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27 June 2022 Speech

From the challenges of the pandemic and geopolitical tensions disrupting global supply chains and driving up the cost of doing business, pre-COVID days seem a lifetime ago. However, these challenges have reminded us of the value of home-grown ideas. And products being built on Aussie soil.

While countries around the world look at ways to stabilise economies and head off a threatening global recession, the humble Aussie SME can play a key role in our nation’s economic growth.

In Australia, SMEs are by far the largest employer. They contribute more than half our national GDP and make up 99.8 per cent of all Australian businesses. They are our manufacturers, our food producers, and our healthcare companies.

So how do we give them the support and encouragement they need to grow and innovate, and contribute even more to the economy? With research and development.

When it comes to SMEs, strengthening collaboration between industry and the research sector is a key to longevity and success.

A CSIRO report last year, informed by a survey of more than 800 SME leaders, found for SMEs to truly become and remain competitive, research and development (R&D) was a must. Companies that invested in R&D reported they had been able to stay afloat during the pandemic. They had stronger resilience and, in some cases, had even experienced growth.

Another recent CSIRO report shows for every $1 invested in R&D, there is a $3.50 return to the Australian economy.

It’s encouraging indicators like these that demonstrate the value of CSIRO’s commitment, as Australia’s national science agency and innovation catalyst, to supporting SMEs through R&D programs and initiatives. Including matched investment for specific R&D projects.

SMEs already drive new innovations in the marketplace, from ULUU manufacturing plastic from seaweed, Healthcare Logic using AI and data to predict peak times in hospitals and Goterra reducing food-waste landfill with fly larvae. We can help them do even more.

Today on United Nations’ Micro-, Small, and Medium-sized Enterprises Day, we celebrate and thank our Australian SMEs for their commitment, boldness and perseverance towards new ideas and solutions that have so many meaningful contributions to our society.

Platform to predict hospital readmissions - Healthcare Logic, Queensland

Healthcare has obviously been in the spotlight during the last couple of years, with COVID-19 putting public healthcare systems around the globe under enormous strain. This strain has been further compounded by rising health costs, greater population needs, growing demand for higher quality services and tighter budgets.

To assist hospitals to allocate or re-allocate scarce resources to manage variation in patient demand, Healthcare Logic (HCL) built a platform, ‘SystemView’. This provides hospital leaders, clinicians, and administrators with real-time analytics to predict patient re-admissions rates and optimise inpatient and post-discharge services.

This system analyses data such as outpatient waiting lists and clinics, surgery waiting lists and theatre bookings and activity, the emergency department, beds, and medical imaging.

The platform is driven by an algorithm using data analytics and machine learning techniques. These were developed with research expertise from the Centre for Data Analytics at Bond University led by data expert Professor Steve Stern. This project was facilitated and co-funded through the Australia Government’s Innovation Connections program, delivered nationally by CSIRO.

The platform is being deployed across more than 50 hospitals across five jurisdictions including Queensland, South Australia, the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and completed successful proofs of concept in New Zealand. Combined, this has seen the company triple its workforce over the past two years.

Saving food waste from landfill on a massive scale - Goterra, ACT

Food waste is a big problem, contributing an estimated eight per cent to global greenhouse gas emissions. Goterra were committed to tackling this problem and find a way to process both pre and post- consumer waste.

Goterra’s automated robotic modular units use black solider fly larvae to break down large amounts of food waste. This is collected from farms and factories, as well as food scraps from hospitals, hotels and households. With help from our CSIRO Kick-Start program, our scientists identified optimal conditions for black soldiers to mate. This was a challenge given the insects only have a small two-three-day mating window.

Goterra's technology can reduce emissions by up to 97 per cent than if the waste had gone to landfill, with a third fewer emissions than composting.

Since launching in 2015, Goterra has been servicing restaurants, hotels, hospitals, SMEs, city councils and major supermarket chains. It has on and offsite solutions using their novel hygienic, module systems.

With support from Innovation Connections, Goterra has hired an engineering graduate to develop a new outdoor container design, with a fully developed roof to help maintain the environmental settings required. 

Plastics made from seaweed - ULUU, Western Australia

We know that plastic waste is a big contributor of marine debris around the world, affecting marine life such as seabirds and turtles. It’s also heavily reliant on fossil fuels for production.

But a Western Australia based start-up, ULUU, has come up with an alternative to plastic, made from a source that might surprise you – seaweed. Seaweed produced by sustainable small-scale farms in Indonesia, is converted into sugars and then fermented in vats to produce natural polyesters, which closely mimic petrochemical plastics (strong and water insoluble).

CSIRO scientists aligned with our Ending Plastic Waste Mission and supported through our Kick-Start program, have been performing quality control testing to ensure the end product is high-quality and durable. And that it can be used to replace conventional plastic products, such as packaging.

Once testing is complete, the company plans to scale up the technology thanks to a $1.3 million investment from Main Sequence, Alberts Impact Ventures and The Eights. With a pilot plant facility in Perth set to open in 2023.

We’re proud to work with Australia’s SME community to help solve the greatest challenges.

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