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You don’t create six multinational startups and run Australia’s national science agency without knowing a few things about innovation.

When CSIRO CEO Dr Larry Marshall spoke to a room packed with aspiring innovators at the recent AFR Entrepreneur Summit, attendees were hanging on his every word.

Dr Marshall worked in Silicon Valley for 26 years at a time when high-tech breakthroughs sparked new companies that have gone on to power the world economy. His own science-driven startups achieved billions in value, created over 10,000 jobs and solved problems some considered impossible to solve.

Now completing his third and final term as head of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Dr Marshall shared key insights from his career with the summit audience, with SBP among them. We’ve chosen five standout points from Dr Marshall’s talk for those looking to harness science and tech to find that entrepreneurial edge.

You can be both a scientist and a businessperson

In 2007, Dr Marshall was a part of Southern Cross Ventures – the first Australian firm to operate out of Silicon Valley focusing on connecting home-grown innovation with Silicon Valley capital and market vision. It was by crossing the “Valley of Death” and merging science and business that Australian entrepreneurs were linked with international investors to help turn invention into innovation.

Dr Marshall encouraged the audience to challenge the thinking that, “you are either a scientist or a businessperson, you can’t be both”. People are placed into boxes based on their training or expertise, but this is not the extent of what they can offer or create.

“You can be a scientist who understands enough about the business world to create a company, or even lead one,” Dr Marshall insisted. On the other hand, a businessperson who harnesses the power of science can give their business an edge within an incredibly competitive market. He also mentioned the benefits of science for investors – stating how they should be trying to identify untapped opportunities in Australian science.

Market vision
is key

Entrepreneurs can get too caught up in the science and technology, without having a strong enough vision for their inventions. According to Dr Marshall, science and technology are there to help grow the market vision. And when it comes to turning invention to innovation, he drove home the message that “market vision is key”.

By this, he means that market vision creates uniqueness, and uniqueness is a way for companies to not only stand out, but to save themselves when markets and economies face adverse times. Dr Marshall admitted that “market vision is a very rare skill in our country”.

Each one of his startups saw a way to change the future by solving ‘unsolvable’ problems. Despite this, Dr Marshall also highlighted that creating market vision does not have to follow a standard “find a problem and create a solution” approach. In fact, he encouraged entrepreneurs to find a solution, then share their vision with the world to later discover what problems this vision can solve.

When it comes to Australia’s national science endeavours, Dr Marshall stated that, “CSIRO’s market vision has been our guiding light since 2016”.

Solving Australia’s ‘innovation dilemma’

Dr Marshall joined CSIRO to solve Australia’s “innovation dilemma”. This “critical crossroads” involves overcoming the challenge of getting to net zero while also maintaining a healthy, prosperous economy – primarily through innovation.

If we don’t continue to innovate in the transition to net zero, we could lose 40% of our jobs to automation and artificial intelligence. We are also unlikely to transition the toughest 40% of our remaining emissions without scientific innovation.

One of Dr Marshall’s main reasons for approaching CSIRO was the need to “catalyse innovation” to solve this dilemma. This led to the national science agency developing two influential, innovation-focused projects:

  • The Industry PhD – A scholarship program that teaches PhD students to solve existing challenges that are keeping real companies from being successful.
  • Lindfield Collaboration Hub – A deep-tech and hardware incubator where startups and SMEs can use CSIRO specialised equipment and resources to help get their innovative ideas to market.

There’s no need to miss out on profit

Too often, investors are reluctant to invest in sustainable companies or inventions as they feel that, while it’s good for the planet, it may not be a wise use of their money.

A recent CSIRO Australian National Outlook Report debunks this, outlining that Australia can reach net zero by 2050 and, instead of seeing a 40% decline in GDP, achieve 36% growth. Proof we can address national challenges while growing our economy and that, with the right market vision, innovation can be both sustainable and profitable.

Dr Marshall also emphasised that “science-driven innovation is the cure to inflation” – as it creates entirely new value for the world, which drives the economy up, but not prices.

Even with continued work towards the goal of net zero, this year CSIRO has doubled the value it delivers back to Australia. If CSIRO were a public company, Dr Marshall estimated its share price would have doubled – again showing that money can be made while pursuing sustainable goals.

Embrace diversity

Dr Marshall ended his presentation with one final, definitive point – the secret to great market vision is diversity. Embracing different cultures, genders and backgrounds leads to discovery of diverse minds and development of unique, often brilliant ideas.

Once it recognised the true value of diversity, CSIRO shifted its culture further and faster than ever before – almost doubling its First Nations workforce and female leadership. Dr Marshall explained that “diverse minds working together enable people to see a different future and deliver solutions from science to make it real”.

Great ideas can come from anywhere, and diversity is key to exploring all avenues, identifying unique problems and creating innovative solutions.

We need science to drive and grow our economy.”

Have your own innovative ideas that the world needs to see? Get in touch with us today to see how we can help bring them to life as part of your next campaign.

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