Dr Charlie Day, CEO of Australia’s flagship innovation organisation, Innovation and Science Australia, believes Australia can be a world leader in innovation if we build the right skills and entrepreneurial culture.
Dr Day, who has a strong background in helping Australian companies commercialise their innovative technologies, says innovation means fresh thinking; not necessarily new thinking.
“It's about approaching problems in a new way and delivering real-world benefits,” he says.
“It can mean tackling perhaps a medical disease or a traffic problem or some way of getting from A to B more effectively and doing that in a way that people will value.”
Dr Day is a strong believer in the innovative capacity of Australians.
“I'm very optimistic that the seeds of change are already in evidence around the country. In many of our major cities and in regional centres clusters of entrepreneurs are coming together and developing new companies and solving new problems in really creative ways,” he says.
Dr Day wants to see this innovative culture more widespread across Australia’s whole economy.
“We need to build an appetite for trying new things, where we are prepared to fail, to iterate and try again and ultimately be successful, because innovation and entrepreneurs only succeed by taking risks, trying something new and then trying and trying again.
“That's the long-term cultural change I think we need to achieve.”
Dr Day says one of the key elements to Australian businesses becoming more innovative is for them to think globally from day one.
“Businesses need to focus on how to get their products into global markets because the Australian market is not that large, and the business and market opportunities that exist around the world are more diverse.”
Business–research collaboration vital
He says Australian businesses collaborating more closely with researchers is also critical to success.
“We know that innovation is a team sport and so the best way to succeed is to assemble the most capable team that you can,” he says.
“We have some great examples of businesses working with researchers to help advance their technologies. For example, CSL is working with researchers at the Cooperative Research Centre for Oral Health Science in the University of Melbourne on a new vaccine for gum disease which affects over half of our senior Australians.
“And we see financial services companies working with big data scientists at the University of New South Wales to identify greater insights from their customer data, and that's hardcore mathematics and big data expertise being put to use.”
Dr Day sees Australians developing science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills as being critical to us having a strong innovative future.
“So many of the industries and jobs of the future are going to be underpinned by those kinds of technologies, so we really want to see the STEM literacy of the Australian workforce lifted across the board,” he says.
”Making sure that women are fully engaged with all levels of our STEM community is also essential … we need to make sure that our whole community is engaged with and tackling STEM.”
As part of the National Innovation and Science Agenda, the Innovation and Science Australia organisation is leading the development of Australia’s national innovation strategy to 2030. It is an independent body responsible for researching, planning, and advising the Australian Government on all science, research and innovation matters.
View the Innovating Australia video