We recently completed the Curtin Accelerate program for Rate My Space, a programs that assists commercialisation of research. It has been an interesting process transitioning a research concept to market and has taken a whole new set of skills atypical to the academic environment. Here are some things we learnt.
We can’t be perfectionists
It’s a fascinating experience watching different mindsets approach a problem. When discussing Rate My Space I often get told by industry how applicable it is, where it could be used and how it could evolve. The academic environment is different, more critical and focused. And it’s important to find the balance. It’s also so important to understand where on the innovation wave your idea sits, are you introducing it far too early? Will it die on a shelf before it has a chance to get legs? That’s a whole other topic in itself though…another blog.
The academic strive for perfection is what enables the high quality research outcomes. But this environment is also adverse to failure. People rarely publish a paper on what failed (this is a recognised issue in academic literature). And very different to the start-up world these ‘flearnings’ are what shape your business direction. In both instances, we still don’t take (or make) the time to reflect on failures and apply learning strategically.
So maybe we can’t have a Top Business Failures annual conference , but let’s just make sure the fear of failure doesn’t scare off innovation.
Solving societal problems doesn’t mean they are commercial ready
Firstly taking a researched societal problem into a commercial application is challenging. Yes our buildings are unhealthy, yes they emit excessive carbon, but whose problem is it? Who will pay for it? Whose ‘pain point’ are we solving?
Identifying the problem is one thing, but understand how to solve that issue from a commercial sense is very different to making a policy recommendation. And even our policies need to be more closely aligned with commercial implementation. Curtin Accelerate made us think about research differently, and the way that we manage research projects into the future will now change. In order for innovation from university to be commercially successful and to prepare students, we have to change the way we think about and solve problems.
The big picture
Academia is relatively competitive at an individual level – you work to keep your personal credentials high (‘publish or perish‘), but the KPIs mean you don’t always work as a collective. Multi-disciplinary teams can be difficult due to funding models which don’t enable simple cross-departmental collaboration. In a start-up business, that diversity is critical, and you will not pass Go and collect your $200 without it.
Universities are working hard to change this. This solo style doesn’t work to breed innovative thinking, innovation can’t happen alone. It’s about bringing different perspectives on issues rather than being an expert in a particular topic. A friend’s motto we have adopted is ‘partner or perish’.
No idea is perfect, not at the start anyway. But if we wait for perfection we aren’t going anywhere particularly fast. Cheers to age old saying, it’s better to have tried and failed than never tried at all**
**But please take the time to tell everyone else why you failed so they don’t make the same mistake.