to conduct preliminary work.
Universities on the other hand largely conduct mechanistic or curiosity driven research. The culture and rewards system is not commercialization or product focused, although there are some notable exceptions including the bionic ear and eye projects. Commercialization is an essential part of this process because it leads to the manufacture of products that save lives. In addition, universities rarely recruit inventors unless they meet specific criteria of track record in publication and grant income…This is a chicken and egg scenario for most inventor of blue-skies technology.
Blue-skies science comes about from vision and diversity. It is revolutionary in both concept and its broad social impact. As such, the relevance of conventional measures of output including academic track record are doubtful.
Unfortunately, all government funding and most philanthropic funding allocated for research purposes have committees that use the indicators of academic track record, and are therefore exclusory, even though common experience shows us that diversity brings creativity and prosperity.
So there is a gap or disconnect in our current system that seemingly limits the progress of fledgling innovation - a terminal loop! Industry, Angels and Government are risk averse and want to see a prototype and proof of principle before investment. Universities, Institutes and Centers are also risk averse when it comes to hosting an inventor because grant applications are not likely to get funded. Most advice from University has been referral back to industry…the terminal loop!
So what are the options for an inventor of a blue-skies technology that promise to revolutionize and create change for the better. I think it really comes down to the determination of the inventor to remain passionate not to leave any stone unturned. The generosity of high net-worth individuals may be an important way forward for innovation. These people get it…they can see beyond a technology or an inventor, and instead see the broader vision as a movement towards a better future. What does this future look like for an extreme preterm infant?
A future where hundreds of thousands of infants get a healthy start to life and do not experience prematurity related ill health. If by chance you are an individual that cares about saving preterm infants, and share the desire to make a difference to very sick infants, please get in touch at: firstname.lastname@example.org