How to create economy powered by science

Training the first generation of scientists from the bench to the boardroom would create a seismic shift and leveling the economy, writes Professor Mark Hutchinson, president of the STA.

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The Employment and Skills Summit is a golden opportunity to put science at the heart of Australia’s economic growth strategy.

It can help create a future workforce for an economy that is, in the words of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, “fueled by science”.

The key to such a science-fueled future is to generate even more scientific breakthroughs and then transform more of this great Australian science into tomorrow’s products, services and technologies.

Supporting more of our scientists to commercialize their work will strengthen the Australian economy, strengthen stronger sovereign capacity and create many more new Australian jobs.

Australia produces world-leading science and research. But in the past few decades, we’ve had only modest success commercializing that research.

We can and should commercialize our research more consistently and on a much larger scale.

So how can we forcefully shift the dial on commercialization of research to achieve greater large-scale success? The answer is that we need two things: strategic investments and specialist skills. Both are fundamental.

In recent years, Science & Technology Australia has strongly supported Australia to create a new research commercialization fund that offers strong returns on investment to the nation.

The announcement of a $ 2.2 billion investment in a new fund in February, with bipartisan support, is a turning point. This strategic investment will increase the success of research commercialization in Australia. We need to see these measures confirmed in the October budget currently being drafted by Treasurer Jim Chalmers and Finance Minister Katy Gallagher.

To maximize the success of the new fund, we need to equip Australian researchers to become connectors of commercialization – people as comfortable talking to CEOs and venture capital funds as they are to their lab colleagues.

The way to do this is to create a new breed of “bench-to-board” scientists.

We don’t need all researchers in Australia to become marketing experts. But if we can instead equip up to 2,000 of our eminent scientists and engineers with the specialist skills they need to support technology translation, we can turn more Australian research “almost there” into “really there” products and services.

This small investment would generate enormous economic and social benefits for the country.

We know this because Australia already has researchers who have successfully trained to become bench-top scientists. In fact, I am one of them.

As Director of the ARC Center of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics, I have led a team of researchers who have so far created 16 startups with a combined market capitalization and market value of nearly $ 520 million.

These new companies have created 70 new jobs across Australia and are on the rise.

Imagine the potential of an Australian economy powered by 2,000 other scientists from bench to board.

If only five percent – a very conservative figure – of those scientists from the bench to the board reached the same level of success and followed the skills playbook of our team and our nation’s other brightest marketing stars, they would generate 52. billions of dollars for the Australian economy.

That level of income generation would not only create a wealth of new jobs for Australians, it would start entirely new industries and transform society.

It would create a science-fueled economy.

This seismic shift and the leveling of the economy are possible through training the first generation of scientists from the bench to the boardroom. But how would you design a program to teach researchers those skills? Well, Australia already has a model for that too.

Since its launch in 2017, Science & Technology Australia’s Superstars of STEM program has accelerated the profile and careers of 150 brilliant Australian women in science. Superstars of STEM is a world-leading program that has destroyed gender stereotypes about a scientist’s appearance and inspired tens of thousands of school-age children to consider studying science and technology.

In just one year, from July 2020 to June 2021, STEM Superstars made 4,000 media appearances reaching a cumulative average audience of 83 million. There are many changed minds about the appearance of a scientist and many young people who have been given different role models.

We want to leverage the proven success of our acclaimed Superstars of STEM program and apply a similar approach to help boost research commercialization through a bench-to-boardroom training program.

We can train these scientist-entrepreneurs for specialist roles to promote the translation of promising breakthroughs into technologies and show them how to become the link between industry and university research.

We have a vision and a proven model of success.

And with a small initial capital investment, we can equip a diverse and talented generation of bench-to-board scientists with the skills to create a truly science-fueled economy.

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