< Petra Andren, CEO, Cicada Innovations
We’ve been talking about innovation for a while now. Its connection to jobs and growth. Its role in preventing Australia from being left behind in a rapidly changing global landscape.
And as a part of this national discussion, Innovation and Science Australia recently released its NISA Strategic Plan 2030. Its five imperatives and 30 recommendations were described as being key to bolstering Australia’s future prosperity, and elevating its status as a “top-tier innovation nation” against a backdrop of hefty global competition.
The plan was mostly well-received and just a few months on from its release, it remains high on the government’s agenda. But as the initial excitement now dies down, the time has come to ask a different set of questions.
What does implementation of these suggestions actually look like? What specific support is required to drive the commercialisation of science-based innovation, and who will provide it? Where and between whom should collaboration occur, and what are the channels that will deliver the greatest results? These questions become even more challenging when drilling down into the logistics.
An entirely new playing field
Agtech, medtech, pharma, renewables, and other science-backed areas of high-impact are the type of fields that will help to achieve the plan’s lofty goals. But these industries are all time-, capital- and IP-intensive, and require highly specialist skills and support. They have complex, weighty operational requirements that span the entire production lifecycle from infancy to maturity. They are far from the quick-and-easy digital dotcom world of apps and marketplaces. They are not exactly conceptualized in someone’s garage, nor developed overnight from behind a laptop. So, as these new drivers of innovation evolve, the spaces needed to support these new deep tech players must also progress concurrently. Enter, the deep tech “super incubator”.
A changing model of support: The super features of a super incubator
In 2017, Cicada Innovations was named Australia’s first and only super incubator by the international body, the International Business Innovation Association (InBIA). But what actually makes a deep tech super incubator so super?
Long term timeframe
On a basic level, all incubators are designed to help prepare high-potential, early-stage startups for growth via guidance, mentorship, infrastructure and funding. But super incubators do all of this on steroids. As an example, super incubators can offer up to five or even eight years of incubation in recognition of the longer product development timeline of deep technology innovations. Their long-term “create, validate, and incubate” model supports deep tech initiatives from product ideation through to commercialization and on to scaling into global markets. This is compared to the one or two years offered by regular incubators, who more closely resemble the churn-and-burn style of accelerator programs or co-working spaces. These are better placed to service low-risk, small-scale businesses with shorter investment horizons, and far quicker product to market.
The capital intensivity of deep tech incubatees also means that the stakes are much higher. This requires a greater emphasis on due diligence in the form of specialized induction programs designed to weed out issues prior to incubation, such as potential IP conflicts or a lack of proof of concept. An example of this is the Cicada Medical Device Commercialisation Training program (MDTCP), in which promising medtech innovators can enter with only their IP, and move to acceleration several months later. After a further few months, if all goes well, they may then go into the incubation phase with a fully commercialized business, ready to scale.
Partnerships with leading universities is another feature of a deep tech super incubator. As an example, the Cicada PhD Placement Program directly connects industry and academia by providing selected high-growth startups and scale-ups with PhD candidates. This gives incubatees access to highly specialized capabilities and skilled talent throughout their lifecycle, while unlocking our world-leading research and IP, and filling our skills gap.
Networks of skills, funding, and support
Rich mentoring networks also offer incubatees breadth and depth of expertise, from legal to academic, and foster a culture of support and ambition. They mimic the Silicon Valley-inspired pay-it-forward
culture by incentivizing graduates to go back and mentor their developing peers, exposing newer founders to more experienced founders and alumni in a way that linear, inorganic government-enforced mentoring models cannot. Deep tech super incubators also offer that all-important access to investors who recognize and accept the greater risks, longer investment timeframe, and higher capital requirements associated with deep
Finally, a key feature of deep tech super incubators is that the results tend to speak for themselves. The 700+ deep technology products Cicada has brought to market across 60 countries globally are testament to the crucial role that super incubators are already playing in bringing Australia’s scientific capabilities to the world stage. In this sense, super incubators might be considered as a microcosm of the nation-wide innovation ecosystem envisioned in NISA 2030. It might even be argued that the viability of NISA 2030 actually depends on it.
Cicada Innovations is Australia’s only deep technology “super incubator” home to 75+ startups and scale-ups in the medical, engineering, and IT sciences.
CEO, Petra Andren, will present at the AFR Innovation Summit – 30-31 July 2018 in Sydney.