The first project in a new early-career researcher grant program for small and medium businesses (SMEs) has just kicked off.

Additional Resources

The grant program is managed by CSIRO and funded through the Science and Industry Endowment Fund (SIEF) STEM+ Business Fellowship program.

Researcher Dr James Zhang from Deakin University’s Institute for Intelligent Systems Research and Innovation is working with innovative software company YTEK to develop advanced training tools for surgeons, emergency workers, soldiers and pilots.

YTEK is a Melbourne-based SME developing solutions for simulation and training in the emergency response, defence and aerospace sectors.

Dr Zhang will work closely with the company to research machine-learning algorithms that will intelligently monitor and evaluate a trainee’s conduct in mission-critical simulations.

Using sensors on training tools, such as manikins, the software will help trainers to assess students in practical training and accreditation, and see individual and group performance.

YTEK CEO Richard Yanieri said this is particularly important for medical students in clinical lessons to ensure they have the best education possible, while making the best use of trainer time and education resources.

“We’ve been working with Deakin’s School of Medicine to understand their needs so that we can tailor a solution that works for this industry,” Mr Yanieri said. 

Competing in an increasingly global market requires Australian SMEs to utilise leading technologies to grow and adapt.

Research can be expensive for small businesses so this new grant initiative makes it easier and more viable for SMEs to create these new technologies. 

Having obtained his PhD in 2014, Dr Zhang is keen to put his skills to the test in a commercial environment and help deliver an innovative solution to capture new business opportunities.

“This is a great opportunity for me to be directly embedded in the business and to use my expertise to help YTEK create a new product," Dr Zhang said.

“I’ve gone from being a researcher to learning about the business environment and it’s a really exciting new phase in my career.

“This new technology is the future for training delivery so I’m pleased to be a part of it.”

The project has been facilitated by CSIRO’s SME Connect team which links SMEs with researchers to increase productivity and help develop new products and capabilities.

Managed by SME Connect the SIEF STEM+ Business Fellowship Program is set to place over 35 researchers in businesses over the next five years. The aim is to help create a cohort of industry-savvy early-career researchers.

With co-investment from participating organisations this program has the capacity to deliver $24 million of research projects with Australian SMEs.

The SME Connect team is looking for SMEs to partner with organisations from across the innovation system on research projects. For more information visit,

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  • Six people standing around simulated hospital room with patient in bed and computer equipment on side table.

    Left to right: Jason Barkla (CSIRO, SME Connect), Richard Yanieri (CEO, YTEK Pty Ltd), Saeid Nahavandi (Director of IISRI), Samer Hanoun (Supervising Researcher, IISRI), Kellie Britt (Simulation Instructor, School of Medicine), James Zhang (early-career researcher).  ©Copyright Deakin University

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