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Release of Ai Group Innovation Report: Australia can move from laggard to leader on collaborative innovation

"New research released today by Ai Group has identified substantial barriers to more and better collaboration between research organisations and business. A lack of skills and time for collaboration were the most widely cited barriers for SMEs, while larger businesses were most likely to find difficulties in aligning objectives with public researchers," Ai Group Chief Executive Innes Willox said.

"However, the report finds that some businesses are leading the way with approaches that are examples of best practice collaboration that others could follow.

"OECD statistics have ranked Australia at the bottom of advanced economies for collaboration between business and universities. This performance runs counter to Australia's needs for innovation to keep our businesses competitive and our economy growing. Successful innovation is more likely where people and organisations with different capabilities work together but this is not happening anywhere near the levels our economy requires.

"Ai Group surveyed hundreds of businesses and interviewed leading innovators to shine a light on our collaboration performance and the ways to improve it.

"The resulting report confirms that Australian collaboration is low, but also identifies a range of positive and productive collaborative practices. Informal relationships between businesses and universities are nearly three times more common than formal research partnerships (28% of surveyed businesses versus 10%). Businesses are much more likely to collaborate with each other on new products, processes or business models (59% of medium sized business respondents) than with public sector researchers (23% of medium sized business respondents).

"There are substantial barriers to more and better collaboration. Lack of skills and time for collaboration were the most widely cited barriers for SMEs, while larger businesses were most likely to find difficulties in aligning objectives with public researchers.

"The report collates practical insights on how businesses can make collaboration work from leading Australian innovators including Leica Biosystems, Planet Innovation, Pollenizer, Siemens Australia and Signostics. Forging genuine partnerships requires leadership to build an organisational culture of innovation and openness to new approaches to business problems and opportunities.

"Strong collaborators' practices identified in the report include: 

  • Realistic assessment of their own strengths and weaknesses, to enable selection of partners with complementary capabilities;
  • Inviting partners to explore underlying business problems together, not just advance an already-identified technical solution; and
  • Forming joint innovation teams who can later embed their knowledge and experience in their home organisations.

"There is much to do to lift Australia's performance. Business needs to raise the priority of collaborative innovation and learn from the best. Researchers should bridge the cultural divide and ensure their approach to intellectual property encourages partnerships rather than undermining them. Government can improve the incentives for collaboration in the research funding it already provides, and maintain stable support for innovation overall.

"Innovation is not just an abstract concept, but a source of new products and business models that create jobs, investment and possibilities for all of us. We can do better – together," Mr Willox said.

The research report, Joining Forces: Innovation Success Through Partnerships, was launched today at Parliament House, Canberra, by the Minister for Innovation, Industry and Science, the Hon. Greg Hunt MP, with a wide range of business leaders, university researchers and innovation officials in attendance.

The full report is available at:   

Media Enquiries: Tony Melville – 0419 190 347