Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) play an important role in the Australian economy across all industries and are natural drivers of innovation due to their size and agility. In Queensland the number of small businesses has grown to more than 400 000, representing 19 per cent of all Australian small businesses.
Often SMEs' ability to deliver impact is accelerated through partnering with research organisations to develop and validate new ideas, and test their commercial viability.
Innovation Connections is a free service facilitated through CSIRO that assists SMEs in establishing their research priorities, connecting with the research sector, and funding collaborative research projects.
A match made in Queensland
Innovation Connections has enjoyed a long history of working with The University of Queensland (UQ) to support Australian SMEs. In fact, UQ is one of Innovation Connections’ top three tertiary education partners, delivering 121 research projects together over the past nine years.
UQ Deputy Vice- Chancellor (Research and Innovation) Professor Mark Blows says the University is committed to supporting the innovation pipeline and delivering excellent research with commercially translatable outcomes.
"By supporting progressive ideas, these important collaborations with SMEs and government produce better services and new products for the benefit of society," Professor Blows says.
"Innovation Connections has been an important program to assist our university to fulfil our commitment to deliver for Queensland and for Australia."
Engineer Dr Luigi Vandi has been involved in several Innovation Connections projects over the years and says it has been very rewarding working on targeted solutions for industry, which in many cases benefits the broader community as well.
"As researchers and academics with the knowledge and the capabilities, I believe we have a duty to assist businesses with overcoming their challenges," said Luigi.
"Some approaches to research-industry collaboration can be quite cumbersome, but I find Innovation Connections' facilitation of shorter-term projects with attached funding to be comparatively quick to deliver a satisfying outcome."
Sustainable solutions benefit everyone
One of the projects Luigi oversaw was with bait wholesaler Tweed Bait, who worked with a team at UQ to develop a new range of fully marine biodegradable film packaging for fish baits.
Not only was the new biosourced material engineered by the UQ team, but they were also able to utilise UQ's specialised facilities to test its biodegradability in both soil and the ocean.
The success of the Tweed Bait project has led Luigi on to yet another project seeking to apply the sustainable packaging on an industrial scale for application in many other areas.
A sunny state for innovation
Innovation Connections facilitator Scott McNeil says Tweed Bait is just one of many businesses to benefit from partnering with UQ since 2015.
"We have facilitated research partnerships with UQ for more than 91 businesses, including 50 from interstate. In addition, 30 projects have been for return customers," said Scott.
"Across all projects more than $10 million has been invested, with over $5 million contributed apiece through grants and dollar-for-dollar matched funding from AusIndustry via Innovation Connections."
One good result deserves another
The benefits flow both ways between the business owners and the researchers. Professor Darren Martin has supported several Innovation Connections projects and says the collaboration with industry is very valuable for the university and its researchers as well.
"The University of Queensland has a long history of expertise in biomass feedstocks. We were able to apply that specialised knowledge to a project for the Australian Wood Fibre company, to assist them in expanding their product range," said Darren.
"We've developed a great relationship with the company, and they have in return offered their support for our application for longer term ARC funded projects.
"Innovation Connections played an important connector role that has opened up opportunities for both parties."