The Flow of Science and Commercialisation

A healthy innovation system has flow

I’ve noticed a debate among research organisations that puts science and commercialisation at odds with each other.

Science vs commercialisation. Or more subtly, people talk about the ‘transition’ from science to commercialisation as though something ends and something else begins.

No one means anything bad. But it causes discomfort. Like this…

“I don’t want to transition, I love my science. That’s what I do.”

Or innovation gets strangled like this…

“The science is done. Time to commercialise it.”

I’ve been trying to think of it as a constant flow. Here’s my visualisation.

People, ideas and money flow through the different focus areas and often all four spinning in parallel.

Here is one of my favourite examples. CSIRO scientist, John O’Sullivan was trying to discover how to look at exploding black holes the size of an atom and the mass of Mt Everest. To get a sharp image, John developed Fourier transforms, mathematical equations that could be applied to optics and radio astronomy.

Some years later, John applied this science to solving a new kind of problem — how to get a clear signal indoors, where the radio waves bounced around the furniture, in a new field of wireless networking. This technology became fast WiFi.

This technology was commercialised by a company called Radiata, which was later acquired by Cisco.

Now there is a massive industry built around direct innovation of WiFi, not to mention the hundreds of sub-industries that exist today because we have fast, wireless connectivity.

John O’Sullivan moves through the flow. Sometimes looking for black holes, sometimes building WiFi companies and the industries that come from them. Right now he is helping Main Sequence Ventures portfolio company, Morse Micro build the next generation of WiFi chip that will dramatically increase battery time and range.

Like a healthy current in a river, an innovation system with strong flow does not stagnate. Have a look around to see if you are building walls between silos or smashing them down to let the innovation flow. I am definitely trying to do the latter.