Lack of engagement between academia and business, a risk-averse culture, and slow, linear innovation processes are holding Australia back from competing in a fast-changing international economy.
These were some of the key findings of a discussion paper – titled ‘Joined-Up Innovation’, released on Tuesday by Microsoft.
The paper recommended that Australians must urgently reinvent the way they work, transform the country's culture, recognise the right skills, encourage mobility, and look beyond startups to improve Australia's global innovation standing.
The software giant consulted with people from the IT and education sectors as well as the Australian Internet Information Industry Association, to create the innovation paper. These experts were part of a Microsoft roundtable in February.
One participant, Professor Roy Green, dean of the UTS Business School, said in the paper there was little encouragement for Australian academics to engage with the private sector and there are obstacles that prevent individuals moving between academia and business.
“There are perverse incentives operating that militate constantly against collaboration and engagement,” Professor Green said.
“These include a focus on publishing in journals, rather than demonstrating the socio-economic impact of research work.”
Bill Petreski, director at Hydrix said Australia is falling behind in the global innovation ecosystem because we’re stuck on linear innovation that goes “step by step” and we should be using an open collaboration model.
He said that it typically took around eight years for Australian businesses to bring innovations to market when they follow the conventional linear approach.
The paper pointed to cultural obstacles such as a low acceptance of business failures, which can make potential innovators reluctant to launch new ventures for fear of harming their reputations.
Alan Finkel, president of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, said fear of failure limited the flow of talented people between the tertiary education sector and private sector companies.
“We’ve cut it off at the knees by having this tendency to think it’s a failure if you leave the university and go into industry – and it’s a double failure if you go from university to a startup and the startup isn’t a successful one,” he said.
Australia’s tendency to prize self-reliance could also prevent innovators from seeking advice and support, the paper suggested.
Finally, innovators don’t appear to relying as much on intellectual property (IP) protection and the formal patent process as they once did. This is because the IP process is resource-intensive and is often seen as too slow for many entrepreneurs and investors, it said.