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THE LINK – Catalyst in Connecting Businesses and Academic Researchers to Develop Innovative Solutions in Australia

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THE LINK is one of the first local government and university developments to connect all local programs and providers to generate a comprehensive collaborative platform for the community that will assist with economic growth and innovation. Edith Cowan University (ECU) and the City of Joondalup (COJ) have developed a digital innovation platform to connect all local providers together and stimulate engagement between academia and industry.  The primary objectives of the project are to:

  • Increase research activity between the University and industry
  • Increase student engagement with industry
  • Increase graduate opportunities with industry
  • Develop the City of Joondalup’s reputation as an innovative and creative global city
  • Improve the University’s reputation as an innovative university
  • Attract large business and State Government to relocate to Joondalup

The long-term goal of the project is to develop a world-class innovation hub within Perth’s northern corridor expected to deliver economic and social benefits for the community, aligning with the strategic direction of both parties. THE LINK is now established and has started to increase the research activity between university and industry.  It enhances the reputations of ECU and the COJ as organisations with excellence in innovation. There are three phases to the project: phase one is completed and work has now commenced on phase two.

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Success Factors and Barriers

The determination of THE LINK team resulted in phase one of the project being delivered with limited financial support enabling the team to adapt quickly ensuring the product delivered all key objectives. THE LINK website was launched in June 2016, providing users with an easy to navigate platform. The site contains relevant information about innovation, entrepreneurship, and collaborating with ECU.

Since the launch, there has been a growing interest in entrepreneurship, innovation and industry engagement from ECU staff and students.  THE LINK team have been key advocates for these areas and are generating many new opportunities for business and the University.  A key success for this project was the collaboration between ECU Office of Research and Innovation and the COJ Economic Development team.  This relationship has strengthened over the project resulting in many new project ideas being developed.  One main benefit of this relationship has been the increased positive exposure within the local innovation ecosystem and with industry.

There were two barriers that we are still trying to overcome.  The major one being the difficulty in conveying the vision/benefits of the project to the diverse range of external stakeholders as many are time poor.  The other barrier has been the lack of significant financial investment to accelerate/drive the development of the project.  This has resulted in the team re-forecasting timelines.

Recent Developments and Future Plans

There have been multiple developments since THE LINK case study was published.  The team have been expanding the reach of the project into other local West Australian regions and engaging with other State groups. The team have created a new education program called creatED: The link to successful research translation. This program will be launched in July 2017 and the initial cohort will be University Staff and Students.

A key initiative has been the development of a Youth Innovation Summit (July 2017) in partnership with a range of key stakeholders from Western Australia and Queensland.  The aim of this summit will be to connect all the key stakeholders together, ensuring the correct support structures and the environment for success are provided. There has been strategic engagement with a range of internal and external groups.  This has resulted in an increased number of industry opportunities and connections, allowing more ECU researchers to engage with industry. One of these groups has been the Digital Entrepreneurship team with the School of Business and Law at ECU.

Another major engagement, has been the creation of a Professional Learning initiative in partnership with the School of Education at ECU. The program (branded as sySTEMec) will be launched later this year (June/July 2017).  sySTEMec aims to support teachers, schools, systems and other educational organisations by offering a wide range of professional learning activities, advisory services and events to improve teaching and student learning outcomes. The long-term plans for the project will be renew and / or establish new sponsorship agreements allowing THE LINK to grow and provide benefits to more groups in multiple locations (other local Governments).

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The City of Joondalup are aiming for the Joondalup City Centre to be recognised as a Primary Centre and to target the creation of 20,000 new jobs by 2031.  This will impact the amount of investment in the local area and be a great outcome for THE LINK. A key driver for the University is to build new industry partnerships and projects.  Consequently, the team will be seeking new opportunities to strengthen our links with industry. If there is a need then the team will develop other strategic initiatives in partnership with key stakeholders (similar to the Professional Learning initiative).

Trends and Challenges

There is a major trend from the Commonwealth Government to increase collaborations between industry and the university sector to facilitate economic growth.  This has been outlined in the National Innovation and Science Agenda, and the Australian Research Council who are looking at Engagement and Impact of University Research.

Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the Youth Sector is another major trend, with engagement occurring in the early years of School.  This will result in a more entrepreneurial and innovative workforce of the future.   Therefore, businesses will have to alter their business models to accommodate this new mindset. At the University level, there is also a trend to provide students the correct skill set to work in industry.

There are multiple challenges facing the sector including bridging the gap between industry and academia due to the different drivers in play (profit versus publications).  Communication is still a challenge between these groups that needs to be negotiated. There are multiple initiatives to encourage collaborations with industry across the University sector but a challenge is how industry is adapting.

The two final challenges are ensuring there is enough financial support to establish university / industry projects and provision of diverse career pathways for Graduate and Higher Degree Research Students.

 

About the Author

team-darren2Darren Gibson is the collaboration and innovation manager at Edith Cowan University in Australia.  He has led the innovation and industry engagement program for more than three years in the Office of Research and Innovation. Darren previously managed the Scottish Mental Health Research Network with a focus on Research Governance.  He has a background in medicinal chemistry, having being a senior research scientist for more than eight years within Biotechnology (UK and New Zealand) investigating novel oncology and HIV therapeutics. In addition, Darren has experience of Intellectual Property, being an author of eight patents to date and having undertaken Intellectual Property Law as part of his LLM studies. Darren Gibson is the winner of the 2017 International Asia-Pacific University-Industry Engagement Conference ‘Best Good Practice’ award.