Speech given at the ON Demo Day by CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Larry Marshall.

Indigenous acknowledgement

I would also like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation as the Traditional Owners of the land that we're meeting on today, and pay my respect to their Elders past and present.

Intel of Australia

I've been Chief Executive of CSIRO for just over two years now, and prior to that I was commercialising science in Silicon Valley for about 26 years.

And I spent a lot of that time wondering how we could export a slice of the success of Silicon Valley into the ideas-rich, but innovation-poor, ecosystem in Australia.

What really transformed Silicon Valley – and gave it its name, in fact – was the brilliant idea Andy Grove and Robert Noyce had to shrink the big, bulky vacuum tubes that were being used to power electronics into small, compact integrated circuits made of silicon.

No one in the US wanted to invest in their idea – it was crazy! Investors didn't want to put their money into some science project, where was the profit in that?

Well, they picked up European investment instead, founded Intel, built the silicon chip, and the rest is history.

In each successful innovation ecosystem there's that characteristic organisation that has enough scale to use science to fundamentally change their future.

For Silicon Valley it was Intel; here I think it can be us.

ON was born

We developed the concept for ON to target the weak spot, or the opportunity, depending on your view, in Australia's innovation ecosystem.

In Australia, we have world-class, cutting-edge research. Our scientists are internationally recognised and sought after. But where are today's great Australian inventions?

ON is designed to bridge that gap between great idea and great innovation.

It takes the best science and technology from across the whole Australian research community through an intensive market-ready program, designed to take their idea from Benchtop to Beta.

ON so far

In just 18 months since we launched ON, more than 58 teams have completed the program, and already we've had:

  • three spin-outs
  • one exit
  • seven have secured further investment
  • And two with successful SIEF funding, which is actually its own great virtuous circle, as SIEF is the Science and Industry Endowment Fund, and receives a lot of income from the proceeds of CSIRO's role in inventing WiFi.

But that's not the most impressive metric - CSIRO team members who participate in ON exceed all global benchmarks for customer centricity - even those of successful consumer products companies.

But even that's not the most impressive metric.

There are dozens of incubators in Australia - most of them digital - But ON is unique

And just for the record, I am an incubator/accelerator sceptic, so I'm not just saying this because ON is powered by CSIRO!

I might even be as sceptical as the 25-year CSIRO veterans who we dragged kicking and screaming into ON to see if it could change their approach to public good research.

After going through ON, one of them said, and I quote: "Why didn't someone teach me this stuff 20 years ago?"

And it gets better – to quote their program leader: "What have you done to her? She's completely re-energised – like a student again!"

I hope that doesn't set the bar too high for the teams about to present.

ON culture

The program has been phenomenally popular, with more than 90 teams about to start the next round of ON Prime, our pre-accelerator, across more than 10 locations across the country.

What excites me most is the transformation within CSIRO when one of our scientists returns to their team after going through the ON program.

Our hundred-year-old organisation has many proud legacies, but understanding customers has not always been one of them.

Since we started ON, we're starting to see a real change in thinking around who really is the end-user, or customer, or beneficiary, from our science? How will what we're working on fit into, and improve, their lives?

As scientists, we're all motivated to get up in the morning by the idea that what we're doing will make a difference in people's lives, but first we have to know who those people are.

So brace yourself, because about 5000 scientists are getting ready to unleash world-changing innovations, and they'll be looking for investors!

Call to action

But in all seriousness, I applaud tonight's teams for the energy, tenacity and brilliance they've all shown throughout their ON experience.

I hope you will be inspired by their visions and impressed by their sheer hard work to get here, and of course, I hope you will show them your support.

After all, no one wants to be the investor who didn't think Intel would go far.

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